Thursday, April 7, 2011

Long-Range Identification and Tracking—Observing maritime activity over the horizon

Excerpt from U.S. Coast Guard Proceedings of the Marine Safety & Security Council magazine by CDR Kevin Keast, Chief for Communications and Sensors, U.S. Coast Guard Office of C4 and Sensors Capabilities.

Many technical capabilities leverage the latest in C4ISR (Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance) architecture to enhance maritime situational awareness, or what is commonly referred to as the maritime common operational picture. Programs like the Nationwide Automatic Identification System (NAIS)—a coastal network of receiver sites—detect NAIS transponder signals and track vessels in the coastal environment. However, once line-of-sight limitations are reached, other capabilities are required.

The United States realized early on that this gap was part of a larger issue of global security. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) was easily convinced that a long-range ship tracking capability was required, and instituted the Long-Range Identification and Tracking (LRIT) effort.

The LRIT System
The Long-Range Identification and Tracking System is designed to collect and disseminate vessel position information received from IMO member state ships that are subject to the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS). This system allows SOLAS contracting governments access to tracking information.

Global Efforts
The Coast Guard developed the U.S. National Data Center in December 2008 to collect, request, receive, and distribute data within the LRIT system. Additionally, the IMO designated that the U.S. build and temporarily operate the International Data Exchange, which routes vessel positioning data among all participating LRIT data centers, through the end of 2011.

The Way Ahead
Although Long-Range Identification and Tracking is in its infancy, the U.S. is already obtaining thousands of ship position reports daily for thousands of reporting vessels. These numbers will continue to grow as all SOLAS vessels integrate into the LRIT system and data centers come online. LRIT has been delivered to the Coast Guard as an open architecture system and is providing a tracking service that can be delivered easily across all U.S. government entities. While this tracking information is only available to the Coast Guard and the Department of Defense at present, the service will be extended to other government agencies to support government requirements relating to maritime safety, security, and environmental protection.

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