Skip to content

Industry Perspective: The Future of Maritime Domain Awareness [Connor]

By Mike Connor

There is so much to do.

Since the dawn of seafaring, our seas have never as busy as they are today. This exponential growth in activity presents unprecedented challenges to America's national and economic security. The Coast Guard is the agency most directly responsible for maritime safety, security, and environmental stewardship, and bears a staggering coverage portfolio: over 95,000 miles of coastline, ports, waterways, an economic zone spanning 4.5 million square miles and (as if that weren't enough) the high seas.

Since 1990, maritime traffic has increased 100%, shipment of petroleum product is up 200% and container traffic is up 800%. Narcotic imports are spiraling out of control. Fisheries around the world are collapsing, with more than 90% of commercial stocks fully exploited. Vital international communications channels lay on the ocean floor. Offshore energy infrastructure, both conventional and renewable, is expanding and must safely coexist with the marine environment on which so much depends.

There are too few resources.

The Coast Guard's operational readiness has been eroded by a constrained budget, even in the face of rapidly growing global complexity and increased demand for its services. If current assets are spread too thin – and mission failure is not is not an option – what is the solution?

Innovation and new ways of thinking are critical to ensuring that the Coast Guard's capacity can match its mission.

Manned vessels and aircraft cannot be everywhere.

There is no substitute for our Coastguardsmen's capacity to apply judgement, compassion, emergency assistance, and the rule of law on scene… but they cannot be everywhere. Given both the cost and a finite deployment capacity, false alarms and inefficient sorties are particularly devastating in these constrained times.

New technology can be a force multiplier.

There is promising news, however. Maritime domain awareness technology is evolving rapidly, expanding in capability, and dropping in cost. It can be leveraged to keep the highest value assets and people on point, doing the things that only they can do.

Long-dwell autonomous systems can stay at sea for months at a time, monitoring ship activity, detecting distress calls, and sampling the ocean environment. Many of these systems are self-sustaining, harvesting wave, wind and solar energy to move, function, and communicate with command centers ashore. They can perform a wide variety of tasks, such as the detection of drug trafficking, illegal fishing, oil spills and more. They can endure sea states that would test the most experienced mariners, without risk to human life. Around the clock, without attention or fatigue, they gather the information needed for tactical decision-making, such as identifying worthwhile targets for intercept and boarding.

Better data + smarter analysis = efficient use of resources

After amassing a trove of optical, radar, acoustic, and radio information across the maritime domain, the Coast Guard will be able to apply deep learning techniques to establish normal patterns of activity in its operating areas, identify suspicious deviations, and develop tools that provide decision-makers with exactly the right information at exactly the right time. Distributed high-speed computing will shape raw data into the kind of clear, actionable intelligence that can maximize the Coast Guard's effectiveness in a very busy world.
Mike Connor headshotMike Connor is the founder and CEO of ThayerMahan, a company that designs, manufactures and operates systems to collect acoustic and electronic information on the world's oceans. He is a retired Vice Admiral in the United States Navy and a globally-recognized authority and speaker on undersea operations.
Coast Guard's Outlook magazine cover, 2020 editionABOUT OUTLOOK
Outlook covers current Coast Guard programs, missions, capabilities, maritime and aerial assets, and the service's role in safeguarding the nation's economic and national security. More importantly, it covers the service's challenges moving into the future.

Click here to read the article featured in Outlook