Sea Discovery

The Navy and MDA: Information Ahead of Platforms

Mark Andress, Directory, Navy Maritime Domain Awareness, US Navy An interview with Mark Andress, Director, Navy Maritime Domain Awareness, U.S. Navy. By Edward Lundquist
The U.S. Navy has made a significant shift from being focused on platforms to being focused on information, according to Mark Andress, Director of Navy Maritime Domain Awareness. Admiral Gary Roughead, the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO), has recognized that the future budget may not support the number of platforms we need, and the Navy must better integrate the platforms it has. He recognizes that the explosion in information and the threats to the cyber domain that we’re seeing requires the Navy to better focus on information at large,” Andress says. “That means wholesale, from how we acquire a future Navy, all the way to how we operationalize it. If you want to know where the Navy is heading in the next decade, it’s about information.”
Andress says the CNO views this transformation as “being as significant as the transformation from sail to steam to nuclear power. He is really trying to get us to look at information and capabilities across all levels of war and across all disciplines.”
The principals of net-centric warfare remain valid, Andress says. “Every platform a sensor, every sensor networked, and information available for use across that network whenever you need it.”
But he says there’s more, he says. “There is going to be the need for persistent ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance), and a very aggressive approach into unmanned systems, to include unmanned aerial vehicles undersea vehicles and surface vehicles. Persistence is the key to going forward.”
Persistence means the ability to keep a sensor in place for extended periods of time, and to be able to control it from a source far away. Just as important is expanding a state of processing, integrating intelligence, expanding communication capabilities, he says.
“With over 90% of global trade being conducted on the sea, it’s more than just maritime nations that are affected by protection of the global commons—it’s essentially the world,” Andress says. “We have been actively focusing on fostering an environment where global maritime safety and security is a priority.”

Andress says there has been an improvement around the world. “This last October, we hosted the International Seapower Symposium ISS – 19, at the Naval War College. Over a hundred navies were represented, including 90 heads of navies. One of the big themes was maritime domain awareness (MDA), or maritime situational awareness (MSA) as some countries around the world call it. We agreed that all of us need to a better job on issues such as piracy, terrorism at sea, illicit trafficking. We’ve got to do better at sharing information, and creating better understanding of trafficking in our own waters. Many of these countries have been pretty aggressive at standing up the Automated Information System (AIS) and integrating coastal radar systems with AIS. We’re starting to see regional cooperatives. For example, in the Mediterranean, you’ve got VRMTC, Virtual Regional Maritime Traffic Center. That is a cooperative in the Mediterranean basin where they’re all sharing their picture amongst each other and then they are trying to advance that, with more and more information sharing as can be agreed. We see the same thing in the Pacific and we see the same thing in the Northern Med, and the Black Sea, etc. What’s good about these regional networks is that you essentially get a coalition of the willing that is able to effectively share information.”
Andress says information-sharing hurdles arise when attempting to establish a single, global network. “It’s just too big to overcome, especially as it relates to the information on commercial shipping.”
The U.S. government recognizes that it’s not a just a Navy issue, or even a Navy-Coast Guard issue. “If we’re going to achieve effective maritime security, it’s got to be an inter-agency, whole-of-government approach. So through the maritime domain awareness effort, we’re bringing together Coast Guard and Navy, FBI, Customs and Border Protection, the Maritime Administration. We have an entire government structure around trying to foster better and better information sharing amongst inter-agency partners, including the intelligence community.”
These other countries are realizing this, as well. We’ve hosted multiple operational games, if you will, inviting different countries. We started inviting their customs, immigration and state department reps to come with their navies. We started information-sharing scenarios, and at the end of it, they’re all realizing “Wow, this isn’t a navy-navy issue; this is really a whole-of-government issue.”
“Inside the United States, we’re continuing to expand our partnerships, and now with our foreign partners, they’re trying to do the same,” he says. “It’s almost like a social network starting to form and this social network is expanding into regions. Our next focus is going to be on linking the various regions together. We’ve got some efforts this year that are making a lot of progress between linking together a region in South America, with the Mediterranean, with the Indian Ocean, and then with the Asia-Pacific region. So it ends up being about 50-some odd countries linked through four different regional partners. Inside the regional partners, they are sharing a lot of information. And then they’ll start with a small group, sharing information back and forth.”
Andress says the solution must include industry more. That’s an area that where I think can always use improvement. We’ve hosted an industry day and invited industry to come in and hear us explain our requirements, major technology gaps, and where we need help. We openly presented a wide array of gaps from maritime application of infra-red and video surveillance to information integration and anomaly detection. We want industry to know where to direct their IRADD (Individual Research and Development Dollars) to get to a certain point that we’re going to be interested in acquiring what they offer. We told them, ‘We want to be your best customer.’ We will host another Industry Day next year and welcome participation from the commercial maritime industry.”
The second area is more in direct partnership with industry on maritime security cooperation, Andress says. “I think the best place you can see this right now is in the Horn of Africa in countering piracy. The Navy is a part of a combined task force of protection against piracy in the Gulf of Aden off of Somalia. But this CTF is made up of international partner navies from around the world. They’ve got a strong EU and NATO presence, and they’ve even got partnerships from the Asia-Pacific region, as well. So, what they’re doing now is making industry aware of the transit zones and transit groups so shipping can transit through at certain times and we are able to provide better protection in the region. What I also think is interesting is that we have had fairly aggressive information sharing with industry, through the Maritime Administration (MARAD), such that Navy and even the intelligence community—the Office of Naval Intelligence and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA).
Sharing information can raise sensitivities with industry, Andress admits. “I’m a licensed ship captain, so I’ve shipped. There are a lot of sensitivities with respect to the maritime domain, especially in partnering with industry. I certainly understand that the commercial carriers preserve privacy for the goods they transport. There’s a competition factor, too. You’ve got markets, especially for commodities that are driven by very timely pricing. Understanding positioning of ships and where certain things are going to arrive at certain times can be market-changers. So, there are a lot of sensitivities in dealing with the maritime industry that doesn’t make it as black-and-white as you might think. We need to move out, but we need to be sensitive and we need to do it in a way that allows us to take steady strain and make progress.”
“Our strategy is about establishing trust and sharing in a region. I don’t have to have all the information from a regional partnership led by a foreign country in their region, but I do want to know when they discover an issue of concern to the United States. I don’t have to suck up the data and process the data myself. The fact is you’re not going to make much progress trying to establish that level of data ingest and processing to get the answer. So, within these regional partnerships, there is processing and alerting based on criteria they’re looking for. It varies by region and by threat. It varies if you are a Customs and Border Patrol or the United States Coast Guard. You’ve got different criteria you’re looking for. And, certainly, the Navy has different things that it looks as do our foreign partners. The important point is that the alerts and the issues of interest are shared across these networks,” Andress says. “And by establishing these sharing networks, you’re also better able to respond at times of crisis. You’ve got a known group of people that you can reach out to for other information. Oftentimes, those barriers to sharing information may exist on a day to day basis, but during crisis these barriers suddenly shift, and information starts pouring more freely to help address a certain issue.”
“If all of that information was available, all the time, then I could connect the known terrorist watch list to the ship that is loading a passenger in Romania, for example, and I could act. But there are a million and one obstacles between connecting that all together. The biggest obstacle is trust.”
“The end state we are striving for is the creation of a cooperative network of regionally focused information sharing exchanges that are able to connect the dots of potential threats from the maritime domain and rapidly respond in times of crisis,” he says.
“The Navy’s future is in information and we can better integrate it, better process it for understanding, and how to better partner and share it in order to better protect the United States and its maritime industry,” Andress says.
Capt. Edward Lundquist, USN (Ret.), is a senior science writer for MCR LLC.

(Reprinted from the pages of Marine Technology Reporter)

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