The United States and it allies face a diverse array of security problems in the emerging global landscape, ranging from terrorism and insurgency to arms trafficking and illegal migration. Many of these problems have a maritime dimension that typically is manifested in littoral areas near shipping lanes and population centers. In the aftermath of the 9-11 attacks, the federal government decided that it needed to greatly improve U.S. monitoring and understanding of potentially dangerous developments at sea. The phrase it uses to describe this emerging mission is Maritime Domain Awareness.
A “National Plan to Achieve Maritime Domain Awareness” was published in October, 2005. The plan stated that, “the primary method for information sharing, situational awareness, and collaborative planning will be the national maritime common operating picture.” The common operating picture is described as a detailed and timely depiction of all security-related developments at sea. Continuously generating such a picture will require close cooperation among federal organizations with relevant skills and assets, especially military services and intelligence agencies. It will also probably require the cooperation of foreign governments and private shippers.
The two federal agencies most likely to lead this effort are the Navy and the Coast Guard. Ideally, they would like to track all vessels, passengers, crew and cargo in maritime transit and monitor the status of relevant facilities ashore. No framework for conducting such surveillance of a global basis currently exists, but proponents of improved maritime awareness often point to the worldwide air traffic control system as a model of what might be achieved. Early efforts to fashion a maritime awareness system are likely to focus on the ocean approaches to national territory, key shipping lanes, and areas of frequent terrorist activity such as the Arabian Gulf.
Achieving maritime domain awareness on a global scale would require extensive collection, networking and analysis activity. Much of the necessary work is already being done by government agencies and private companies, but the results are so balkanized that information often fails to reach users in a timely fashion or usable form. Major changes will be required to break down organizational barriers to cooperation, and to fill gaps in collection and analysis capability. Such changes are unlikely to occur unless an organization such as the Navy or Coast Guard is given the power and resources to press for implementation of new practices.
This report was written by Dr. Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute staff in consultation with members of the Naval Strike Forum and other maritime security experts. The report is one in a series of Lexington Institute studies intended to illuminate solutions to emerging global security challenges that are both innovative and affordable.
Find Archived Articles: