Friday, August 12, 2016

Ocean Security: Outlines of a crude security strategy for ocean protection

Based on what we have seen in previous posts under the Ocean Security label, we can now guess at the key elements needed for a strategy for securing the sea. I describe these in the text below:

High Level Response Model

A high level model is needed to lay out how to sort the available data on threats. This sort of model would create a rough map between type of threat and most effective response. A certain fraction of the threats will have to be excluded because it is not possible to respond to them, but the model should hopefully cover a majority of likely threats and offer real mitigation options for catastrophic risks.

Again very generally speaking - during peacetime - no nation has adequate resources to provide security on the oceans.  Most nations do not even have adequate naval resources to police their own territorial waters, and so every nation (big or small) is predisposed towards seeking a solution. The only solution to this resource crisis lies in sharing the burden through international naval cooperation agreements. Such agreements are mutually beneficial and participation in these tends to be quite earnest and honest.

As sea going platforms are extremely technologically advanced, it takes significant resources to train personnel to properly function with them. Again international cooperation agreements allow all  parties get a chance to train with each other. These joint naval exercises provide a good place to study and learn from each other and to share expertise on the vast array of technical matters that come into play on sea-going platforms.

Any high level response model should include international cooperation agreements as part of its structure.

The high level response model will need a secure and reliable database upon which to base decision points. Each model will come with its own Boyd Loop timescale. Model refinement exercise should seek to limit the Boyd Loop time.

Data Fusion Center

The critical database described above will need to be maintained and updated. This requires a major information processing node - a Data Fusion Center.

The vastness of the space to be secured and the absence of a single reliable option for surveillance forces us to use a multitude of sensing modes. The numerous streams of intelligence created by such modes will have to be streamed to a central information processing unit. These data streams will need their own security (dedicated interference free lines of communication and encryption etc...) but each will contain within it a data model that helps discriminate signal from noise.

An ideal database will allow decision makers to visualize the position of every entity (airborne, surface or sub-surface) in the region of interest at any given time. Additional layers of the database should at least be able to bring up and represent all known aspects of each entity plotted on the visualization.

Without such a fusion scheme, it will not be possible to construct any higher level strategic models and what ideas people publish in think-tank papers etc... will remain largely on paper. Decision makers will simply not know what threats are out there.

Surveillance Modalities

A wide variety of surveillance approaches need to be deployed in order to keep an eye on the seas. As each approach will come with its own sources of error, it is highly advisable to use a mixture of overlapping techniques to look for coincident or anomalous events.

For example: One could start by plotting the positions of surface vessels observed via surveillance satellites, sonar or radar triangulation, and sightings by surveillance craft. Then one could overlay that data with AIS information. An additional layer might be reports of sightings (targeted or crowd sourced) and port records on ships entering and leaving. This should at the very least eliminate known civilian traffic from sea of potential threats.

As discussed earlier, a vast majority of the traffic at sea is along carefully delineated SLOCs and any hostile patrols for purely economic reasons have to branch off from existing shipping lanes. It is therefore quite natural to focus a significant amount of resources to gain accurate intelligence on the existing SLOCs.

Getting information needed to discriminate the likely non-hostile targets can only come from information sharing and naval cooperation agreements. The personal contact created in international conferences and joint exercises is important. As so much illicit trafficking occurs via the sea on relatively anonymous ships, discriminating between a boat carrying drugs and a boat carrying explosives can be challenging. A simple phone call to one of your naval conference mates in a nearby country can save months of lengthy paperwork and quickly identify the nature of the unknown vessel.

Response Capabilities

In an ideal world once a threat is discerned the defender should be able to vector a ship or airplane out to where the threat is and mitigate it. However in reality - it is not possible to have a naval asset proximate to an arbitrary point in the sea.  In the real world the response can often come too slowly to provide any useful security against the threat.

Theoretically international cooperation agreements should allow ships from different nations to respond to a threat given their proximity to the event.  This assumes that all the nations in the agreement have a certain minimum level of readiness and competency. Clearly an ideal situation would be where the agreement sets out the responsibility of each state and the minimum level of competence they must strive to reach.

Having airbases or berthing agreements with littoral states allows a nation to spread its own naval resources in an optimal fashion to respond to threats in a timely fashion. Again this kind of thing comes with an additional quid pro quo (over and above the usual international cooperation agreement)- and it may be advisable to engage in such an exchange in certain circumstances.


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