The term Maritime Surveillance is formally determined by the combination of the “maritime domain awareness” and “surveillance” words , each defined thus:
Maritime domain awareness: the effective understanding of anything associated with the maritime domain (the oceans, seas, bays, estuaries, island, coastal areas, and the airspace above these, including the littorals) that could impact the security, safety, economy, or environment of a nation (JP 3-32).
Surveillance: the systematic observation of aerospace, cyberspace, surface, or subsurface areas, places, persons, or things by visual, aural, electronic, photographic, or other means (JP 3-0).
The objective of maritime surveillance in this sense is to holistically understand, anticipate and administer all events and actions related to the maritime domain that could impact on areas of maritime security.
This includes border control, maritime pollution and marine environment control, fisheries control, vessel traffic management, accident and disaster response, search and rescue, law enforcement, defence, trade and economic interests.
Maritime surveillance can be considered in the broader context of Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance (ISR) and, with regard to the exploitation of the electromagnetic spectrum in the context of Electro Magnetic Spectrum Operations (EMSO) for the maritime domain, as a ‘Force Multiplier’ for the supervision and control of maritime traffic.
The ultimate goal is to form a Recognised Maritime Picture (RMP) of vessel traffic involving ships of different types deployed in the area of interest. This is a key element for decision-making on actions at sea.
In the crowded and often contested maritime environment, Electro Magnetic Spectrum (EMS)-based surveillance is critical to obtaining and managing “information” that is vital to achieve and protect national sovereignty.
In military, military-supported and homeland security operations, mission success is highly dependent on the availability of information and the ability to correlate and merge information from different sources against existing knowledge to support rapid decision-making.
A robust, secure, resilient and reliable information acquisition and management infrastructure (both physical and logical) is required to contribute to and support the overall information environment.
The information content acquired from maritime surveillance activities will serve as the basis from which almost all decisions are made, allowing the armed forces to more effectively manoeuvre and coordinate actions targeting and engaging adversary forces. Maritime surveillance involves the collection, analysis, data fusion and sharing of data, the information being captured through a wide variety of sensors and sensor combinations operating in various segments of the spectrum (electronic signals, imagery, communications, acoustics, etc.) installed on different platforms (satellites, aircraft, ships, manned, etc.).
As a direct consequence, the main components of the maritime surveillance system are identified in:
- Passive sensors and platforms.
- Active sensors and platforms.
- Communication links.
- Data Fusion station.
The mix of passive and active sensors is crucial to ensure continuous and sustained surveillance in all weather conditions.
- Passive sensors such as Electronic Support Measurement, both in the radar (RESM) and communications (CESM) domains, often with accurate identification capabilities such as Fingerprinting and Specific Emitter Identification (SEI), Acoustic sensors, Optical sensors and IR sensors.
- Active sensors such as microwave imaging radars with range profiling and ISAR/SAR capabilities, ARPA (Automatic Radar Plotting Aid), HF surface wave radars and sky wave radars, through to vessel traffic services (e.g. Automatic Identification System – AIS).
These sensors can be operated from platforms based on land, on board ships and in aircraft (planes, helicopters, drones, balloons), as well as from satellites. Considering the huge variety and number of potential information sources, the concept of maritime surveillance is evolving into “integrated maritime surveillance”, with data collected through different sensors being shared and collected by different users to improve overall maritime situational awareness.
This implies the creation of a surveillance network for the exchange, integration and fusion of information collected by individual maritime surveillance systems, normally at sectoral and regional levels.