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U.S. Focuses on Small Sea Vessels in Anti-WMD Smuggling Program

A group of U.S. agencies is studying ways for detecting and tracking small seagoing vessels that could be used by terrorists to smuggle nuclear or radiological materials and associated equipment into the United States, the Defense Department announced on Wednesday (see GSN, Aug. 15).

While steps have been taken internationally to prevent larger cargo-carrying ships from being used by would-be nuclear smugglers, less-sizable vessels remain a vulnerability within the security web.

The Naval Postgraduate School Information Services Department, along with the Energy and Homeland Security departments, the U.S. Navy and Special Operations Command and several friendly foreign nations have established a system that connects participants, allowing for the rapid exchange of information about high-value watercraft that should be stopped and searched, a Pentagon release stated.

The developmental network is comprised of drone technology, screening checkpoints, electronic monitors and other capabilities, NPS associate professor Alex Bordetsky said.

Bordetsky said research and testing of new maritime surveillance technology in the last nine years have displayed promise. A yearly drill lead by his school offers a platform for assessing the utility of the latest monitoring methods and search tools, Bordetsky said.

Denmark, Germany, Greece, Singapore, Sweden and NATO are all participating in the maritime surveillance operation.

One issue to overcome, Bordetsky said, is how to spot and monitor small vessels while traveling at a heightened speeds.

"We need to put every step of the process on an ad hoc mobile, self-forming network. That way, no matter how people move around on patrol boats or as combat swimmers approaching the target covertly, all are connected," the professor said in provided comments.

Once complete, the network could provide operatives interdicting a vessel with information provided in real time by researchers working on supercomputers at the U.S. national laboratories.

"They can crunch that model quickly and determine what kind of material or residue this might be, then advise the boarding team," Bordetsky said.

The researcher said he hopes all the components of the integrated maritime surveillance network will come together in half a decade (U.S. Defense Department release, Sept. 21).

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GSN ceased publication on July 31, 2014. Its articles and daily issues will remain archived and available on NTI’s website.

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