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Oceans of Information

Bird Aerosystems launches its ASIO product line into the maritime patrol domain

Bird Aerosystems is in the midst of a major expansion of its Airborne Surveillance, Intelligence and Observation (ASIO) mission system product family, the company has told MONS. Known as the ASIO Maritime Patrol Solution (ASIO MPS), the product works to federate several onboard and off-board intelligence sources to provide a robust means of detecting vessels of interest. Shaul Mazor, the company’s Vice President of Marketing, stated that the ASIO MPS will perform a significant quantity of automatic data analysis based on available intelligence used by the aircraft’s crew at the mission planning stage, and the sensor feeds used by the maritime patrol aircraft, to alert an operator to vessels which maybe acting suspiciously. 

Mr. Mazor continued that the ASIO MPS can be used both before and during a mission to heighten a crew’s situational awareness. For example, prior to the flight, the crew can use the ASIO MPS software to examine a satellite picture of the areas of ocean above which they will be patrolling, and then overlay details from the international Automatic Identification System (AIS) which is mandated by the International Maritime Organisation for all vessels displacing over 600 tonnes, using two very high frequency channels satellite communications channels of 161.975 megahertz/MHz and 162.025MHz to share information regarding the vessel’s identity, position, course and speed. 

Once the aircraft is on patrol, the pre-flight satellite and AIS pictures can be matched with the recognised maritime picture gathered by the aircraft’s own airborne surveillance radar to see any new vessels which may have entered the area. Mr. Mazor adds that the aircraft’s optronics will also supplement the overall pre-flight and real-time pictures, and again help to detect suspicious vessels, or suspicious activities. Intrinsic to this approach, he continues, is employing a Communications Intelligence (COMINT) sensor as part of the aircraft’s equipment fit. This can play an important role in monitoring the communications of the vessels in the aircraft’s vicinity, and flagging suspicious activity: “a small fishing vessel would not normally expect to be equipped with military grade high frequency or very high frequency communications, probably instead using cellular communications,” which would be far less expensive to procure. Thus discovering that the small fishing vessel on the operator’s screen is performing such communications could indicate that something is amiss. Furthermore, the COMINT system could alert the crew that the ship is communicating with someone on land, or with other ships in the area. This could be indicative of a smuggling operation, or of pirates whom sometimes use a larger ‘mother ship’ to provide the support to smaller raiding boats attacking vessels. 

In a nutshell, the approach taken by the ASIO MPS is to federate several pre-mission and real-time intelligence and sensor feed sources to provide the operator with as much information as possible and to use sophisticated algorithms to alert them to something out of the ordinary or suspicious. As Mr. Mazur mentions, “99.9 percent of vessels” will be on innocent passage, it is the 0.01 percent which will be of interest, but which may try to hide in plain sight on the high seas to avoid detection. The ASIO MPS is intended to act as a valuable situational awareness and decision-making aid. The company is planning to offer the ASIO MPS, in addition to customer-specified aircraft and sensors as a full “turn key” solution for current maritime patrol aircraft operators seeking new aircraft, or navies and coastguards which are considering the initial procurement of such a platform.

Thomas Withington

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