Worldwide, aircraft are transparent, because they're all required to carry an "identification friend or foe" beacon that allows them to be tracked leaving and entering airports by aircraft-traffic-control systems and monitored between airports by sensors distributed across a global network. Trip the wire that defines "suspicious activity" and somebody's fighter aircraft will soon be on your tail. NATO alone routinely launches two or three fighters a week to identify unknown aircraft.
No such pervasive system currently exists globally for maritime traffic. If a ship any bigger than a small freighter is flagged by a nation belonging to the International Maritime Organization, it carries an ID beacon similar to aircraft. But without a shared monitoring network, that's like tracking only selected commercial jets part of the time and giving everyone else a pass.
So Admiral Ulrich, upon taking command in Naples, Italy, three years ago, asked a simple question: "If we can do that in the air, why can't we do it on the sea?"
He made a point of pioneering his sea-traffic-control effort first inside the Mediterranean, where NATO's southern naval forces have been historically concentrated, but his real target was Africa.
Africa's littoral waters are the most ungovernable maritime space in the world. Smuggling, drug running, human trafficking, illegal immigration, illegal fishing, environmental degradation, oil theft, and piracy -- you name it, it's all there in abundance.
Instead of hundreds of millions, Ulrich's network cost $150,000. The shore-based receivers are small, roughly the size of a radar dish you might find on a pleasure craft. Most can be attached to tall buildings or existing cell towers along the coast.
So far, Ulrich has enlisted all the countries of the Persian Gulf, and he's moving down the west coast of Africa. He's got Belgium, Poland, Slovenia, Morocco. The Black Sea, Tunisia, and Algeria are next. By late summer, twenty-seven countries and counting. Now he's pitching Russia.
With Ulrich's system in place, local police, coast guards, and border patrols catch all his bad guys for him, saving an American military response. "I don't do defense; I do security," he says. "When you talk defense, you talk containment and mutually assured destruction. When you talk security, you talk collaboration and networking. This is the future. This is the thousand-ship navy, except there are no ships."
Landing the Big One
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
Thomas P.M. Barnett has short piece on Adm. Ulrich's idea of "Sea-Traffic Control"