Senegalese navy boarding officer Maitre Cheikh Sidate Camara directs a joint-boarding team of U.S. Coast Guard and Senegalese sailors while conducting a routine inspection of a vessel fishing in Senegal's Exclusive Economic Zone. (Navy)
The Navy will soon get a leg up in locating illegal fishermen, drug smugglers, pirates, human traffickers and others at sea who don’t want to be found.
Researchers at the Office of Naval Research modified existing technologies to make Rough Rhino, a next-generation tracking system that allows ships to locate vessels that are not transmitting Automatic Identification System signals.
AIS is a locating signal all commercial ships weighing more than 300 tons must carry. AIS data is available online.
Although Navy ships have AIS onboard, they do not regularly transmit their signals. Neither do bad guys who would rather keep their locations secret.
Today’s technology allows ships to track other vessels not transmitting AIS only if they are within the horizon, or about 25 to 35 miles, according to Dr. Michael Pollock, director for the electronics, sensors and networks division at ONR. To see beyond that, ships must get an assist from an airborne asset, such as a P-3C Orion long-range aircraft.
Rough Rhino, however, will give Navy ships the ability to see evasive vessels from much farther away, finding the vessels with radar and using optics to identify them. Pollock said the software program will give sailors a clearer maritime domain awareness picture than their radar.
Technology developed for Rough Rhino will be used in other ONR projects, such as moving-target synthetic aperture radar. Synthetic aperture radar normally works on stationary land targets, Pollock said.
“Ships move,” he said. “We’re trying to make high-resolution images of moving ships.”
Rough Rhino was tested in an operational environment off the coast of West Africa as part of the African Maritime Law Enforcement Partnership exercise, officials announced July 10.
Host nations Senegal, Cape Verde and Gambia used the system to track more than 600 illegal fishermen, drug smugglers and human traffickers a day, and boarded 24 ships during AMLEP. The system was installed temporarily on the frigate Simpson as well as two Senegalese ships during the exercise.
“It allows the host nations to improve their security situation, which for us, provides a better infrastructure for counterterrorism,” Pollock said.
Some help now, some later
Some elements of Rough Rhino are already being put to use. The program has allowed for updates to the APY-10 radar on P-8 Poseidon, Pollock said. APY-10 radar provides high-resolution imaging over land or water.
However, many of the bigger updates to sensors are still three to seven years away from being integrated into the fleet, he said.
Rough Rhino is an upgrade to software that has been rewritten multiples times to keep up with rapid technology changes.
The software was tested in AMLEP 2011 but was called Rough Monkey. Pollock said they haven’t decided on a name for next year’s AMLEP test, but it will be “Rough something.”
Next year’s test will include speeding up the system.
“What took us 20 minutes, we should have been able to do in two,” Pollock said.
Along with Rough Rhino, ONR is developing an anti-piracy computer application. While Rough Rhino is a tactical tool for operators at sea, the app takes a look at the larger picture, according to Grace Jean, senior communications specialist at ONR. The app is intended for analysts looking at behavioral patterns of suspicious ships.
Although there are no plans for the two methods to work together, Jean said, data collected by Rough Rhino sensors could someday feed the analytical tools of the anti-piracy app.