Defending the Seas

New security challenges at sea are emphasizing the policing role of the world's navies. Exercise of sea control in a military sense is taking a back-seat while cooperation to secure maritime transport flows is more prevalent. We now require advanced technological equipment which is developed in tandem with an understanding of the emerging threats at sea. Saab is at the forefront of the ongoing technology race.

With a few exceptions, the world has not seen any naval conflicts since the Second World War. "The navy's job today is a combination of diplomacy and policing," says Peter Behrendt, Global Head of Naval Business Development at Saab. "The navy works to protect freedom of navigation and merchant shipping, important maritime transport, and combats pirates and smugglers."

With a few exceptions, the world has not seen any naval conflicts since the Second World War. "The navy's job today is a combination of diplomacy and policing," says Peter Behrendt, Global Head of Naval Business Development at Saab. "The navy works to protect freedom of navigation and merchant shipping, important maritime transport, and combats pirates and smugglers."

Peter Behrendt sums up the need to protect the seas in three categories. One is for countries to protect their assets, such as oil, gas and sea-based minerals in the South China Sea, in the southern Atlantic off West Africa, in the Caribbean off the coast of South America, off the Australian north coast and Antartica. Another is for countries to protect geographical areas due to their strategically important position, as in the case of the recent posturing between China and Japan over a group of uninhabited, barren islands south west of the Japanese island of Okinawa. The third category is to combat smuggling and pirate attacks to enable the free passage of trade.

Protecting against piracy is difficult, in Peter Behrendt's opinion. Pirates attack in places where they know ships have to pass, such as the Gulf of Aden off coast of Somalia and other "chokepoints" for trade shipping. It is an important transport corridor and impossible to avoid for ships passing through the Suez Canal. And the cargoes are valuable – of overall global trade, up to 90 per cent is transported at sea.

"Pirates have an evolved business concept. They have created such intense fear that those who are attacked have little choice but to surrender unless they can call on direct protection from naval forces or their own security teams. This means pirates do not suffer any losses or damage, and they can gain huge sums with relatively little risk. Armed encounters that result in casualties are not in anyone's interests."

The UN Security Council estimates that ransoms of up to 150 million dollars were paid to pirates in Somalia in 2011. At the end of 2011, 265 people were being held hostage by pirates who have gradually widened their area of operations in the Indian Ocean. The number of lives that have been lost is too large and too complex to calculate.

But although it is difficult to combat the pirates, cooperation efforts between international naval forces has been successful in reducing the incidence of piracy. During the first half of 2012, the number of pirate attacks in the Gulf of Aden off Somalia decreased to 69 – more than a 50 per cent reduction against the previous year.

The primary instrument in tackling pirates and smugglers is monitoring. Ships report their presence to their owners, to coordinating agencies and to navies via the Automatic Identification System (AIS). This provides information about position, course, speed, destination and basic information such as the name, size and cargo aboard the ship.

"Those who want to be seen and protected report their presence to obtain a safe passage. The problem is that those who we are keen to see, the pirates and smugglers, never make themselves known."

A solution to this problem is independent monitoring, Non Dependent Surveillance, which is based on monitoring from the land. All vessels that pass along the coast and out to sea are visible under certain conditions using a variety of technologies. Monitoring is carried out using overlapping radar installations and coastguard units compare the results with reports from AIS. Deviating boats are checked as there is a suspicion that they may be smugglers or pirates.

There is also a highly-developed range of technical equipment that can be combined in an infinite number of ways for security at sea.

"Combating piracy and protecting maritime boundaries is becoming an increasingly difficult task for naval forces. The race is on when it comes to providing security forces with advanced monitoring and control so that they can be one step ahead of the smugglers. So far, Saab has a head start in that race," says Peter Behrendt, "adaptable equipment, for example, makes it possible to board suspected vessels using relatively small boats." This is where Peter Behrendt has been active in the development of new products for Saab, in cooperation with the Royal Australian Navy.

 "The challenge is to stay one step ahead and anticipate where and how new critical situations will arise. And preferably to solve the problem before the critical situation arises," concludes Peter Behrendt.