Surveillance: Coastwatch Sentinels on duty | ADM Jun 08

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The new Coastwatch service is up and running, and its ten Dash 8 maritime patrol aircraft are the most visible portion of what is now the world's largest and most sophisticated civilian maritime surveillance service.

By Gregor Ferguson, Adelaide

Adelaide-based Surveillance Australia Pty Ltd has delivered the last of 10 Bombardier Dash 8 maritime patrol aircraft to Border Protection Command (BPC).

The company, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of UK aerospace and defence services group Cobham PLC, will operate the Dash 8s under the $1 billion, 12-year CMS (Civil Maritime Surveillance) 04 contract it signed with the Australian Customs Service in 2006.

Surveillance Australia Pty Ltd (SAPL) installed and integrated the aircraft mission systems in Adelaide, delivering the completed aircraft on time and below budget.

"The engineering program was developed right here in Australia and is one of the largest of its type ever undertaken in Australia," according to The Hon. Bob Debus, Federal Minister for Home Affairs, who accepted the final aircraft into service at Adelaide Airport on 27 March.

Over the next two years, he added, the Dash 8s will undergo further modification by Cobham in Adelaide: "This facility will upgrade the Surveillance Information Management (SIM) system for all ten aircraft, ensuring they are well placed to help protect Australia right through the next 12 years."

Coastwatch at a glance
The Coastwatch service is the largest civilian airborne surveillance program in the world.

Its Dash 8s will fly some 2,400 sorties a year, patrolling Australia's 16 million square kilometre exclusive economic zone on behalf of BPC and other government agencies.

Coastwatch's targets are illegal fishermen, drug and people smugglers and quarantine and environmental threats right around Australia's 38,000km coastline and the Dash 8s will cover about 225 million square nautical miles per year.

The Coastwatch program has been outsourced for some 20 years; Surveillance Australia won the contract originally in 1994 and successfully re-tendered in 2004 when it was re-scoped as the CMS04 program.

The new contract runs from 2008 to 2020 and has been formally dubbed Project Sentinel, to reflect the significant investment in both a new operational concept and the new equipment to go with it.

Four years ago Coastwatch pioneered the use of satellite links to transmit video and still radar, infra red and TV images in real time direct from its five Dash 8s to BPC's National Surveillance Centre in Canberra.

For Project Sentinel Coastwatch wanted this capability enhanced still further, requiring advanced communications and an on-board and ground-based SIM system.

As a result SAPL has phased out the six BN2 Islanders, three Reims-Cessna F406s and solitary AC50 Shrike it used for visual surveillance of coastal waters.

The company's 15-strong fleet has been rationalised to six Bombardier Dash 8-200s and four Dash 8-300s with long-range fuel tanks for extended ferry and surveillance missions.

The Dash 8s underwent the necessary structural modifications at Field Aviation in Canada, with the mission systems and sensors installed by SAPL's sister company, National Air Support, in Adelaide.

On board
All of the Dash 8s carry the same sensor and communications suite: a Raytheon Sea Vue 2022 radar with its antenna in a belly-mounted radome to provide a 360 degree field of view; an L-3 Wescam MX15 Electro-Optical Sensor (EOS)in a turret under the nose, again offering a 360 degree field of view; and a suite of HF, VHF, UHF, Marine FM and satellite communications links.

The latter is a Chelton Swift 64 Inmarsat ISDN link developed by Chelton Communications, a sister company to RAPL within the Cobham group.

The Sea Vue 2022 radar replaces the 1022 model which equipped the five Dash 8-200s and two Reims Cessna 403s under the previous Coastwatch contract.

As well as Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) and Inverse SAR modes, this also has mapping, strip and spot SAR, Doppler Beam Sharpening and Maritime Moving Target Indication (MMTI) modes.

The SAR mode is used to classify marine targets while the SAR mode is very useful for monitoring things like boat marinas and airfields from a discreet distance.

The radar's versatility eliminates to some extent with the need to overfly certain areas for a visual inspection or search, but each aircraft carries stabilised binoculars for this purpose in any case.

BPC is also working with geo-science firms ESRI and AGI to ensure a good geo-reference for its sensors and to help enable change detection capabilities using the radar's spot and strip SAR modes.

The company says the Sea Vue 2022 has a better power aperture, and so a better detection range against certain very small targets than the ELTA EL/M-2022 radar aboard the RAAF's AP-3C Orions; the Sea Vue 2022's 20KW transmitter and larger antenna mean it can detect even very small, wooden fishing boats in high sea states at ranges of up to 50 nautical miles, the toughest of all the targets sought by Coastwatch.

The MX15 ES replaces the same supplier's 16DX sensor and incorporates day TV, Forward Looking Infra Red (FLIR) and Electro-Optic Narrow (EON).

It can be aimed manually, set to auto-rack a target, or slaved to the aircraft's radar to identify a radar contact.

Detection and tracking
Importantly, these sensors mean the aircraft can detect and track targets at ranges which make them effectively invisible to the surveillance subjects, a capability which Coastwatch employed three years ago when one of the earlier Dash 8s tracked the North Korean drug smuggling ship Pong Su right round the coast until it was intercepted.

The new sensor suite enhances the stand-off range in most circumstances.

The Coastwatch philosophy is to be visible but unpredictable.

The aircraft don't fly regular 'beats': their tasking is reviewed on a multi agency basis every month and based on up to date intelligence and the requirements of stakeholders such as the Australian Federal Police (AFP), Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) and the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS).

Their main operating bases are Broome, Darwin and Cairns, each of which has a SAPL maintenance hangar.

But they also deploy forward regularly to Horn Island, Weipa and Truscott airfield in the Kimberley.

Border Protection Command is headed by a naval officer, RADM James Goldrick, who is also Commander Joint Task Force 639 which coordinates Defence's contribution to BPC under a single ongoing activity, OP Resolute.

While Coastwatch carries out the majority of aerial surveillance BPC's main response and enforcement assets are Customs' feet of eight Bay-class patrol boats and the RAN's14 Armidale-class patrol boats.

RAAF AP-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft also conduct surveillance tasks on behalf of BPC when required.

The 10 Coastwatch aircraft are manned by 26 crews comprising two pilots, a Mission Coordinator and an Electronic Observer.

The Dash 8-200s typically fly 6.5-7 hour sorties; the -300s, with their long range tanks, can fly up to 15 hour sorties with supplementary crews.

Their patrol altitude depends on a variety of factors, including the need to place a sensor at the optimum altitude and slant range for a specific target.

The minimum height is 200ft by day and 600ft by night.

The new SIM will be introduced from late-2008.

This will be based on Italian firm Galileo Avionica's Airborne Tactical Observation System (ATOS) but has been developed considerably by SAPL and Customs to meet the requirements of Project Sentinel.

Galileo's SIM contract is worth about $30 million over 12 years and will see 10 systems installed in the Dash 8s a further two installed in the two surveillance helicopters operated by Australian Helicopters in Brisbane, along with a fixed ground station in Canberra and two mobile ground stations.

The SIM will automate and simplify the management of sensor imagery and data aboard the aircraft.

It will fuse radar and FLIR data into a single, multi-layer Recognised Picture which also incorporates data from the Australian Maritime Identification System (AMIS), a distributed database of sensor, intelligence and open-source data which is designed to help BPC and search and rescue authorities track the movements of all surface craft within Australia's EEZ.

The aircraft also have a limited Direction Finding (DF) capability able to pinpoint the frequency and bearing of certain intercepted signals.

The SIM integrates these inputs into the Recognised Picture and will then manage downloads of data and imagery via the Inmarsat satellite to be distributed to BPC.

Plus the SIM will manage the aircraft's communications suite.

This consists of a battery of different links: Marine FM to communicate with craft at sea; the Swift 64 L-band Inmarsat datalink; HF links to communicate with both Customs and the ADF; a Military UHF link; a digital, secure and encrypted UHF link to communicate with the AFP, AQIS, Customs and BPC; and, soon, an encrypted Iridium satellite telephone capability.

The networking capabilities provided by the SIM will enable each aircraft to import data from other Coastwatch aircraft and share the Recognised Picture - each Dash 8 will have its own IP address, so when one aircraft relieves another on task it will pick up the operating picture seamlessly.

The SIM will also produce a High Integrity Mission Record (HIMR) which will be stored on a computer hard drive as well as digital tape (for long term archival storage); the integrity of sensor imagery and other data is vital for evidentiary purposes.

To provide an interim capability pending arrival of the SIM, SAPL developed an Enhanced Mission System (EMS) derived from that on its earlier Dash 8s.

This employs three displays with a single keyboard and roller ball at the Mission Coordinator and Electronic Observer consoles.

Each screen can display imagery from each of the sensors as well as other databases, and the EMS enables evidentiary-quality imagery to be recorded securely, downloaded to BPC and saved for post sortie reporting and analysis.

Future developments
According to CDRE Nigel Perry, Director General Development at Coastwatch, BPC is eyeing a number of new capabilities and also looking to replace Customs' Bay-class patrol boats which are approaching the end of their service lives.

Following DSTO's North West Shelf trial with the General Atomics Mariner in 2006 and various Customs trials with the Aerosonde before that, BPC plans to trial the Israeli IAI Heron high altitude long endurance UAV.

This was due to arrive at Weipa on 2 May for a program of 10 flights over about three weeks.

The Heron is fitted with the ELTA EL/M 2022U radar with the latest software, and an IAI-TAMAM Multi-Mission Optronic Stabilised Payload (MOSP) fitted with high definition optical and Infra Red cameras.

It will also have an AMIS system fitted.

The UAV was selected on the basis of its availability in the required timeframe; will be operated by IAI, which will provide a report on the trial results.

The Heron will be benchmarked against a Dash 8 for 'ground truthing' purposes.

While the CMS 04 tender documents invited innovative responses, and SAPL offered the General Atomics Mariner UAV in its tender response, BPC doesn't plan to introduce UAVs at this stage; however, if evolving threats demand, it could do so as an extension to CMS 04 if it chose, according to CDRE Perry.

Further down the track, BPC is watching the introduction of Inmarsat's Broadband service from about 2009.

While the Swift 64 Inmarsat service is an improvement over its predecessor, it still lacks the bandwidth for near-real time streaming video of evidentiary quality.

CDRE Perry hopes to introduce a Broadband Inmarsat capability from the end of 2009.

At present, there is no data or imagery downlink between the Dash 8s and the Bay-class patrol boats.

An experimental downlink between the Mariner UAV and an Armidale-class patrol boat was demonstrated successfully during the NWS Trial in late-2006 and the replacement for the Bay-class boats will have an IP-based broadcast receiver so that it too can share the Recognised Picture compiled aboard the Dash 8s.

The Bay-class patrol boats will reach the end of their useful lives between 2011 and 2013, so Customs is seeking a replacement with some urgency.

The Coastwatch service provided under Project Sentinel demonstrates that simply having surveillance platforms and sensors isn't enough: the ability to act on the information gathered is vital, whether that action consists of a boarding party from a patrol boat or the prosecution of a drug or people smuggler.

So Coastwatch's capabilities are Defined as much now by its information management capabilities as by its information gathering capabilities.

The introduction of the new SIM later this year will strengthen the former significantly.

Copyright - Australian Defence Magazine, June 2008

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