Countries, financial institutions, and maritime insurers rely on the Automatic Identification System (AIS) to maintain awareness of vessel traffic so they can preserve proper use of the maritime corridors and reduce illicit activities that harm the global community. But AIS represents only a fraction of the total radio frequency (RF) energy generated by vessels.
AIS is an automated tracking system for maritime environments designed for vessels to self-report their identity and location. By international mandate, most vessels over 300 gross tons are required to have an AIS transponder. The requirement has also been extended by many countries to include a range of smaller vessels.
Although originally created to help prevent ship-to-ship collisions, AIS data has proven very useful in monitoring ship traffic. AIS receivers along the coastline read AIS transmissions and map vessels locations within 50 miles of the coast. Over the past decade, the emergence of satellites as a way to receive AIS transmissions has improved vessel tracking across the oceans.
While AIS is a valuable data source, its capabilities are inherently limited:
As a result, AIS has significant coverage risks. This lack of AIS continuity creates an opening for rogue vessels seeking to evade monitoring and pursue illicit activities such as smuggling or sanctions violations. For example, a monitoring agency might be able to determine it has lost track of a ship, but that offers no further insight about the activities of the vessel.
To expand maritime domain awareness, organizations must look beyond AIS. Not to replace AIS, but to provide additional tools designed to answer questions AIS can’t answer.
HawkEye 360 is an RF data analytics company able to address the AIS challenges outlined above. The company can validate the reported AIS location and continue tracking a vessel once it goes dark by geolocating other RF signals on the vessel. This is accomplished by using our first-of-its-kind commercial satellite constellation to identify, process, and geolocate a broad set of RF signals. The satellites fly in formation and follow a low-earth orbit that surveys global RF usage.
Our constellation is able to independently geolocate a diverse set of signals emitted by ships, such as marine radars, push-to-talk radios, satellite phones, emergency beacons, and AIS. This broader RF range expands visibility and offers a unique maritime dataset that addresses the limitations of AIS. For example, the improved analysis supports:
HawkEye 360 uses proprietary algorithms, machine learning, and artificial intelligence to extract value from this specialized data. The resulting RF analytics solve challenging maritime problems, such as finding vessels exhibiting anomalous behavior.
This article initially appeared in the ‘Sea: The Future’ conference magazine.