|North American Aerospace Defense Command's maritime
domain awareness mission helps to provide the information and intelligence
required to increase the security of U.S. and Canadian waterways and ports.
Pictured here are four newly operational supersized container cranes on a new
50-foot deep container berth at the Port of Baltimore, one of only two East
Coast ports able to accommodate some of the world's largest container vessels.
Maryland Port Administration Photo by Bill McAllen, courtesy of the Maryland
Port Administration |
The United States is the world leader in maritime trading, Navy Capt. Martin Beck, chief of North American Air Defense Command's maritime division, told American Forces Press Service. Twenty percent of all global trade passes through its extensive maritime transportation system, and 80 percent of all foreign trade entering the United States and Canada arrives by sea.Unfortunately, these same waterways expose an unintended Achilles' heel to bad actors intent on using them for illegal, or even diabolical, activities.
"The threats are varied to the extent of your imagination," Beck explained. "They include state and nonstate actors, narco-smuggling, human traffickers, weapons traffickers, proliferators [and] foreign intelligence collectors. That is the gross macro spectrum of what we could encounter in the maritime domain."
The consequences, if left undetected, could be severe to the United States and Canada, Beck said. "We want to prevent a potential 9/11 in the maritime domain," he said.
To shore up these vulnerabilities, the United States and Canada amended the NORAD agreement in 2006 to add maritime warning to its mission. The two countries agreed to increase information and intelligence sharing to give their national leaders a clearer picture of the maritime approaches to their shores -- and, in the event of an inbound threat, vital time to act.
"The intent of the agreement was to increase the security of North America using a proven command infrastructure to increase bi-national cooperation in the maritime domain," Beck said. "We've got 55 years of experience here at NORAD in the defense of both Canada and the United States. So we are leveraging the state-of-the-art operations center and information-sharing protocols to ensure both countries have an accurate, timely and comprehensive picture of the maritime domain."
Since adopting the expanded mission almost seven years ago, NORAD processes, assesses and disseminates intelligence and information about the movements of hundreds of thousands of ships around the globe that ultimately will arrive at U.S. or Canadian shores.
This responsibility, which covers both countries' maritime areas, internal waterways and maritime approaches, requires extensive partnerships with U.S. Northern Command and its sister combatant commands. It also includes other partners in the U.S. and Canadian militaries, law enforcement, intelligence and commercial maritime communities.
Beck called these partnerships and the processes they have developed to make collaboration faster and more effective the strength of NORAD's maritime mission. Together, NORAD and its partners provide the myriad elements that, considered together, provide the most complete situational awareness, he said.
"The biggest challenge is the sheer volume of information that we have to sort through, and then collaborate on and share with our partners," Beck said. "This sharing and collaboration is essential to our success in the maritime domain and in exercising our maritime warning mission."
When the intelligence raises a red flag, NORAD issues an advisory to alert national decision-makers, or, in the event of a confirmed threat, a maritime warning.
Both are relatively rare. During the last 18 months, NORAD has issued just seven advisories and two warnings, none of which Beck can describe because the details are classified. But he said past responses have proven the effectiveness of the processes.
"To us, this shows that the process is working exactly as it was intended," he said.
The success of the mission, Beck said, can't be measured in warnings issued or interceptions made. Rather, he said he looks at the big picture, and the fact that neither the United States nor Canada has suffered a major maritime incident.
NORAD is committed to maintaining this track record to protect the U.S. and Canadian homelands, Beck said.
"We have the watch, and what we do is a no-fail mission," he said.