Story by¬†Ashley Nekoui
SAN DIEGO – Personnel from Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Pacific (SSC Pacific‚Äôs) Cooperative Interagency Operational Partnership for Maritime Domain Awareness (CIOP-MDA) project returned to San Diego in late March after a monthlong mission in Africa.
The CIOP-MDA team is made up of five SSC Pacific civilians: Sparta Cheung, Lynne Tablewski, Bryan Bagnall, Judi Appel, and John Stastny.
The team works closely with civilians and military personnel at U.S. Naval Forces Africa (NAVAF), as well as other government agencies and organizations, including the Department of Transportation‚Äôs A. Volpe National Transportation Systems Center and Naval Air Station Pax River.
The CIOP-MDA project receives funding from NAVAF to support various activities, including three naval exercises annually, all focused on counter-piracy and improving maritime safety and security in Africa.
The U.S. Navy works alongside naval partners to plan and execute each of the operational exercises.
‚ÄúA key component to our work for NAVAF is improving regional MDA through engagement and capacity building,‚Äù said John Stastny, project manager for CIOP‚ÄìMDA. ‚ÄúWe‚Äôve spent approximately 24 weeks over the last three years in the Gulf of Guinea working with partner nations.‚Äù
During the team‚Äôs latest trip to Africa, they traveled to six countries, including Ghana, Togo, Cameroon, Senegal, Cape Verde, and The Gambia, where they participated in two major exercises, Obangame Express and Saharan Express.
During the trip, the team also met with maritime stakeholders in each country, including fisheries, ports, and harbors to increase interagency cooperation in maritime operations.
Obangame Express 2013 took place in the Gulf of Guinea and focused on the importance of regional cooperation to combat piracy and other growing maritime threats in the region. Saharan Express 2013 took place off the coast of West Africa and concentrated on improving maritime security through a variety of in port and at sea training and drills.
The CIOP-MDA team also participates in Cutlass Express, an exercise generally held in late fall off the coast of East Africa.
‚ÄúOur expertise is in the utilization of satellite imagery for MDA, which is one of the areas we concentrate on during the exercises,‚Äù said Stastny. ‚ÄúAs part of the project, we‚Äôve also focused on identifying local problems and working with partners to come up with practical, sustainable solutions, in addition to building interagency partnerships and regional partnerships, which are critical for information sharing and, consequently, for MDA.‚Äù
During the exercises, the SSC Pacific team performed installation of Automatic Identification System transponders on vessels that were participating in the exercise to allow them to be tracked on SeaVision, a Web-based common operating picture used by U.S. Naval Forces Africa and coalition partners.
The CIOP-MDA team also planned, tasked, and processed satellite imagery to derive vessel positions using the Rapid Image Exploitation Resource Ship Detection System, which was developed at SSC Pacific and provides vessel positions to exercise participants in SeaVision.
‚ÄúOne of the primary challenges faced during these regional exercises was the diversity of languages spoken throughout the continent, primarily English, French, and Portuguese,‚Äù said Stastny. ‚ÄúTo overcome this challenge, planning documents and exercise materials are translated ahead of time and translators are available. In addition, many foreign naval officers speak more than one language and, oftentimes, one of those languages is English.‚Äù
‚ÄúThis was a great experience,” said Stastny. “We had the opportunity to work closely with military personnel from both the U.S. and our partner nations. Some of the most rewarding and important components of these events are the partnerships built and the different perspectives provided by our foreign military partners. Everyone involved in these exercises is extremely professional, and is devoted to improving maritime safety and security.‚Äù