Open Source Tactical Geospacial Intelligence (OSTGI)

Open Source Tactical Geospacial Intelligence (OSTGI)

All countries desire to control their borders. Most currently rely on fixed based ground sensors to conduct air and surface surveillance. Some also use aviation based radar platforms such as airborne platforms, tethered aerostats, and other mobile sensor systems. Though effective in the air surveillance mission, none of these sensors have the ability to provide wide area maritime surface surveillance detections in a persistent manner. They lack the detection range to cover many areas of operational interest to the host country and radar, by itself, is not capable of conducting a full threat analysis. This has led to the conclusion that additional surveillance technology must be researched and developed and several institutions across the globe have undertaken research on the utility of unclassified space systems in this role. Europe has led the way, but that may be getting ready to change. The US Department of Homeland Security Science & Technology Directorate (DHS S&T) is planning on embarking on a program it calls “Open Source Tactical Geospacial Intelligence” (OSTGI) to use unclassified space-based sensors for border surveillance.

Starting in 2006 there has been a substantial increase world-wide in the number and capabilities of unclassified space systems with significant Earth observation capabilities. The wide deployment of Satellite Automatic Identification System (S-AIS) systems has dramatically increased the effectiveness over water of the number of increasingly sophisticated synthetic aperture radar (SAR), and electro-optical (EO) satellites that have been launched by a number of nations. S-AIS allows for the near automatic identification of many of the vessels detected by the SAR and EO imaging satellite systems, thereby allowing for quicker identification of vessels of special interest.   One method is to compare S-AIS contacts with those imaged in an area of interest. If there is an image of a vessel that reasonably should be broadcasting AIS and it is not, that vessel become a vessel of interest. Like-wise if a vessel is broadcasting a false ID, and that can usually be easily determined due to the fact that most threat evaluation tools now have over 10 years of data on every AIS transmitter ever detected, globally, then it too becomes a vessel of interest. It is indeed true that AIS is easy to spoof, but much less well known, it is also very easy to detect most spoofing and other false information. These software tools have been developed to take advantage of these new capabilities to allow for the development of operational profiles for both legal, normal operations and thus enabling the detection of abnormal behavior, be it legal or possibly otherwise.

Along with the dramatic expansion of AIS-based analysis tools, there has also been an explosion in the development of large data correlation and analysis systems to derive information, knowledge and even tactical, operational and strategic understanding of much of the smugglers’ operations from both space derived information and a host of terrestrial systems and data records. However, to date there have only been sporadic tests of these systems in other than Europe, to determine if they could assist in the smuggler interdiction mission.

The vast majority of these tests point to the probable utility of these systems for law enforcement purposes including counter smuggling, pollution detection from ships illegally pumping bilges in protected waters, and resource protection such as fish poaching and illegal seabed mining. These commercial satellites also have significant capabilities in disaster recovery.

Within the last 10 years the advent of these new, highly capable space systems significant interest in this area has been developed by multiple organizations both in the United States and elsewhere, especially in Europe and Japan. Elements of the DHS conducted tests and evaluations that indicate the potential high usefulness of such systems in DHS operations.

Based on this research DHS S&T has identified the potential of using commercial space based data from Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) and Electro Optic (EO) imaging satellites and Satellite Automatic Identification System (S-AIS) as a probable means to enhanced surveillance of threats approaching U.S. territorial borders. Theses 3 systems, SAR, EO, and S-AIS, coupled with major advancements in large data analysis, comprises the architecture, infrastructure, and business model, to provide the required data collection, analysis and exploitation capabilities to develop a highly useful understanding of operational and tactical situations in all geographic areas of DHS interest.

The proposed infrastructure spans the full Tasking, Collection, Processing, Exploitation, and Dissemination (TCPED) process for a substantial number of space sensors with the tasking and dissemination, both originating and terminating at a DHS operational command headquarters. Studies indicate that SAR, coupled with S-AIS, is the most cost effective measure to conduct maritime wide area surveillance in both areas that currently lack surveillance capabilities and areas that lack full integration of all pertinent sensors. This is especially true in open ocean waters and other remote area such as off foreign shores. Studies also indicate that rapid follow-up with EO/IR (Infrared) capability to SAR and S-AIS contacts could allow an effective measure for threat determination. This program also ensures necessary for access to commercial space SAR and EO imaging systems and to S-AIS, a critical element for the success of this effort.

If it is successful it could significantly change how the DHS conducts counter terrorism and smuggling operations while significantly improving DHS operational effectiveness and allowing a more efficient use of DHS assets such as Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and United States Coast Guard (USCG) aircraft and vessels.

DHS S&T has embarked on the OSTGI program with a goal of fielding an operational tactical system using unclassified space systems, to detect and track suspicious vessels in sufficient time to allow for them to be intercepted before they reach the United States.   The idea that this capability could be operationalized for land operations as well as many other aspects of maritime operations will be investigated by follow-on efforts, but illegal entry into the US for illicit purposes, especially smuggling, will be the DHS’s first concern and is the focus of the OSTGI program.

DHS S&T will be holding a series of live demonstrations in 2016 at the Multi-Agency Collaboration Environment (MACE) in northern Virginia to determine the state of the art in these systems. They are calling these live tests “Plug Fests” and C-SIGMA LLC has been engaged to organize them.


by Guy Thomas

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