Complicated or Complex?
Maritime Domain Awareness is a complex system, not merely a complicated one. Although the electrical grid for the New York City metropolis area is vast and intricate, it’s workings are none the less only complicated because it consists of a basic network on/off switches. The linear relationship makes it easy to diagnose past incidents and anticipate potential problems. The massive blackout of 1977 could be traced to a series of lightning strikes that triggered unintended switches in the power grid algorithms with catastrophic consequences.
Complexity is different because the elements are not independent and the relationships are nonlinear. Accordingly, MDA, as a complex system, cannot be predicted through probabilistic methods such as extrapolating averages and interpretting median deviations. A complex system also overwhelms the cognitive ability of a decision maker to see the emerging patterns or significant elements. In the case of MDA, that cognitive ability currently encompasses the collection capabilities of several institutions and all nations and navies.
Signal in the Noise
Like most intelligence collection, complexity research is also about finding the anomalies and outliers that have significance – of finding signal within the noise. Data mining of complex systems such as MDA involves three buckets of information: lagging, current, and leading. Lagging is information such as ships’ movements; current is ships’ positions. For MDA this data has tremendous gaps. Traditional AIS tracking fails to capture “dark vessels,” those that are defiantly misleading and those that are too small for AIS. Collection, fusion and analysis of information on these dark vessels are the higher priorities of Maritime Domain Awareness.
Finally, the golden egg of the system is leading information, which is best described by former US Coast Guard commandant ADM Allen’s comment that what you need for piracy is a pirate and a pirate-able ship. Harvard Business Review’s suggestion for risk mitigation of complex systems includes storytelling and counterfactuals in conjunction with triangulation of those creative outcomes.
As in any counterterrorism textbook, capturing the near misses is as important as the responses to real events. Arm chair quarterback analysis of past events and hypothesizing even grand scenarios is much more productive now than ever before with the aid of information systems such as Global Information Systems (GIS).
Global Information Systems
Utilizing Global Information Systems is the key to answering the MDA complex system risk mitigation, especially dark vessels. Using the open source data bases and combining deep intelligence is the first step in the process. Next is sharing the practices, near misses, and possible scenarios that currently reside within silos within the various United States’ government and non-government organizations. Finally, the results are triangulated by assessment from various angles that provide unique perspective that collectively minimize the risk terrain. A more rich and comprehensive solution set would be possible in expanding the cognitive efforts of the world’s navies at such forums as the International Seapower Symposium.
Utilizing techniques such as creative storytelling in conjunction with quantitative chop has not been used extensively until recently. Global Information Systems are an open source, intuitive capability that captures real time data and overlays it geographically. As such it is perfect for such sophisticated analysis of complex systems of significant emphasis in MDA.
Why the International Seapower Symposium?
The International Seapower Symposium is a biennial event that collects the world’s navies to socialize and share the collective issues of the sea. By far the most prevalent issue is Maritime Domain Awareness. The capabilities of GIS were just budding two years ago for the last meeting, and now the digital power curve for this technology is rising exponentially. This critical technology needs to be presented and socialized at this forum. Because of the scale of its simplicity to sophistication as well as its open source basis, anyone can use it. That also means the “dark vessel” owners. The ISS is the time and place to ensure gaps in MDA are illuminated and leveraged. The ISS is the opportunity to socialize current practices and draft scenarios for testing.