Coastal Watchkeepers

Controp has developed the 3D Guard persistent surveillance system, which is already in operation with an Asia Pacific country. (Controp)

Unmanned systems are making the monitoring of coastal borders a less labour intensive.

Although the Asia Pacific region has remained free from major conflicts in recent decades, border and coastal security is increasingly a cause for concern for many regional nations. With their economies vulnerable to vast stretches of porous land and maritime borders that result in illegal entry and smuggling activities, a recent heightening of focus on longstanding territorial disputes has elevated the importance of border security.

Rapid economic growth and military modernisation, combined with growing resource demands, has exacerbated the potential for conflict. Non-traditional threats such as weapons proliferation, illicit trafficking, piracy, and natural disasters pose significant challenges with grave implications for national security. It is no surprise, then, that the Asia Pacific is projected by some market research firms to top the global border and maritime security market with cumulative expenditure of over US$110 billion out till 2027 (source: MarketsandMarkets).

Border surveillance

The Asia Pacific is home to some of the most dangerous land borders in the world, with the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), India-Pakistan and Sino-Indian borders having been prominent for decades. With such enduring requirements, it is no surprise that reconnaissance and surveillance equipment developers have identified significant market opportunities in the region.

Developed in 2014 in response to a customer requirement, Controp Precision Technologies’ 3D Guard is an unattended day/night-capable video surveillance system that is designed to provide persistent observation capabilities for the protection of national borders as well as military facilities and critical infrastructure.

The 3D Guard weighs 25kg and comprises two stationary fixed field-of-view (FoV) cameras – dual uncooled infrared imagers or dual daylight television cameras – mounted one metre apart in parallel on a fixed pedestal and both staring in the same direction. According to Controp, this configuration creates a ‘triangle’ that forms a stereoscopic image of the object of interest, enabling precise calculation of distance and movement.

Each 3D Guard system has a maximum range of 1,000m and is usually installed on fixed structures such as masts or towers, but can also be employed as part of a mobile security system. It is designed to function reliably in environments where humidity can be as high as 95 percent, making it particularly suitable for the tropical conditions found in Asia. The company reports sales of ‘a few dozen’ systems to an unspecified launch customer in Asia Pacific.

Controp has also developed the Speed-ER, a multi-sensor observation system designed for extended-range surveillance applications in day and night conditions. The company is pitching the Speed-ER for a range of land-based requirements, including border and coastal surveillance, air defence, and force protection.

Speed-ER combines a cooled Gen 3 medium-wave infrared (MWIR) indium antimonide (InSb) camera and a shortwave infrared (SWIR) indium gallium arsenide (InGaAS) camera outfitted with a continuous optical zoom lens, as well as a pair of colour CCD cameras. These cameras are specifically optimised for narrow and wide fields of view (FoVs) respectively. The system also includes an eye-safe laser rangefinder and a laser pointer.

Controp states that a key feature of the Speed-ER system is its 4-axis gyro-stabilised electro-mechanical sensor head, which has a 360-degree continuous horizontal field-of-regard capability. The stabilisation ensures that vibrations encountered by the multispectral camera array do not degrade video quality at longer ranges, especially when the system is capable of detecting targets at distances of over 40km.

Unmanned Observation

The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) has adopted comparable technologies in its newly announced Unmanned Watch Tower (UWT) solution, the first of which is expected to be operational by March 2018 with two more systems deployed by September. Designed and built by Singapore’s state-owned defence technology agency, DSO National Laboratories, the UWT will support the SAF’s coastal surveillance operations on the strategically vital Jurong Island, where most of its petroleum, petrochemical and specialty chemical industries are based along with underground storage spaces for such products.

The Singapore Armed Forces unveiled its Unmanned Watch Tower in March 2018, with the first system deployed on a strategically vital installation. (Singapore Ministry of Defence)

The UWT is equipped with a suite of advanced sensor systems comprising multiple high-resolution low-light electro-optical cameras to cover a wide surveillance area, centralised remote monitoring of multiple camera systems, and video analytics for the automatic detection of targets. The UWT is also equipped with a long-range acoustic device to warn-off intruders. According to the Ministry of Defence, the system will save manpower by up to 30 percent and is also rapidly redeployable – given that it is built around a standard shipping container that can be easily transported – to support surveillance operations elsewhere.

IMSS in Indonesia

With vast territorial waters and complex geography which includes around 17,000 islands, Indonesia has invested considerable resources into growing its coastal surveillance capabilities. Under a 2006 deal with US company Techno-Sciences, it acquired at least 12 surveillance radars worth over $16 million to monitor its southern Makassar Strait. Indonesia has also been advancing indigenous research and development into coastal surveillance systems with the support of the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, as well as state-owned firms including PT Len Industri and PT Dirgantara.

In 2012, the country acquired two coastal radar surveillance systems based on Kelvin Hughes’ solid-state SharpEye radar sensor technology to monitor the waters around Maluku province and the eastern Merauke Regency in the Papua province. The package included the supply of the SBS-800-51 system, S-Band solid-state SharpEye radar transceiver and antenna, as well as the installation of the systems on radar masts.

According to Kelvin Hughes, the SBS radar systems are fully remote-controlled and is designed for continuous operation with high detection accuracy and target discrimination at long range. The company also claims that the systems automatically adapt to changes in the weather and environmental conditions without the need for any operator intervention.

Indonesia has also benefited from international support such as the Integrated Maritime Surveillance System (IMSS), which was funded by the United States (US) Department of Defense (DoD) to the tune of $57 million between 2006 to 2008. Handed over to the Indonesian Navy (Tentara Nasional Indonesia-Angkatan Laut, TNI–AL) in October 2011, the IMSS comprises 18 coastal surveillance stations, 11 ship-based radars, two regional command centres and two fleet command centres in Jakarta and Surabaya covering the Malacca Strait, Sulawesi Sea, and Moluccas Strait. However, although the US provided an additional $4.6 million to sustain the IMSS through 2014, recent reports indicate that the IMSS was deemed too costly for the TNI-AL to operate.

Indonesia’s TNI-AU Integrated Maritime Surveillance System (IMSS) centre.

Elsewhere in the region, the Philippines has likewise received aid from the US to bolster its coastal surveillance capabilities. In August 2017, the Philippine Navy formally accepted a 28 metre-class Tethered Aerostat Radar System (TARS), which is expected to boost its ability to monitor maritime and air traffic amid continuing concerns in the West Philippine Sea. The TARS also includes a weather station that transmits data on ambient temperature, pressure, wind speed, and other aids for the safe operation of the system.

Manufactured by TCOM, the TARS is based at the Naval Education and Training Command (NETC) in San Antonio, Zambales. According to the company, the aerostat can carry up to 386kg of mission equipment up to a maximum period of 14 days. It is capable of operation in wind speeds of 92 km/h.

The Philippine Navy has received a TCOM-made aerostat from the United States to boost its coastal and maritime surveillance capabilities.

Malaysia is also actively seeking to improve the security of its Eastern Sabah Security Zone (ESSZONE) – a special security area that covers over 1,400km of coastal areas in eastern Malaysia – and has reportedly set aside around $59 million from its 2018 national budget. The fund is also expected to include about $12 million to acquire new coastal surveillance radars for Sabah and Sarawak.

by JR Ng