The Navy, Coast Guard and other agencies are developing a “maritime NORAD” to monitor and track cargo and passenger vessels on the high seas, the Navy’s highest-ranking admiral said yesterday.
“I’m convinced we need to build a maritime NORAD,” Adm. Vern Clark said during a speech at the West 2004 military technology conference at the San Diego Convention Center.
NORAD is the North American Aerospace Defense Command, which has watched the skies and space over the United States and Canada since 1958. Its radars, along with satellites, track aircraft and spacecraft and are the nation’s early-warning system.
Clark, the chief of naval operations, spoke at lunch to more than 500 attendees at the conference, which spotlights military communications, computers and electronics. The conference ends this afternoon.
Like its predecessor, a maritime early-warning system would serve as a defense against attacks, monitoring vessels in and around North America. Clark suggested that ships could install satellite transponders, akin to the radar identification systems that help the Federal Aviation Administration track aircraft.
But, as government officials and security experts warn against lax security at U.S. ports, a maritime warning system would also need to check inbound cargo, mostly carried in sealed containers that are rarely inspected.
“We need to examine every potential channel of injection of potential danger to us and do everything we can to know as much about what is moving inside that channel,” Clark said after the speech.
His statements yesterday dovetailed with comments at the conference Tuesday by the Pacific Fleet commander, Adm. Walter Doran, favoring a Pacific region security program that enlisted other nations’ navies to monitor merchant shipping, searching for terrorists, piracy and illegal drugs.
If realized, the system would feed information about vessels, crews, cargoes, routes and other intelligence, along with real-time surveillance and data, to an operations center.
“We need the same situational awareness on the sea as we have in the sky,” said Doran, who returned from visits to India and Thailand this week.
During informal discussions with military leaders in the Pacific and Indian ocean regions, there has been no opposition from governments on the security concept, the fleet commander said.
Clark said that on a small scale, San Diego has a maritime warning center staffed by the Coast Guard, Navy and Harbor Police. The joint-operations center, which opened recently at the Coast Guard station near Lindbergh Field, monitors ship and boat traffic in and out of San Diego Bay.
As he has on several previous occasions, Clark preached the Navy’s need to modernize its fleet as the service and the rest of the Pentagon change the way they buy weapons, maintain readiness and fight wars.
During his tenure, Clark has mothballed and scrapped many older vessels to save money to buy newer, modern warships. The fleet is now down to 294 warships, the lowest number since before World War I. The Navy plans to build several new classes of warships and boost the fleet to 375 vessels in coming decades.
“If we miss this opportunity (to modernize warships), we may miss the opportunity for another 20 years,” Clark said. He also advocated the Navy’s development and use of unmanned vehicles in the air, on the water and under the sea.