U.S. Navy's PANDA technology to detect "deviant" ships

Published 13 November 2009

There are tens of thousands of ships on the high seas every day, carrying millions of containers, entering and leaving hundreds of ports in dozens of countries; monitoring this vast amount of traffic to make sure that none of the containers is carrying WMDs is humanly impossible; Lockheed Martin has developed the PANDA Maritime Domain Awareness program to help the U.S. Navy and intelligence community keep a closer eye on the global maritime traffic

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) awarded Lockheed Martin a 12-month contract to continue development of a next-generation Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) technology that detects vessel deviations from normal at sea and near ports.

Current MDA systems require operators to wade through volumes of data to identify threat potential. The new computer monitoring software, called Predictive Analysis for Naval Deployment Activities (PANDA) program, on the other hand, uses sophisticated pattern-based learning technologies, historical data, and track monitoring to learn a ship’s “normal” behavior.

By understanding normal behavior, PANDA automatically detects deviations that might otherwise go unnoticed or be assessed too late. Lockheed Martin says that in addition to providing faster and more meaningful threat assessment, PANDA also helps operators deal more effectively and efficiently with information.

With tens of thousands of ships on the world’s oceans every day, it is very difficult to identify behaviour that may indicate a threat,” said Rich Dickinson, PANDA program manager at Lockheed Advanced Technology Labs. “We believe PANDA provides a great improvement for [maritime domain awareness] by automatically detecting deviations and alerting operators to them.”

Lewis Page writes that the idea is that the Office of Naval Intelligence will deploy PANDA at its National Maritime Intelligence Center in Maryland, where the new tech will be able to monitor tracking information covering much of the watery globe.

As well as information fed in by U.S. warships, monitoring stations, patrol aircraft, and so on, the U.S. intelligence community is also known to make extensive use of radar spy satellites able to scan vast swathes of ocean from orbit and pick out any ships.

Monitoring every track on the Big Plot for suspicious behaviour — or “deviations”, as Lockheed terms such actions — would be impossibly manpower-intensive, however. This is where PANDA comes in, using “pattern-based learning technologies, historical data, and track monitoring” to pick out potentially threatening ships engaged in possible WMD smuggling or other nefarious activities.

The PANDA roll-out to naval intelligence represents a move to Phase III by the project, meaning actual working kit as opposed to design studies and trials. Phase IV, if approved, would see the technology fully scaled up and handed over to the Navy.