US Navy 'PANDA' tech to sniff out 'deviant' sailors

Keeping the oceans true blue

US Navy Intelligence is soon to deploy radical new computer monitoring software able to sniff out "deviations" among hundreds of thousands of sailors at sea on the world's oceans.

Rather than some kind of Orwellian porn-enforcement system for use on the USN's own matelots, however, the so-called Predictive Analysis for Naval Deployment Activities (PANDA) technology will instead be used to sift a global plot of worldwide shipping movements to identify vessels acting in a menacing fashion.

"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 honcho at Lockheed Advanced Technology Labs, providing the kit. "We believe PANDA provides a great improvement for [maritime domain awareness] by automatically detecting deviations and alerting operators to them."

The idea is that the Office of Naval Intelligence will deploy PANDA at its National Maritime Intelligence Centre 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 US warships, monitoring stations, patrol aircraft and so on, the US 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. (Such satellites often need more power than can be provided by solar panels, meaning that they are one of the main users of nuclear energy in space.)

Monitoring every track on the Big Plot for suspicious behaviour - or "deviations", as Lockheed terms such actions - would be impossibly manpower-intensive, however. That's 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 whatever.

Given the acronym, readers will be unsurprised to note that the agency originally behind PANDA* is none other than DARPA, the Pentagon tech bureau where, should you be applying for a job as a lab assistant, you don't have to be hunchbacked - but it helps. 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 tech fully scaled up and handed over to the Navy.

Lockheed ATL announced the decision yesterday. There's a pdf presentation on PANDA from DARPA here. ®

* We would offer for consideration: Overwatch Maritime Naval Intelligence System for Collation and Identification of Enemy Nautical Tactics (OMNISCIENT).

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