Maritime Surveillance System Monitors Coastline; Aids in Djibouti National Security
"Like a person who was blind, we are able to see a little better," said the commander of the Djibouti Navy as he discussed the Regional Maritime Awareness Capability (RMAC), a maritime surveillance program.
Speaking about the only Eastern African country that has access to RMAC, Colonel Abdourahman Aden Cher said he hopes that the system that monitors the waters will be completely operational soon. He said he also looks forward to the future where other East African countries can exchange information by using the system together.
The RMAC system installation and operation is now 40 percent done according to Cher and, when complete, it will sense information from four points along the Djiboutian coastline. Near the northern border of Djibouti in Moulhoule, where Yemen is visible and a mere 10 nautical miles away, a small crew mans one of the RMAC sites. Here, like the system in the city of Djibouti, the networked computers are but one piece of the technology that silently sweeps the coastline for information.
A team from Camp Lemonnier recently accompanied technicians from Furuno, the manufacturer that produces the radar inside the RMAC, to the site. To do some repairs to the system, they hitched a ride on a Marine CH-53 Super Stallion from the Heavy Marine Helicopter Squadron 366 group. The team's mission that day was to install a surge protector, install lightning protection on a sensor and swap out computer components.
Issues arise from power spikes, heat from the sun, equipment failure, and technical configuration, according to Lieutenant Commander Steve Paradella from CJTF's Communications Directorate, J6. To underscore the intensity of the extreme weather, Harold Goodman, also from J6, said that a motherboard was "warped because it was baked, but the killer out here is humidity."
The trip was HOA's first to the northernmost site at Moulhoule, according to Mark Angerhoffer, J6. He said technicians assisted the RMAC contractors who worked on the system.
"The knowledge [and] experience they gain from assisting the RMAC team while they're onsite will increase our capability to sustain the system once the team departs," said Angerhoffer. While contractors may provide technical support, the HOA staff has also been working practical issues with the Djiboutians for the past few months to troubleshoot problems with the RMAC radars, power, etc., he said. Angerhoffer said yet another group -- Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 7 -- also did electrical work just prior to the visit that allowed the RMAC team to establish a new, more reliable communications path.
Inside the two-story building, the computers use Automatic Identification System (AIS) and ground based radars and sensors to provide situational awareness in their maritime domain, according to Commander Paradela. "This maritime domain awareness is an essential aspect of maritime safety and security in [the] region," he said.
Colonel Cher said the French began an independent but similar program in 2003 and then the U.S. provided RMAC equipment starting in 2008. He said the systems currently run parallel to each other. Colonel Cher said the RMAC will eventually allow information to be transmitted real time versus the current process where operators call in updates. "This allows the Djibouti Navy to be able to have eyes on this well-traveled area, not so far away from piracy and terrorism havens," said Colonel Cher.
"RMAC is a key system that contributes to national security," said the Djiboutian Navy Commander. To this end, he said it needs to be completed "to ensure the safety and security of the Republic of Djibouti."
He compared the completion of the project to the work of a doctor. "Much like a surgeon who does eye surgery and only does 40 percent of the surgery," he said, "we need the remaining 60 percent to be done so that we can see."
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