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The Centre for Maritime Research and Experimentation, formerly the NATO Undersea Research Centre, in La Spezia, Italy, announced on Tuesday the centre has commenced work with the US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency to design a network of devices to monitor oceans. The Ocean of Things project aims to “enable persistent maritime situational awareness over large ocean areas by deploying thousands of small, low-cost floats that form a distributed sensor network” according to DARPA. It is the latest undertaking from the two agencies as China and Russia have made key advances in space tech and maritime surveillance.
The CMRE calls the floating monitors “drifters”, and they claimed they carry around 20 instruments to support NATO exercises, along with research of ocean life.
A report from DARPA claimed the devices will give real-time information on events in oceans.
They added: “Each smart float contains a suite of commercially available sensors to collect environmental data-such as sea surface temperature, sea state, and location – as well as activity data about commercial vessels, aircraft, and even maritime mammals moving through the area.
“The floats transmit data periodically via satellite to a cloud network for storage and real-time analysis.”
John Waterson, from DARPA, told Forbes in August the “drifters” include an array of equipment, consisting of “cameras, software defined radio, AIS receivers, microphones, and hydrophones”.
They are also constructed with environmentally safe material, and will not damage ocean ecosystems or watercraft.
The Pentagon will be testing the devices in the Southern California Bight and the Gulf of Mexico before rolling them out to other oceans.
Most existing surveillance is unable to monitor ocean activity, with most vessels and aircraft moving too fast to detect anomalies.
While the “drifters” are not explicitly designed for military purposes, the US has launched hydrophobic sensors into oceans as early as 1954.
That year, the US’ Project Caeser launched hydrophonic sensors across the Atlantic seabed to monitor Soviet submarines, and didn’t admit the project’s military purposes until 1991.
The DARPA and CMRE project is likely to run afoul of Chinese and Russian maritime laws should they be launched in contested waters.
In the South China Sea, Beijing has launched their second aircraft carrier Shandong to monitor events in the ocean, with the huge ship intended to deter attackers.
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NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg stressed yesterday the importance of a NATO nuclear programme in the face of threats from China and Russia.
He said at the annual Weapons of Mass Destruction conference: “In an uncertain world, these weapons continue to play a vital role in preserving peace.
“Giving up our deterrent without any guarantees that others will do the same is a dangerous option.
“A world where Russia, China, North Korea and others have nuclear weapons, but NATO does not, is not a safer world.”
In October, NATO also announced they will be starting a new space agency in Ramstein, Germany to counter Russian and Chinese operations targeting in orbit.
Mr Stoltenberg said: “Some nations – including Russia and China – are developing anti-satellite systems which could blind, disable or shoot down satellites and create dangerous debris in orbit.
“We must increase our understanding of the challenges in space and our ability to address them.”
The US and France have already outlined plans to counter satellite operations.
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