Partner Nations test new technology to improve information sharing
By Dialogo April 09, 2014
It is a well-known fact that different countries in Central and South America and the Caribbean have been heavily affected by the scourge of transnational illicit trafficking for years.
Guatemala, for example, serves as a transit country for 80 percent of the drugs trafficked through the Central America-Mexico corridor, according to U.S. counter drug experts.
San Pedro Sula, Honduras, was named the most dangerous city in the world for the second year in a row in 2013, due to high homicide rates as a result of gang activity and a surge in arms trafficking, according to the Citizen Council for Public Security, Justice, and Peace, a Mexican think tank focusing on crime statistics from the Western Hemisphere.
The region understands that unless it keeps working together to confront organized crime head on, it will be hard to move forward effectively. Technology is a primordial actor in making this possible, and the U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) together with its components, is a facilitator to make it all come together.
There have been ongoing efforts to implement and improve the ways in which partner nations collaborate jointly and share information to stay one step ahead of organized crime.
One such example is a recently developed technology called Regional Domain Awareness (RDA), designed by SOUTHCOM’s Science, Technology & Experimentation (ST&E) division in order to allow users to access a secure, virtual platform from which to share specific information from radar and sensor tracking devices with selected partner nations, all from an Internet connection anywhere in the world.
Ricardo Arias, with SOUTHCOM’s Science, Technology and Experimentation (ST&E) Division, explained that the command secured more than $6 million from the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) to develop RDA as a Joint Capability Technology Demonstration (JCTD), a program that leverages existing and emerging technologies and introduces new operational concepts to solve important military problems.
The system was presented to military and law enforcement personnel from Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico from March 17-21.
The purpose of the internet-based collaboration technology is to improve unclassified information sharing among nations cooperating to detect and disrupt illicit trafficking across regions.
The Joint Interagency Task Force-South (JIATF-S) led the demonstration from its operations center in Key West, Florida, while representatives from U.S. Northern Command, U.S. Pacific Command, U.S. Africa Command, the Naval Research Laboratory, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and U.S. Department of Transportation participated with military and law enforcement personnel in all four countries.
“The goal of this demonstration was to assess RDA's military utility,” said Juan Hurtado, SOUTHCOM’s Science and Technology Advisor. With RDA’s operational demonstration now completed and its assessment pending, Hurtado said a decision will soon be made about the technology’s future.
“If the assessment determines the system offers military utility, SOUTHCOM will provide a recommendation for RDA to transition to a program of record within DOD,” he said. During the demonstration, simulations allowed participants in each country to keep a close eye on suspect sea and air traffic tracks and to share related information with each other using a new mechanism for counter illicit trafficking information sharing called the Cooperative Situational Information Integration (CSII) system.
CSII is slated to be implemented for use in SOUTHCOM’s area of responsibility in the summer and was developed with the same architecture used for RDA. “Both technologies are extensions of previous work accomplished by SOUTHCOM’s ST&E Division,” said Arias. “While the focus of CSII is regional support to the counter illicit trafficking mission, RDA has a much broader scope – DOD wide and multi-mission.
According to Arias, both RDA and CSII are big improvements to the information sharing tools that preceded them.
“Before RDA and CSII, information sharing was bilateral, using non-integrated networks, which limited sharing among partner nations,” he said, adding that older tools did not allow countries to share their radar feeds with each other or to integrate data from different domains. “Let’s say you have a really good couple of air search radars and maritime radars,” Arias explained. “You have some good information, and you want to share it. You can select which radars and which sensors you want to share, and with whom.”
“The challenge we face is that information about illicit trafficking often reaches us too late,” said Eunice Mendizabal, Vice Minister of the Guatemalan Ministry of Government’s 5th Vice Ministry, in an interview with SOUTHCOM’s Public Affairs Office. In response to this challenge, Mendizabal said Guatemalan officials sought a mechanism that would give them direct access to information about regional illicit trafficking activities starting at their points of origin, thus giving their defense and security forces more time to prepare and respond.
“We reached out to the (U.S.) Military Group, and we explained the reasons why we were seeking access to these (new) programs that would provide us with information about illicit trafficking in real time,” Mendizabal added.
According to Colonel Arsenio Guillén, from the Guatemalan Ministry of Defense, having the demonstration in-country was important in allowing the Guatemalan team to learn how the system works and clarify any doubts on aspects that need improvement.
“Implementing the new system will provide Guatemala the opportunity to have more precise and timely information available for proper decision making during joint operations to combat drug trafficking,” he said. “The immediate information exchange through instant messaging with system’s operators from other countries will allow us to increase our air space control capabilities against illegal flights used for drug trafficking. But mainly, it will bring us the opportunity to work jointly with other countries.” Though CSII expands the scope of information sharing among nations, like Guatemala and the other countries participating in the demonstration, Arias is quick to point out that unlike RDA, it is not a global information sharing tool.
“We wanted to go beyond a regional approach,” Arias said, referring to CSII’s geographic focus, “so we pursued a separate path to develop the capability across geographic combatant commands.”
Still, for Col. Guillén, the advantage of CSII is having greater amounts of information at their fingertips. “This will make things easier for our units during counter drug operations.”