Extending ESM beyond major surveillance assets

by | Jan 24, 2023 | News

Extending naval and coastal team capabilities is high on ESROE’s agenda for 2023, and CEO Jon Roe has been invited to present on this very subject at the annual Maritime Reconnaissance and Surveillance Technology conference, hosted in London, 1st-2nd February.


Rapid technological advances are already transforming the way maritime forces are utilising their Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance capabilities, across domains. However, previous conferences have highlighted the growing need for joint capabilities to respond to maritime crises, particularly in busy vessel choke points.
There is also an increasing focus on deploying the latest maritime surveillance technology in civil applications, to protect borders, fisheries and marine reserves. So this year’s conference brings together delegates responsible for patrolling, monitoring and protecting the seas and oceans, to talk about critical components of MR&S technology.
One such critical component is Electronic Support Measures (ESM) technology, which has long been a key surveillance sensor for larger military platforms such as warships, patrol aircraft, and submarines. Jon’s presentation looks at the benefits that can now be accrued from the extension of ESM onto autonomous vehicles, and the radical re-design of the sensor required to achieve this capability.
His paper examines:
  • Range extension beyond what can be achieved from a warship, with the ability to place the ESM where it might not be possible/desirable to position a major surveillance asset.
  • How miniature ESM can be fitted alongside other sensors without stretching payload limits.
  • The cost effectiveness of MicroESM, enabling the use of ESM in primarily civilian maritime surveillance operations for the first time.
  • An example of MicroESM design which is suited to both military and civilian operations.
So small it can be carried in the hand or mounted on very light unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV’s) – ESROE’s breakthrough MicroESM solution will be on display at the conference. We will be demonstrating the benefits of standalone sensors, as well as the cost effectiveness of networking the sensors to create an intelligent array along a border, or coastline to help in the prevention of terrorism, smuggling, illegal immigration, illegal fishing and pollution. To whet your appetite, here’s a quick summary of a transformative MicroESM use case in maritime surveillance…
MicroESM for locating vessels of interest and identifying suspicious vessels
Whilst most larger commercial vessels are readily identifiable if they maintain their Automatic Identification Systems (AIS), there are a host of smaller vessels that are more difficult to track. For example, nearly 80% of the UK fishing fleet is composed of vessels that are less than 10m in length and therefore do not legally need to be equipped with VMS or AIS (although they may choose to operate the latter). In addition to these smaller vessels, larger vessels may choose to be uncooperative, especially if they are engaged in dubious activities, by refusing to broadcast on AIS, or by broadcasting false AIS information (known as ‘spoofing’). Any of these vessels may be deemed “vessels of interest” (VoI) by the authorities because of the nature of their activities.
Finding a VoI without reliable AIS or other self-reported information, even with some recent tracking information such as last port of call, and even using an aircraft, however, is like looking for a needle in a haystack – or, indeed – a drop in the ocean! It can take a lot of time, resources and fuel.
The good news is that ESM sensors – which can be fitted to a coastguard patrol, maritime police, or unmanned surveillance vessel – can provide some additional level of identification even when there is no AIS transmission, by detecting and identifying the target vessel’s radar signature at very long range. ESM thus helps locate VoIs, at long ranges, providing vital data to help prioritise intercepts and minimise the time and fuel required for seaborne or airborne patrol assets to reach the vessel.
Radar is a critical navigation tool, so few commercial vessels operate without it, and it is increasingly ubiquitous, even for pleasure craft. This is good news for those with ESM capabilities. Switching off radar not only compromises the safety of the vessel, it sends a red flag to anyone tracking the radar signal that its actions are suspicious. Detecting and identifying radar signals using Electronic Support Measure solutions is therefore a reliable way to not only locate VoIs, but to identify suspicious vessels – ‘lighting up’ ships, even when they ‘go dark’.
For more on this subject, please get in touch for free access to Jon’s recently published whitepaper on the use of MicroESM in Maritime Surveillance.