WiFi apps aid fight against Somali sea raiders

A naval taskforce in action off the coast of Somalia is deploying a WiFi-based realtime video and data relay system in military operations against pirates.

The backpack-borne Maritime Boarding System (MBS) provides navy teams with a live video and voice feed back to a mother ship when they board a suspect vessel to search for arms and other illicit cargo. Cameras and microphones are fixed to backpack straps at shoulder level.

In addition, MBS can send back data enabling biometric tasks like finger printing and photographing to be performed in realtime. Interpreters on the bridge of the mother ship listening to verbal exchanges aboard suspect ship and advise the boarding party of what is being said.

The personnel using the system are attached to Combined Task Force 151, an offshoot of CTF 150, the multinational coalition naval task forces set up in 2002. Contributing navies include those from the UK, US, Canada, Denmark, France, Netherlands, and Pakistan.

The navy MBS has been developed by Danish software engineers Systematic, US ruggedised wireless node maker Rajant, and IT security consultancy Global Secure Systems (GSS), based in the UK. It comprises a mix of off-the-shelf products, with purpose-built applications. Specially-developed battery systems give MBS a claimed operational life of 24 hours, with a WiFi range of 20Km.

“A high-bandwidth data network can be established very quickly and automatically using meshing technology, between the mother ship and rigid-inflatable boats, and even helicopters,” explains GSS managing director David Hobson. “Placing wireless nodes aboard suspect ships means that naval forces can investigated further inside them and stay in contact with base control on the mothership, and with eachother.”

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