Tue, Feb 18, 2003 - Page 4 News List

Military needs better data on maritime conditions

By Brian Hsu  /  STAFF REPORTER

The navy needs a real-time operational environment monitoring system to improve the safety of personnel and control of the battlespace, an internal navy publication argues.

The system, known in the US as the "NOWcast for operational environment and battlespace," should be developed as soon as possible since China has already launched a program to study maritime conditions surrounding Taiwan, the navy's academic monthly says in this month's edition.

Even the US has been collecting data about waters surrounding Taiwan since the 1996 Taiwan Strait Crisis, the publication says.

The data the US has collected comes from the NOWcast system. The data is not only about the water's surface but also about what is under and above the sea. The system can monitor a variety of natural elements such as wind, sea currents, solar energy and lunar illumination, waves, beach profiles and thunderstorms.

The undersea data, for example, includes range-dependent acoustic propagation profiles, sound channel positions, bottom bounce path profiles, submarine diving depth surveys and undersea terrain studies.

On the basis of the data, the US Navy can provide a three-dimensional forecast of the operational environment that its ships are to be dispatched to 48 hours in advance.

The NOWcast system was developed by the US during the Cold War. During the Cold War, the US Navy focused its attention on operational environments on the high seas. In recent years, it has focused to studying operational environments in coastal areas.

In 1996 as two battle groups of the US Navy were sent to the Strait, they found they had no knowledge about the sea environments around Taiwan.

Since then, the US navy has been collecing data on the region.

By 1984, China had already launched a full-scale study of the waters around Taiwan using spy ships of various kinds, the navy's academic monthly says.

In recent years, China has become more active in its collection of data from the Strait, going even farther into the Pacific Ocean for an understanding of the operational environments between the first and second island chains.

"The navy does not have such capabilities but has the potential to develop a local version of the NOWcast," the monthly says.

"The navy may consider joining a research program sponsored by the National Science Council. The program is called the `Taiwan Strait NOWcast Model Study.' It can be of some use to the navy," the publication says.

The research program, though not tailor-made for the navy, involves studies of sea environments which could provide vital data to the navy.

The navy is slow but not late in its development of operational environment studies, a naval official said in response to the article

"Two decades ago, the navy launched an ambitious project to establish an underwater monitoring system.

"The system was aimed at detecting submarines approaching Tawan from the east. It had scientific purposes, too," the official said.

"Six to eight kilometers' length of cable with highly sensitive acoustic sensors were laid on the sea bed off Suao. It was a difficult job. It took the navy five to six years to complete," he said.

"The project turned out to be a failure. The sensors laid on the sea bed were damaged either by strong currents or nets dropped by fishermen," the official said.

"The example shows that the navy had tried before. Although the underwater monitoring system and the NOWcast system are not the same things, they represent the same kind of efforts toward knowing in advance the coastal operational environments," the official said

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