Coast Guard pursues IT boost

Coast Guard officials are asking for 32 percent more information technology funding in fiscal 2006.

The agency's fiscal 2006 request calls for $220 million in IT-specific funding. Congress approved $166.5 million for Coast Guard IT in fiscal 2005.

Coast Guard officials declined to comment on the specifics of their agency's funding. However, budget documents indicate the service's modernization program, the Integrated Deepwater System, would get $966 million. That would be $242 million more than the $724 million approved for fiscal 2005. Deepwater projects include enhancing communications equipment, sensors and logistics systems.

Officials also want $29.1 million, or $5.1 million more than the current fiscal year's funding level, for the Automatic Identification System. Coast Guard officials plan to use satellite monitoring to track ships at sea, creating a maritime equivalent of an air traffic control system.

In other news, the Coast Guard launched an underwater port security system in San Pedro, Calif., the first step toward eventually deploying the system nationwide. The system relies on remotely operated vehicles, sonar and a Navy processor, in addition to divers. It will safeguard port infrastructures and vessels. The surveillance is composed of two parts, an underwater inspection system and an integrated antiswimmer system. The underwater inspection system sends remote vehicles to survey underwater conditions when dangerous conditions obstruct divers from doing so.

The integrated antiswimmer system uses a Navy processor that classifies underwater contacts by interpreting data from high-frequency active sonar using processing power to determine what it is tracking, where the threat is and where it is going. "Think of it as [a Federal Aviation Administration] radar screen," Lt. Cmdr. Alan Tubbs said.

Active sonar, as opposed to passive sonar, which only involves listening, makes an ultrasonic, inaudible sound. Active systems do not depend on the noise of the target. The active sonar either bounces off, uninterrupted, or hits a suspect object, which produces an echo pattern. Such a system must be sensitive enough to distinguish natural fluctuations in the acoustic signal from the echo pattern of an intruder. "You're looking at the equivalent of shadow zones

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