It was an aptly chosen backdrop: For two days, conference viewers saw a rough and stormy sea as a background video loop playing behind moderator Jan Wiedemann. Aptly chosen because the digital sequence seen on viewers’ monitors not only matched the circumstances surrounding the first digital broadcast of MS&D during SMM DIGITAL but also reflected the current situation of navies and their partners. Both the coronavirus pandemic and climate change are influencing the global security situation, which, along with new cyber threats and piracy, is marked by challenges that compare well with difficult navigation in rough seas. But it isn’t like a raging mega storm that would leave ships in distress. As in the past, the international conference for maritime security and defence delivered answers and solution scenarios. Wiedemann, publisher of SMM cooperation partner “Naval Forces”, put it in a nutshell: “Even in times of a pandemic, the digital MS&D remains true to its proven, logical concept of assessing global and regional maritime security situations and drawing conclusions regarding the capabilities navies need in order to fulfil their tasks, and regarding platforms and systems that need to be developed.”
The first speaker was Former Vice Admiral Lutz Feldt. His core message: “The biggest technological transformation ever was the enormous step from the industrial era to the information era.” To develop new naval units from the initial concept through to full operational capability typically takes up to 15 years, he said. Feldt called for better integration of naval strategy implementations into diplomacy, and for a reduction of “ocean blindness”. A view shared by the Chief of Staff of the German Navy, Vice Admiral Andreas Krause who stressed that increasing global instability and a growing number of regional conflicts and crises require concerted efforts at all levels. The relevant regions of activity for the German Navy need to be redefined, he continued, putting special emphasis on the Baltic Sea and the neighbouring regions. "Apart from the current challenges resulting from illegal migration and the proliferation of weapons, there are new security challenges such as unilateral claims of exclusive economic zones and their effect on the accessibility of natural resources,” Krause said. While the German Navy is ready to accept more responsibilities, it would need a reliable long-term financial basis to do so, which has been put into question by the coronavirus pandemic, Krause pointed out.
His speech highlighting a specifically German perspective was followed by the first discussion panel which featured the broad international spectrum and wide range of topics that are probably unique to MS&D. The French Director-General of the European Union Military Staff, Vice-AdmiralHervé Bléjean, described the EU's significant contribution to maritime security as exemplified by the 47 mandatory projects undertaken since 2017 under the "Permanent Structured Cooperation" (PESCO). The increased efforts to implement a joint security and defence policy had helped fight illegal migration and human trafficking in the EU, he noted. Bléjean said that enhancing the interoperability and interconnectivity of national and EU maritime surveillance systems was a key factor. Driving development, research and innovation of the European maritime capabilities, improving the resilience of critical maritime infrastructure, and investing in education and training are further important initiatives, he added.
Concrete implementations of joint initiatives in international missions were the subject of the presentation by CommanderØystein Smaaberg from the NATO Shipping Centre. What earlier speakers had described as military tasks, Smaaberg was able to illustrate from the practical viewpoint of "Operations See Guardian", a mission of maritime situational awareness, counter-terrorism at sea, and support to capacity-building missions. The NATO Shipping Centre acts as an link between military authorities and commercial shipping.
A highly specific current threat, cyber attacks, was the topic of the speech of Frigate Commander Dr Robert Koch from the German Ministry of Defence. "Not only does the growing complexity of systems increase their vulnerability, but the methods used by cyber criminals are getting more and more sophisticated," said Koch. This calls for greater adaptability, a statement that also applies to the fight against piracy and armed robbery, as Michael Howlett, CEO of ICC Commercial Crime Services, explained in his presentation. The piracy report published recently by the IMB Piracy Reporting Centre (PRC) gave clear evidence of the dramatic shift of threat scenarios, Howlett said. For example, the Gulf of Guinea had become a major hotspot, followed by the Strait of Singapore. Meanwhile, piracy off Somalia has decreased significantly, he reported.
It was highly appropriate that the international conference also discussed the effects of the current coronavirus pandemic. Rear Admiral (MC) Dr Stephan Apel described the enormous challenges for ship crews having to deal with virus infections. He demanded additional improvements of basic hygiene for crews plus sophisticated ventilation systems, better sanitary systems, and better options to isolate infected patients. The increased use of PCR and antigen tests is paying off, he stressed. Climate change was another pressing topic that was omnipresent at this MS&D. Prof. Marc Lanteigne from the Arctic University of Norway in Tromsø predicted that global warming will allow normal shipping traffic to take place in Arctic waters in 20 to 30 years. In anticipation of this, the security situation has already begun to change, he pointed out: The opening up of new sea routes provides access to resources which the regional superpowers China, Russia and the United States are highly interested in.
The second day of the conference, traditionally dedicated to maritime technologies, provided a detailed overview of current developments and applications potentially benefitting naval forces. In his opening address Vice Admiral Carsten Stawitzki from the German Ministry of Defence underlined the importance of the European Defence Fund (EDF). The EDF is intended to strengthen cooperation between the industry and the EU member countries to drive innovation and help develop advanced defence systems. Dr Hans Christoph Atzpodien from the Federation of the German Security And Defence Industry followed up, saying that “the logic behind these initiatives is to save taxpayers substantial amounts of money in EU member states by harmonising weapon systems. At the same time, these initiatives improve military interoperability and industrial efficiency." The expert criticised the lack of willingness among European navies to accept common surface ship designs and give up some of their own traditional standards.
The final MS&D presentations focused on innovative military technology. Viewers around the world learned about the latest developments in efficient propulsion systems, such as integrated platform management systems. The Bremen-based company Atlas Elektronik is developing an anti-torpedo system called "SeaSpider” which was presented by Thorsten Bochentin.
The fundamentals and drivers of technological developments such as Virtual or Augmented Reality and Artificial Intelligence (AI) are very present and real. Sarah Kirchberger from the Institute for Security Policy at Kiel University believes that China has taken the lead in AI, in part because the nation's government hardly imposes any restrictions on this technology. Kirchberger sees many potential applications in the maritime world that could have an impact on future operations, such as the development of unmanned systems.
A software developer that has made significant progress towards practical implementation is Modest Tree.The company uses immersive technologies – Virtual or Augmented Reality – in connection with 3D modelling for maritime defence and security training purposes. According to Executive Vice President Jenna Tuck this approach can provide access to platform-independent training over long geographical distances while helping trainees practice “untrainable" situations without leaving their respective locations. A similarly innovative trend is Additive Manufacturing. Dr Jannis Kranz and Corinna Bischof from ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems showcased applications of their latest 3D printing technologies to produce complex geometric components that are more
robust, resilient and lightweight than comparable parts manufactured by traditional means. Additive manufacturing is used to make new and spare components for submarines.
Following each session, the speakers were available to answer questions from viewers. The digital format of the event was not an obstacle to sharing thoughts and ideas and learning, a fact that was in part owed to the outstanding moderation by Jan Wiedemann. Digital formats may be part of the next MS&D in 2022 which will most likely take place as part of a physical SMM, said Wiedemann. His conclusion: "What began as a challenge ended as a full success!"