Thales is best known for its defence and aerospace solutions, and in the civil market also provides border surveillance, border control and port security. When the company set out to create a piracy protection solution, the company realised technology alone couldn't tackle such a complex and variable problem. Unveiled at the Euronaval 2014 trade fair, its response was Pastor, a pay-per-use commercial arrangement that combines surveillance and identification technology, security personnel and a system of global alerts.
Bruno Frilley, Thales sales manager with responsibility for Pastor, explains.
Berenice Baker: How long has Thales been working on Pastor?
Bruno Frilley: It has been under development for two years. It's based on several integrated commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) technologies which we adapted over a year of internal development, and the first trials took place in the last 12 months. It was launched at Euronaval based on the initial results from our trials, and some initial interviews we had with different potential users and insurance providers.
The trials were designed to tune our added value on this project, which is system integration and some adaptation of the radar and detection software for these kinds of specific targets.
BB: What are the technical components?
Pirates operating in the seas of Southeast Asia are cashing in on the high prices and taxes on fuel by hijacking tankers.
BF: We adapted a FURUNO civilian radar, which is usually used aboard fishing and commercial ships for navigation and to prevent collision, to detect small, fast-moving vessels. If a ship is not equipped with Automatic Identification System (AIS) Very High Frequency (VHF) we provide that too. The idea is to question the potential target whether they are equipped with an AIS/VHF transponder and if they are and don't behave aggressively, it is a small commercial ship not a pirate skiff. We don't modify the AIS, we just connect it into our system.
Then there is a electro-optical system based on COTS products. We have a contract with a partner who sells a CCTV camera to integrate it on a gyrostabilised platform, and, as an option, to also integrate a Thales infrared camera to deliver low-light and night vision to identify the target. We also offer a powerful flashlight which is designed to inform the pirates that they are detected and identified so they are discouraged from continuing.
These feed data to a standard PC loaded with exploitation software that we specified but its development was sub-contracted to another company which specialises in civil navigation man-machine interface software based on their standard tactical view software. Thales integrates all the equipment.
BB: How do these systems work together to respond to a pirate threat?
BF: Pastor supports four different missions; detection, identification, dissuasion, and then specific manoeuvres and transmitting information to the authorities.
The detect phase spots potential threats at a range of five nautical miles, based on a specific radar information processing that may detect quick and small types of ships, which also does not answer to AIS interrogation. This also provides targeting, visible from the tactical console.
Once a target is detected, the security officer uses a joystick at the console to control the gyrostabilised CCTV or optronic camera to try and confirm the threat as soon as possible, usually at about five nautical miles. If the identification is confirmed by the cameras, then the security officer will switch on the powerful light to show the pirates that they are detected, and then the ship may start some evasive manoeuvres.
Then the crew then has the option to alert military or civil authorities in the area and can withdraw to a secure are such as a shipboard panic and wait for help to arrive.
BB: How would a customer select a level of service that is right for them?
BF: There are several categories of services; the first level is based on us renting or selling the kit to customers. We install it where necessary, train the security personnel to use it and carry out the maintenance and obsolescence management of the hardware and software.
Under the second level of service we provide the protection team consisting of a security officer plus one or two additional personnel if necessary.
The third gold-level service is for when a large crew or several shipping companies share data via a networked tactical quasi-centre to provide tactical surveillance of an area. In that case we put in place a 24/7 alert team to coordinate all the information received from different ships currently and alert all shipping in the affected area. Information can be delivered to the crew and used to alert whichever military and civil authorities which are the most efficient to react, like a 999 emergency service.
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BB: Was PASTOR developed in response to customer requests or was it part of ongoing plans?
BF: Across our global business unit, Thales was looking for a new development in the managed service domain, based either on our own technologies or our capacity to integrate COTS products as a system. For example, when an organisation like the United Nations wants to perform peacekeeping operations, sometimes they don't want to invest in specific technologies like radar protection or surveillance detection; they prefer that a partner delivers, prepares and maintains the technology so they can focus on their core business.
We decided to invest in managed services to defend against the threat from piracy which has been increasing for a number of years. We interviewed different shipping companies and insurance companies involved in this domain. The shipping companies limit their insurance costs, the risk of hostages, and the fuel consumption caused by increasing speed or making a long detour, and the insurance companies in turn are interested in their customers reducing their operational risk. So there is a win-win situation for the final user and their insurance partners. And in between we can provide this service as three parties in a win-win-win situation, and for us it's a new business in service domain to provide this pay-per-use type of contract.
BB: What is the current status of Pastor?
BF: At the official launch at Euronaval, we had some discussions with potential customers, but there are no clear negotiations in progress as we still have to finalise the validation phase. We are carrying out final on-sea tests with some customers in the coming weeks and months in the Atlantic, after which Pastor will be ready for sale. Because it's based on COTS products, all the components exist and only the system integration will need to take place.