Thanks to a dedicated military keen on using the latest technology in partnership with Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, the Djiboutian navy is more than up to the task.
As part of on-going collaboration with Djibouti's navy to conduct counter-terrorism operations and support combined military and operations with the U.S. and other East African countries in its waters, the Regional Maritime Awareness Capability system is one of the newest tools in a defense arsenal that constantly battles piracy, terrorism and smuggling.
"It's very important for us to monitor and see all of the ship activity that transits through this area," said Lieutenant Ali, an operations officer in the country's navy. "Our economy depends on the sea. We don't have industry or manufacturing, but we have the port. We need to keep this safe to keep our economy strong and (this system) improves the ability of the Djibouti navy to keep its waters safe and secure."
In all, the fully installed system includes six radar sites equipped with Automatic Identification System receivers. All ships are assigned a unique code identifier and AIS can track ships as they come into Djiboutian waters. With AIS, RMAC operators can learn all of the information they need to know about the ship to include what type of vessel it is, cargo it's carrying and the weight of the vessel.
Additionally, the RMAC system includes remote security cameras; six sensor/communication towers with broadband microwave links that provide data connectivity throughout the entire country; a harbor security video surveillance system; and renewable electrical power systems at six sites.
Considering the country lies next to the third most-trafficked waterway in the world, the Bab el-Mandel Strait, one of the main threats Djiboutians face is piracy.
"In 2011, there were 439 pirate attacks and 45 merchant vessels hijacked worldwide, 237 of these attacks and 28 of these hijackings occurred in the Gulf of Aden, off the coast of Somalia, and in the wider Indian Ocean," said Thad Hand, Navy Air Systems Command project manager.
Overall, the Djibouti navy monitors more than 20,000 vessels annually through the Bab el-Mandeb Strait. By and large, RMAC assists in identifying potential vessels of interest and helps interdict potential illegal activity.
"Data from the system can be shared with auxiliary RMAC workstations located at sites at the Captain of the Port and at Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa," said Hand.
"Before we were like nomads on the sea…we were like blind people, and now we have sight," said Col. Abdourahman Aden Cher, the Djibouti navy commander, about the benefit of the RMAC system.
The system was installed at the Djibouti Navy Headquarters in 2008.