At the forefront of this effort is the Agency’s 16-year old MARSUR (“Maritime Surveillance”) project, which knits together 22 navies for the exchange of maritime surveillance information, and which has just entered its third phase of development.  

“One of the most important things about MARSUR is that it was developed by the Member States for the Member States: that is, their navies working together to find the technical solutions they needed,” said Georgi Georgiev, EDA’s Project Officer for Maritime Capabilities Support. “There was no formal common funding, and so it was a very low-cost endeavor. Their total investment investment (excluding investment in system integration at national level) over the past 15 years has only been about four million euros.” 

For what MARSUR navies have achieved in terms of capability, that is a very tidy return on investment, indeed. Launched in 2005 as a low-key network for exchanging open-source maritime information among a handful of national navies, MARSUR has since matured into a multi-faceted communications platform which is operational and fully supports the needs of the MARSUR navies when conducting their national operations. The system enables a wide scope of services ranging from email, instant messaging, secure voice over IP, alerts, notifications and white boarding, or on-screen file sharing, to video exchanges, information recovery, and data transfers of tracks. 

MARSUR’s projected membership comprises Germany, which leads the effort, plus the navies of 15 other EDA Member States (Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Finland, France, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden), as well as the EU’s Satellite Centre (SatCen), of which the latter brings unique value added to the project’s activities. However, another six countries (Croatia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovenia, and the UK) participate in the MARSUR multinational agreement – not restricted to the EU – called Technical Arrangement by which they commit to share maritime surveillance information on voluntary baisis.  

Tested at Operation SOPHIA  

The heart of project’s data exchange activity is its ‘MARSUR Exchange System’ (MEXS) software, whose operational utility was demonstrated in 2017 during the height of the EU’s Operation SOPHIA to prevent people smuggling and loss of life at sea in the Mediterranean. MARSUR is also associated with the eight-nation PESCO project, UMS (Upgrade of Maritime Surveillance), which aims to integrate land-based surveillance systems and maritime and air platforms for real-time distribution of information.  

Noteworthy, too, is the fact that MARSUR has been involved in OCEAN2020, the largest technology demonstration project funded by the EU under the European Commission’s Preparatory Action on Defence Research (PADR) to build up a recognised maritime picture by integrating data from multiple naval sources and unmanned systems. MARSUR was one of three networks selected to create a simulated EU maritime operations centre for the project, for example. 

Selected for the CMP pilot case

For the Coordinated Maritime Presences (CMP) project, MARSUR is established within the EU Military Staff’s headquarters in Brussels, where its Maritime Area of Interest Coordination Cell (MAICC) is located. As an interim solution, France currently provides the MARSUR node within the EUMS. However, the ultimate goal is to establish a permanent MARSUR node within the EU Military Staff to facilitate better exploitation of MARSUR capabilities, with EDA coordinating the effort. “Hopefully, this will be accomplished very soon – in the coming weeks,” observed Georgiev.

Among the MARSUR features that the EU Military Staff wants to use is file storage, “which will allow the Member States to share their deployment schedules during the CMP pilot phase,”  Georgiev said. “Another practicalfeature will be the exchange of info packages about suspicious vessels or threats to vessels, as well as use of MARSUR’s chat function. Alerts also could be used to track piracy activity or for suspicious vessel-approach alerts.”  

As part of that plan, the MARSUR countries are upgrading their MEXS software to refresh its technology and position the system to work with other European maritime initiatives. This latest, third phase was launched in November 2020 and will lastsix years, with 16 countries having agreed to participate in the EDA Category B MARSUR III project, of which 12 have signed up so far. 

There are plans to demonstrate the capabilities of MARSUR also to the staff of the Operational Headquartersof the EU counter-piracy operation ATALANTA.

CMP: helping confront the Gulf of Guinea’s security problems

The EU is now testing its new Coordinated Maritime Presences (CMP) concept, launched on 25 January 2021, in the Gulf of Guinea region. It will directly rely on MARSUR, which will thus be fully exploited operationally for the first time via a coordination cell within the EU Military Staff in Brussels.

A cooperative initiative for exchanging maritime picture data and analyses among national navies, CMP is a voluntary framework where participating Member States’ naval and maritime assets remain under their national chain of command. The Gulf of Guinea will be their first – and highly demanding – operational test area.

The Gulf of Guinea region faces many security problems, from piracy and illegal fishing to arms and drugs trafficking. In 2020 alone, for example, it suffered 84 attacks on ships, with 135 seafarers kidnapped for ransom. According to the International Maritime Bureau, the region now accounts for 95% of all ransom kidnappings at sea across the globe.

Those challenges require the exchange of detailed maritime situational information, and lots of it – the kind that, precisely, MARSUR provides. Based on the CMP’s evolution and a buy-in by the countries of the Gulf of Guinea, the eventual goal will be to establish EU liaison officers and proxy MARSUR nodes across the region that would exchange information with the EU Military Staff.

Increasing MARSUR’s operational clout  

Noting that a central goal of the new phase is to transition MEXS to new state-of-the-art technologiesGeorgiev said “basically the services will stay relatively the same but the technology will change. We are investigating options for the exchange of classified information within the network, for example. MARSUR already has a certain level of security,but the obstacle to full classified information exchanges is the certification principles. That’s always complex and slow to coordinate between so many countries.”  

For the moment, the MARSUR nations are defining theirupgrade requirements, after which EDA will launch open calls for industry to develop the new software. “There will be overlap between the two software versions, with 80 percent of the new system expected to be in place by spring 2022,” hesaid, adding that the technology refresh will be based on existing standards, “so it’s really just a matter of stitching everything together.” 

As MARSUR upgrades its technology and capabilities, this will enhance thenetwork’s operational utility for purposes of supporting EU maritime engagements and CSDP missions and operations. And it will facilitate MARSUR’s connectivity with the EU framework for exchanging data and situational awareness among the memberstates, known as the Common Information Sharing Environment (CISE) for the maritime domain. 

CISE functions as a political, organizational and legal environment for sharing information across seven sectors and user communities (transport,environmental protection, fisheries control, border control, general law enforcement, customs and defense), based on existing and future surveillance systems/networks. 

“MARSUR is seen as the defence layer of CISE – to connectour navies with civil security actors,” said Georgiev.

How is MARSUR involved in the CMP? 

MARSUR has been identified by the Council as the means to collect and share information and data gathered by Member States’ assets deployed in Maritime Areas deemed of EU Interest (MAI). The information received are used to compile strategic reports to enhance EU bodies and Member States’ Maritime Situational Awareness. 

What makes MARSUR fit for the CMP concept? 

MARSUR comprises a range of tools that are adequate to share all relevant information within the CMP community in a timely manner. The same tools enable the CMP capability to coordinate Member States’ political and strategic commitments in a MAI and synergise them with EU programs and activities, in order to avoid duplications and rationalise the overall EU effort in a MAI. Furthermore, the CMP is actively involved in the development of the next version of the system, and this will guarantee that the system will meet not only the current CMP requirements but also the future ones, once the CMP initiative will have reached its maturity. 

How does MARSUR need to evolve to become a standard tool for EU maritime CSDP operations? 

This is a tricky question. The future of MARSUR, as of any other EU project, depends on the Member States’ will.  The real challenge therefore is not to evolve in the perfect C2 system, but to mediate, accommodate and meet all MARSUR project participating Member States’ requirements. Adaptability, flexibility and scalability would be the driving factors for MARSUR to implement in order to become a standard tool for EU maritime CSDP operations. 
How does the MARSUR support the UMS project? 

The Upgrade of Maritime Surveillance (UMS) is a PESCO project aimed at enhancing the maritime surveillance and situational awareness in all the seas surrounding the EU by taking advantage of existing capabilities and examining future developments against persistent threats and emerging risks. The UMS involves Greece, which leads the project, plus Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, France, Ireland, Italy and Spain, while Portugal participates with observer status. All the involved parties have agreed to use MARSUR as the UMS’ information-sharing network.  

What are the mutual benefits for PESCO UMS from this cooperation? 

The UMS avoids duplication of efforts or unnecessary costs by using MARSUR as the information-sharing network. As the UMS project aims at providing a near-real-time Recognized Maritime Picture, the network through which data are interchanged is very important. MARSUR was used by UMS in two test runs carried out in November 2020 and March 2021. During these tests, Hellenic warships were used to pass data through the MARSUR network to the rest of the participants and vice-versa, in an area stretching from North Aegean to the South-East of Kastelorizo Island and to the South of Crete.  

How will both projects interact, or perhaps support each other, in the future? 

We consider that the UMS and MARSUR have mutual benefits. First, the UMS will offer a reliable opportunity for the operational use of the MARSUR. Second, MARSUR can take advantage of the lessons learned from the two test runs. Also, from an UMS point of view, MARSUR constitutes a significant prerequisite, among others, for providing a near-real-time recognised maritime picture. 
Spain is one of the most advanced users of MARSUR. What would you say is its biggest added value for national and CSDP missions? 

MARSUR was selected by the EEAS as the network to be used for the pilot case of the EU Coordinated Maritime Presence concept in the Gulf of Guinea, under the CSDP framework. The use of MARSUR to support this concept allows European navies to advance in the development of a tool to efficiently carry out our missions, taking advantage of the synergies provided by joint participation. MARSUR not only provides a significant improvement to the maritime situational awareness but also allows the coordination at different levels (tactical, operational and strategic) and adequate decision-making. 
Spain is currently bridging MARSUR and CISE. What does it mean in concrete terms? 

The combined use of MARSUR and CISE (Common Information Sharing Environment) opens-up a whole spectrum of new possibilities in the field of maritime security. Information shared between various sectors improves the knowledge of the situation and the decision-making in each area of responsibility. The collaboration between CISE and MARSUR is a win-win solution in a globalised world where threats and interests are manifold. Currently, the Spanish Navy has the ability to exchange tracks between these two systems and we hope that new common services will be established in the near future to build  a wide community of information exchange. 
What does MARSUR need to become a tool for EU maritime CSDP operations?  

Of course, MARSUR’s development must continue. Initially, MARSUR was just a commitment of a group of European navies which has gradually grown into a system. But there is still a long way to go. We need a functional tool, with the necessary security layers, quickly deployable and with a high degree of automation to facilitate the work of the operators, scalable and interoperable. MARSUR has to be prepared to take advantage of new technological advances, emerging and disruptive technologies, artificial intelligence, edge computing… We are on the right track and with the effort of the MARSUR community we will achieve the operational tool that European navies need. 
Germany is the lead nation for the MARSUR III project. What are your expectations, what should it achieve?  

Safety and security at sea are important topics for Germany. For this reason, Germany has assumed the role of lead nation, after Finland (MARSUR I) and France (MARSUR II), to animate collaboration among Member States and to further develop the capabilities of the MARSUR system. The successful completion of MARSUR II, directed towards system stability and maintenance, provides the MARSUR community with an operational network whose fundamental technical parameters are in stable operating conditions. In spring 2019, the MARSUR community ratified the MARSUR Roadmap, clearly defining the goals and ambitions for the future. MARSUR III is the vehicle to address first and foremost the short- and mid-term goals of this roadmap towards a more capable, better integrated, and technically advanced network architecture that makes MARSUR fit for the upcoming challenges.   

Improving the stability and security of the MARSUR network will further enhance its operational use, and thus increase its contribution to national and European Maritime Situational Awareness (MAS) pictures. For Germany, the integration of MARSUR in the EU Common Information Sharing Environment (CISE) is a milestone for European cross- sectoral and civil- military cooperation, and therefore of high priority. MARSUR, born out of a similar vision and with already significant operational experience, can play an important role in the process towards operational maturity of CISE.  

The realisation of the MARSUR III objectives will provide both national and European actors with a reliable tool for military maritime situational awareness, based on multi- stationary and mobile components. Towards the end of MARSUR III we will have an established, EU- wide, fully operational tool for MSA information exchange between European navies, well integrated in CISE, that contributes significantly to CSDP and other EU initiatives like the Coordinated Maritime Presence (CMP).  
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