Securing the safety of Canada’s coasts demands that the Maritime Security Operations Centres (MSOCs) gather information in a timely fashion, collate it and then share it among partner agencies. Thales Canada’s new Commander C3 Maritime Mission Management System will play a key part in realizing these ambitious goals.

A Windows-based system designed to run on a “ruggedized” commercial PC, Commander C3 will give ships the ability to track vessels over much larger areas of the ocean than would be possible using conventional navigation radar, and to share this information with other vessels equipped with the same system.

Dale Potter, director of Naval Systems for Thales Canada, says the system “arose out of a need we saw while working on the Maritime Coastal Defence Vessel program [the HMCS Kingston class] in the 1990s” – greater situational awareness.

At the time, vessels could form a picture of their own surroundings using radar. As well, they had some idea of the shipping activity in their vicinity, thanks to an onboard receiver for the Automated Identification System (AIS). Internationally mandated, AIS is found on all vessels above 300 tons and features an on-board transponder that periodically sends out the ship’s name, registry, type, destination, port of origin and GPS coordinates.

As Potter explains it, “we wondered if there wasn’t some way we could merge these.” This notion got Thales Canada working on what would become the Commander C3 System.

In late 2010, the government issued an RFP for what it called the Interdepartmental Maritime Integrated Command, Control and Communication System, to be installed on the Navy’s 12 Kingston class ships and 44 Coast Guard vessels, as well as ashore at five Coast Guard regional operations centres and the two MSOCs. In 2011, Thales was awarded the contract to supply its Commander C3 system.

Commander C3 is essentially a mapping tool. As a naval or coast guard vessel equipped with it approaches another vessel, radar data and the information gathered from the AIS are collated, and the exact position, name and destination of the approaching ship, along with its own position (derived from its GPS), are plotted onto a map displayed on the screen of a PC.

What makes Commander C3 most useful and powerful is its ability to integrate data from all vessels equipped with the system – and even from other systems. This happens when information from an individual ship is relayed to a shore station and combined with data from all the other vessels equipped with the Commander C3 system. “You might have two ships tracking the same vessel,” Potter offers as an example. “At the shore station, these two tracks would be merged, assigned a tracking number, and then the information would be rebroadcast out.” The shore station could also add additional data from other sources such as a patrol aircraft.

A vessel dependent exclusively on its navigational radar can see perhaps 20 nautical miles around it. Thanks to the input from every vessel at sea running the Commander C3 system, this horizon could be expanded outward. In theory, Potter says, it could show the complete east or west coast of Canada; in practice, the radius would be 250 nautical miles.

The Commander C3 also comes equipped with its own email channels and chat function, as well as a drawing tool. Personnel on one vessel might see oil in the water, for example, and could indicate its location by drawing a circle on the map. The same circle would show up – in exactly the same location – on every other terminal running the system.

Thales Canada is also developing seven portable Commander C3 systems. Based on a laptop and a SATCOM terminal, these could set up quickly on smaller vessels, such as RCMP or Department of Fisheries and Oceans craft. Using standard Windows icons and menu items, the Commander C3 is, says Potter, “intuitive and easy to use. This makes for a fairly short training period.”

The Commander C3 system is currently undergoing factory acceptance tests, to be followed shortly by harbour and sea trials. Potter says Thales Canada will begin installing the system onboard in 2013.

Ian Coutts is the author of four books, most recently Brew North. His writing has appeared in Toronto Life, Canadian Business, the Globe and Mail and elsewhere.