Namibian military radio specialist Sat-Com was one of the participants in the Secure Waters Africa digital conference held last week, and examined the importance of communications in the maritime security domain.
The Secure Waters Africa digital conference brought together senior officials from key African countries’ Navy and Marine Corps, Coast Guards and Law Enforcement Authorities to discuss innovative strategies and solutions, such as C4ISR, drones, and surveillance systems, that will help African military and law enforcement agencies prevent and counter maritime threats and illegal activities and increase the continent’s territorial and international waters security.
With over 30 000 kms of coastline, Africa has several key and strategic geographic locations that are considered as emerging trade hubs, which play a vital role in the continent’s socio-economic prosperity and the growth of global commerce. However, maritime insecurity presents a critical challenge to the continent, hindering it from unlocking its maritime potential. Crimes, including piracy, kidnapping, armed robbery, and oil bunkering are increasing and pose serious threats to the seafarers. According to the International Maritime Bureau, 90% of the world’s maritime piracy crimes take place in the Gulf of Guinea alone.
This increase in maritime illegal activity has urged the local and regional authorities to work collaboratively on adopting maritime domain awareness and counterpiracy, and illegal activity monitoring and prevention strategies and solutions that can enable them to safeguard security and safety of seafarers, including oil companies and fishing and shipping lines passing or operating on the continent’s waters.
The conference held several panel discussions and presentations to examine the threats to maritime security in Africa, with representatives from the Ghanaian, Guinean, Ivory Coast, Beninese and Senegalese navies as well as think tanks and private companies.
Sat-Com Managing Director David Brown said that Namibia is no stranger to maritime problems. “Our fishing resources are also being plundered by big operators internationally. We don’t suffer much from piracy but many of our customers do.”
“One of our biggest issues is communications,” he told delegates. “We excel as our solutions are born on the African continent. You can’t just have land communications, you can’t just have marine communications like VHF like ships use, or ground-to-air or air-to-air like aeroplanes use. You need all of it and preferably all in one. With that in mind we’ve set out to make life easier for soldiers and stakeholders to communicate securely.”
Sat-Com’s main offering is software-defined radios: the company’s flagship radios are the manpack Leopard and lightweight and portable Cheetah. These are unusual as they offer frequency-hopping communications in the HF, VHF, and UHF bands, doing away with the need to have multiple radios for different frequencies.
“One must always look at what communications pirates are using and what we as maritime police are using,” Brown said. “What often happens is you have navies and armies using commercial radio equipment available for everybody” and this is very unsecure.
“We of course use more professional communications solutions. With fast frequency hopping, the radio frequency is dispersed. It’s hard to realise with commercial equipment that someone’s actually talking. We don’t send clear analogue voice – we digitise it. You need sophisticated equipment to know somebody is actually communicating and what are they communicating about. We achieve this through fast frequency hopping (600 hops/second). That’s not easy to eavesdrop on. Over and above that we can send data – pictures, images, text messages, position etc. We can do this for land, sea and air from one radio. Having one set is the big differentiator between us and our competitors.”
In addition to its radios, other key products in the Sat-Com range are the Afracal range of amplifiers that cover HF, VHF/UHF and dual (HF, VHF and UHF) frequencies.