SOA helps Coast Guard navigate new tides of homeland security

The US Coast Guard has close to 25 SOA-enabled services that enable information sharing across units, other federal agencies, and international agencies – and more are planned

Did you know the movement of any ship headed toward US waters is tracked by an SOA-aware service running on the US Coast Guard's systems? And that SOA services are being employed to provide data to an international registry of maritime activity?  And there is also an SOA service keeping track of the all the spare parts, equipment, and other assets the Coast Guard maintains?

The Coast Guard already has close to 25 services that are either already or about to go into production as part of its growing SOA initiative – and more are planned. I recently had the opportunity to speak with Jim Jennis, chief technology officer for the US Coast Guard Operations Systems Center, and Steve Munson, SOA branch chief for the US Coast Guard, about the department's growing roster of service-orientation initiatives.

The Coast Guard – part of the US Department of Homeland Security – started looking at SOA in early 2007, as a way to address growing requirements to be able to share information not only across its own various units, but with federal, local and international agencies concerned with keeping an eye on vessels entering and leaving US shores. “We had the same conundrum of silos of excellence that many IT organizations have – IT systems tailored in stovepipes within lines of business,” says Munson.

Prior to its SOA implementation, the Coast Guard relied on slower and more manual methods of data sharing with its port partners. “It would either be some form of composed file that would be potentially handed over, or many times, a hard-copy printout or phone call,” Munson relates. In addition, sharing data with its fast-moving cutter fleet was also a challenge. “The cutters get underway and go where they're needed, so we have fairly low-bandwidth connectivity to these kinds of assets at best,” Munson says. “So were also looking at not only data sharing, but also if there's a better way with emerging technology to help address some of the problems of being able to use our systems with deployed assets.”

To address these requirements, the Coast Guard implemented an enterprise service bus-centered SOA that enabled asynchronous messaging from Fiorano Software Technologies. The solution was employed in the Coast Guard's Long Range Identification and Tracking (LRIT) system, which at any given time, is tracking up to 6,000 vessels moving toward or in US waters as well as vessels anywhere else in the world. LRIT tracks signals emitted from vessels every six hours. “That information is running entirely on the Coast Guard's SOA framework in production,” says Munson. As a result, the Coast Guard SOA requires extremely high-volume services, “processing thousands of messages per second.”

A second system, the Nationwide Automated Identification System (NAIS), relies on a second transponder on ships exceeding 300,000 gross tons, broadcasting navigational information for ships of 300 gross tons or more at three-second intervals. These broadcasts from US territorial waters result in about 2,000 messages per second received in the NAIS system. The Coast Guard is currently protoyping various data services around this system for maritime domain awareness, Munson says.

This is the first of a three-part series. Next post: How the Coast Guard built organizational support for SOA.