From open seas to closed waterways: Maritime domain demands innovation, Leonardo head says

In a world increasingly interconnected through global trade and security, the maritime domain emerges as a multifaceted environment, encompassing various activities both above and below the surface of water bodies. From open seas to closed waterways, Ambassador Stefano Pontecorvo, Chairperson of Leonardo, shed light on the intricacies of this domain during his address to industry and constitutional leaders at the recent World Defense Show.

Pontecorvo emphasized the maritime domain's complexity, likening it to outer space in terms of its intricate nature. He stressed that despite its significance, it remains one of the least understood global realms. With depths often uncharted and diverse ecosystems, safeguarding its resources presents a formidable challenge.

Moreover, Pontecorvo highlighted the domain's evolution, noting the surge in technological advancements in recent years. This evolution has seen critical infrastructures increasingly intertwined with maritime operations, further amplifying its importance on the global stage.

“Underwater pipelines and cables are core features of the industrialized world: over 550 submarine cables carry 97% of global internet traffic; over 30,000km of seabed pipeline carry oil and gas from offshore drilling platforms, and across countries. While these two infrastructures have been a major concern in the recent years, particularly with some significant disruptive events taking place in the Baltic, many more infrastructures are bound to global waters, such as desalination plants, ports, power plants – from thermal to wind based - and all rigs used to extract resources from the seabed,” he said.

“But obviously, the maritime domain is also a huge waterway, probably the major enabler of the global economy, allowing the shipment around the world of 80% of the goods that are traded worldwide and a tireless fleet of over 100,000 ships that transport raw materials components, semi-manufactured goods and final products to be delivered to businesses and consumers,” the ambassador added.

That the maritime domain is a major enabler of the global supply chains, is also what makes it a potential source of major turbulence, such as the port congestion witnessed in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, disrupting global deliveries. The ongoing Ukrainian crisis is currently impacting shipments, with companies having to reroute cargos away from the Black Sea. In the Middle East, unpredictable activity in the Red Sea has caused some of the major shipping companies to reroute cargo around Africa and the Cape of Good Hope, regardless of the accompanying increase in time, cost and pollution.

Pontecorvo spoke of the many platforms and solutions Leonardo offers, based on the company’s multi domain experience and system of systems integration capability, all required to work together to build maritime domain awareness, and to build productive knowledge of all the elements and actions that could impact security, safety, economic activity and the environment.

He said: “Even speaking of being aware of what happens in such a heterogeneous domain is a pretty daunting proposition. We are constantly innovating in terms of sensors, of data fusion, of analytics, but also of data interpretation and presentation models, because technology is simply not enough.

“Sailors, coastal operators, offshore workers, air support staff, and economic and institutional stakeholders are human beings that need to have the most complete and direct information to support the decisions to direct or carry out maritime operations. As usual, better information is as usual the driver of competitiveness and superiority. “

“For this very reason one of the areas of faster and stronger innovation for us has always been command and control. That is precisely the peak of the information collection and generation process, where data from multiple actors converge and decisions are taken, often by multiple stakeholders, making the process delicate, complex and time sensitive,” he added.

As a vital component of maritime awareness, command and control remains a primary area for advancement. It involves gathering and integrating data from various sources such as vessels, coast surveillance systems, aircraft, and satellites. Secure communication channels tailored to different conditions, including line of sight and underwater transmission, are essential. This data is analyzed to forecast volumes, timings, and expected results. Enhancing communication is crucial for gaining a competitive edge in maritime operations, driving innovation in the defense sector towards achieving information superiority.

“Leonardo is working in its labs and its divisions on technological developments and innovations for its products, systems and platforms bound to the maritime domain. We continue to improve sensors and payloads,” Pontecorvo said.

“We apply deep digitalization, offering better modeling and interpretation of data through high performance computing platforms, artificial intelligence and digital twins, not only of products but of complex systems.

The company aims to enhance command and control by better integrating and distributing uniform information with a comprehensive multi-domain approach, leveraging all domains and empowering maritime operations through better awareness.

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