Security in Shifting Seas: Autonomous Technology Making Waves in the Maritime Industry

Autonomous Technology in Maritime Industry
May 5, 2023


In February, Fast Company reported autonomous weapons are altering the rules of war, and The Debrief published reports the Pentagon is “secretly working to unleash massive swarms of autonomous multi-domain drones” across land, sea, and air. In January, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) issued an updated version of its autonomous weapons policy, marking the first significant policy update since 2012. In the same month, Mercedes-Benz became the first automaker to receive the Level 3 Autonomous Driving certificate in the United States, according to Society of Automotive Engineers standards.

Although challenges remain, technology is steadily inching closer to fully autonomous vehicles. Autonomous technology is not limited to our roads or any one domain, and innovation is already affecting maritime transportation across various sectors including:

  • International Bodies: The International Maritime Organization (IMO) conducted a regulatory scoping exercise on Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships (MASS) designed to analyze existing instruments to enable varying degrees of vessel automation.
  • Military: The U.S. Navy shared plans to leverage technology for unmanned maritime projects, such as through the Rapid Autonomy Integration Lab (RAIL) and Unmanned Maritime Autonomy Architecture (UMAA). More recently, the Autonomous Multi-Domain Adaptive Swarms-of-Swarms (AMASS) program is reportedly considering the inclusion of Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (UUVs), according to The Debrief and an unnamed Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency official.
  • Industry: Examples of private vessel designs featuring greater autonomy include Donald L. Blount and Associates, Inc. (DLBA) Naval Architects’ Tempo, Feadship’s Choice, and designer Emmanuel Klissarov’s Moon Dance. Autonomous navigation on certain superyachts is converting wheelhouses into augmented-reality centers below deck. This autonomous navigation frees space on top of vessels for other purposes and innovates systems with the latest advancements. 


Safety and Security Considerations

Vessels’ technological advancements could enhance situational awareness, fuel-efficient routing, and motion prediction. We spoke with Concentric’s Chief Executive Officer Vice Admiral (Ret.) Mike LeFever, Concentric’s Executive Vice President of Risk Solutions and Naval Reserve Lieutenant Commander Laura Hoffner, and Concentric’s Vice President of Security Consulting and Climate Lead Christian Moore to leverage their expertise on autonomous maritime technology’s safety and security considerations. 

  • Vice Admiral LeFever highlighted the timeliness of this topic, including a recent Naval Postgraduate School seminar series discussing the advent of autonomous systems and corresponding operational problems documented within the Chief of Naval Operations’ Navigation Plan (NAVPLAN) 2022. 
  • Lieutenant Commander Hoffner emphasized air was the first domain benefiting from autonomous solutions. She underscored DoD’s ability to save lives with quick integration of the capabilities, but remarked these capabilities do not come “without consequence” and cautioned the possible implications when technological advancements supersede corresponding governing laws and agreements. 
  • As a maritime Special Forces officer, Christian Moore was engaged in trialing UUVs for the British Special Boat Service. He noted the strong motivation to reduce the human and strategic risks of maritime intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, particularly close target reconnaissance. 


Concentric recommends following the latest technological offerings for maritime systems to protect vessels from possible safety and security issues, including motivated actors attempting to leverage new tactics for system access, financial gain, or other threats. The race for innovation must also ensure ample time for systems improvements and testing before launching such innovations. 

  • IMO underscored the need to balance technological advantages with safety and security concerns, possible costs, and environmental repercussions. Christian Moore shared his concerns about the possible increase in oil spills and other ocean contamination as we “inevitably learn hard lessons in the outsourcing of seamanship to artificial intelligence.” 
  • Lieutenant Commander Hoffner noted we have the opportunity to examine the transition to autonomous solutions in the air domain in order to best shift, prepare, and react accordingly in a maritime environment. We must also question the ethics of removing human capital risk from one side of war when opponents may not be as technologically advanced. 
  • Vessel designers are pursuing futuristic new ways of innovating marine systems, and motivated actors are almost certainly already seeking ways to leverage those systems. Vessels often have similar vulnerabilities to other systems and require routine updates to ensure the system’s protection against potential attacks. 

There is also increased interest in vessel tracking, particularly for Russian oligarchs’ yachts, in recent years. Vessel tracking capabilities present security concerns for maritime operations more broadly. 

  • Searching IMO numbers can lead to traditional media coverage and other open source findings for vessels. Online tools, including VesselFinder and MarineTraffic, allow users to track vessels in real time. 

Maritime news outlets, such as Superyacht Times, and social media communities keep a watchful eye on maritime industry updates.


How Concentric Can Help 

Concentric’s Global Intelligence, Security Operations, and Cyber teams work in tandem to keep clients and their vessels safe around the world. 

  • Periodic Asset Reporting: Our Global Intelligence team can author periodic updates regarding specific vessels’ safety and security, including analyzing mentions across open source and deep and dark web forums and assessing the mentions’ threat level, trends, and online sentiment. 
  • Active Monitoring Services: Our Global Intelligence and Global Security Operations Center teams can conduct active monitoring services to monitor for and escalate alerts, including sensitive information leaks and imminent threats, for vessels. 
  • Security Operations: Our Security Operations teams can execute professional physical security services for shoreside and voyage safety, including counter surveillance and other security arrangements. 
  • Cybersecurity Services: Our Cyber team can support risk assessments and remediation implementation for critical vessel systems, continuous network monitoring for operational vessels, and comprehensive cybersecurity frameworks. 


Please reach out if we can support your maritime safety with any of the above services or ad hoc offerings. 


The unmanned surface vessel (USV) Mariner docked at the United States Naval Academy. The vessel resulted from the Strategic Capabilities Office’s Project Overlord program. (Source: Justin Katz/Breaking Defense)


Author: Rachel Brooks, Intelligence Analyst, Global Intelligence

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