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Full speed ahead: Closing in on the first year of fully operational Copernicus services for Security applications

The complete set of Copernicus services for Security applications became fully operational in May of 2017, marking a historic milestone for the Copernicus programme. Following the signature of Delegation Agreements between the Entrusted Entities and the European Commission, industrial contracts for the provision of services were granted.

Analysis of changes in the population of an IDP Camp (Credits: Copernicus Services in Support to EU External Action)

These developments established the operational status of the complete set of Copernicus Services for Security Applications, which have been up and running since then.

Copernicus, Europe’s ambitious Earth Observation and monitoring (EO) programme, has come a long way since the earliest visions of an independent European capability for Global for Environment and Security were sketched out by a group of Space agency and European Commission representatives in Baveno, Italy in 1998. Last May, the final piece in a long and complex puzzle was set into place with the launch of the operational Copernicus Services in Support to EU External Action. This development concludes the transformation of the Baveno vision into reality and the full transition of the Copernicus programme from research to operations.

Copernicus’ Services for Security applications fulfil the programme’s mandate to support European Union policies relating to civil security, supporting challenges related to crisis prevention, preparedness and response, the reduction of cross-border crime and maritime security and safety. Providing a variety of geospatial intelligence products and services, the services fall into three main areas of activity:

- Border Surveillance: Supporting border authorities in managing the external land and sea borders of the EU.

- Maritime Surveillance: Supports tasks such as monitoring of fisheries, combatting marine pollution, ensuring safety of navigation, and customs and law enforcement.

- Support to the EU’s External Action: On-demand and rapidly-delivered geospatial information in support of EU missions and operations abroad, crisis management, and monitoring of security issues outside the mainland European territory.

Security has always been central to the Copernicus programme. GMES, as it was once known, stands for “Global Monitoring for Environment and Security”, and the content of the ‘“S” in GMES’ has been defined and refined over the years, in close dialogue with the service’s key users and stakeholders. Like all the other Copernicus Services, the services for Security applications started out as research projects funded by the European Commission’s Framework Programmes (FP6 and FP7) as well as the European Space Agency’ GMES Service Element (GSE).

A long series of such projects gradually build up the backbone of the current set of operational services, including LIMES (cross-cutting), G-MOSAIC, BRIDGES, G-SEXTANT and G-NEXT (Support to External Action) MARISS, DOLPHIN, SIMTISYS, NEREIDS (Maritime Surveillance), SAGRES and LOBOS (Border Surveillance).

Copernicus Services for Border Surveillance

In recent years, Europe was challenged by a historic migration, fuelled by ongoing conflicts in the Middle East and Africa, and particularly by the Syrian Civil War which has displaced half of the population of the country. Almost 1 million Syrian migrants applied for asylum in Europe between 2012 and 2016, according to the European Asylum Support Office (see [1]). The number of refugees and migrants who entered the EU in 2015 surpassed 1 million (see [2]); an estimated increase of more than double the combined total of the previous six years.

The number of migrants who lost their lives attempting to cross the Mediterranean reached over 3,700 in 2016, and at the time of writing stands at 2,776 in 2017 (see [3]). European states are still grappling with the political, cultural and humanitarian challenges of managing this evolving crisis. The need for up-to-date knowledge and information about the situation on the European borders and beyond has never been more pressing.

Copernicus Services for Border Surveillance aim to enhance the information available to European border management authorities through the use of space-based resources. Frontex – the European Border and Coast Guard Agency – has the mandate to promote, coordinate and develop European border management, in line with the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, and the concept of Integrated Border Management. The Agency has set up information exchange framework for the EU’s external borders (EUROSUR), which provides near-to-real time data on the land and sea around the EU’s external borders and the pre-frontier area. Copernicus Border Surveillance Services are provided within the framework of EUROSUR.

The European Commission signed a Delegation Agreement with Frontex on 10 November 2015, formalising Frontex’s role as Entrusted Entity for the Copernicus Border Surveillance Services. The services include coastal monitoring, monitoring of international waters, reference mapping, maritime surveillance of an area, vessel detection, vessel tracking and reporting, anomaly detection and environmental assessment. Also with the support of Copernicus, EMSA provides an important component to Frontex vessel detection, and vessel tracking and reporting services.

Priorities for the service include reducing the death toll of irregular migrants crossing the seas to reach Europe, maintaining awareness of migration routes and volumes and contributing towards the prevention of cross-border crime. While satellites cannot provide the full overview of the situation on the entire Mediterranean Sea, satellite imagery can provide valuable support to the ongoing Search and Rescue operations by helping to locate specific boats in distress or assist in curbing illegal activities. A few recent examples serve to highlight the contribution of the service in this respect:

- Copernicus vessel tracking service supported the largest seizure of illegal cargo in Spanish history.

On 25 June 2017, a vessel suspected of involvement in illegal activities that had been tracked by the Copernicus Security service for several months was spotted by a Frontex aircraft. The information from the asset, together with the intelligence gathered using vessel tracking systems, was delivered to the Spanish authorities. The Spanish Customs intercepted the vessel and seized 6 containers of cigarettes, worth 12 million EUR in total. The operation, supported by the Copernicus service, was the largest of its kind in Spanish history (according to the El Mundo newspaper).

- Copernicus vessel detection service supports detection of migrant boats, saving lives.

Since its establishment, the Copernicus vessel detection service provides information on the positions of migrants’ boats on the sea thanks to the state-of-the-art satellite radar technology. Hundreds of people have been rescued so far thanks to the intelligence provided also by the Copernicus service to the border and coast guard authorities. In October 2015, 370 people were rescued following the detection of 4 boats on the sea. Throughout the summer of 2017 tens of people were rescued following successful vessel detection activities.

Under the Copernicus Border Surveillance Service, SatCen supports Frontex through the provision of Coastal Monitoring and pre-frontier services under a Service Level Agreement setting up the interagency cooperation. These services provide imagery analysis on specific external coastal borders, identified through risk analysis to support the operational assessment of illegal migration and cross-border crime-related activities.

According to the Executive Director of Frontex Fabrice Leggeri: “Copernicus helps us improve the situational awareness at the EU’s external borders, provides support in the fight against of cross-border crime. It has also proven to be a valuable tool in supporting the ongoing search and rescue operations at sea by spotting boats in distress and in combatting illegal activities, such as arms and drug smuggling. We have also been able to save lives by helping to locate several boats with migrants stranded at sea.”

Copernicus Services for Maritime Surveillance

The European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA), is designated as a decentralised agency of the European Union to perform technical tasks relating to maritime safety and security on behalf of the European Commission. EMSA, as part of its existing mandate, provides integrated maritime services to a wide range of national authorities across the EU, whose duties include maritime-related tasks, as well as to a number of European bodies. The aims are to improve the overall awareness of the maritime domain and to support the authorities’ functions in areas such as search and rescue, surveillance activities, law enforcement, fisheries control and compliance with maritime regulations.

Through the signature of the Delegation Agreement on 3 December 2015, the European Commission entrusted the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) with the implementation of the Copernicus Maritime Surveillance service. Under this agreement, EMSA uses satellite data combined with other sources of maritime information to effectively monitor maritime areas both within and outside the EU’s borders.

Copernicus Maritime Surveillance (CMS) provides support to a wide range of operational activities. The service started operations in 2016, and by 2017 had delivered almost 2000 satellite images to its users. Currently, CMS provides support to the following user communities:

Fisheries control: In the fight against Illegal Unreported Unregulated (IUU) fishing, Earth Observation information brings added value in terms of the detection of vessels not complying with electronic reporting obligations. Copernicus Maritime Surveillance adds a critical component to integrated services for fisheries control by enabling the identification of correlated (vessels that are detected by space-based radar, and are also reporting their position using standard vessel reporting systems) and non-correlated (vessels that are not reporting their position) vessels, and delivering this information in near-real-time (NRT) to fisheries control authorities. Traps and cages are also detectable by satellite providing additional value in the fight against IUU.

Maritime Safety: Earth Observation products can be analysed on a routine basis, enhancing the maritime picture for traffic safety purposes and for information to navigation. EO can support search and rescue operations in remote areas where conventional assets are not easily deployed (or take substantial time to reach the area of operations). In a scenario where the northern routes over the Arctic are used, the detection of icebergs can provide significant added value in terms of the safety of navigation. Moreover, the location of missing vessels and/or vessels in distress in remote areas determined using EO information. While radar can be used to detect the vessel, very high resolution optical data can be used to identify it.

Maritime Security: Earth Observation can support maritime surveillance activities, particularly in areas where vessel reporting information is scarce. Systematic monitoring using EO is used to determine patterns of life and better enable operations in the area of interest.

Law enforcement and customs: Earth Observation assets provide a unique source of information regarding non-reporting vessels, which are usually the ones targeted by law enforcement and customs authorities. A combination of high resolution radar for wide area monitoring with very high resolution optical data for target identification brings significant capabilities to Member States, particularly in areas where other assets cannot be used.

Marine pollution monitoring: Since 2007, EMSA has been operating CleanSeaNet, a pan-European EO based oil spill monitoring service. Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) satellite images can be used to detect oil spill discharges at sea and the results can be made available in NRT to operational end users to support verification activities, increasing the efficiency of conventional oil spill detection assets (i.e. aircraft). Additionally, by correlating the oil spill detection results with vessel reporting sources the service can identify the possible polluter. In case of very large spills or spills with the continuous release (such as those from Oil commercial and Gas installations), Earth Observation assets can provide support to response and clean-up operations. Outputs of the service include rapid detection and mapping of the oil spill extent and potential source, as well as support information to pollution response assets.

In the past 16 months of operations, there have been several success stories linked to Copernicus Maritime Surveillance:

- May 2017: Spanish customs seized 2.5 tons of cocaine, supported by vessel detection information from CMS
- June 2017: Support to MAOC-N Law enforcement operation with very high resolution optical images resulted in the seizure of 1 ton of heroin
- July 2017: Support to the German Waterways police in the scope of the G20 summit
- November 2017: Support to a search and rescue operation in La Reunion, with the detection of a vessel drifting at sea, after a fire erupted on board.
- January 2018: Successful combination of CMS satellite images and EMSA remotely piloted aircraft platforms (RPAS) in support of Law enforcement activities of Member States.

The Copernicus Maritime Surveillance service could be expanded to support Member State Administrations in a wider range of activities and geographic coverage. This expansion could include:

Global Maritime Emergencies: CMS can support global maritime emergencies at sea. This requires rapid reaction time as well as the ability to detect small targets and to monitor large areas. The activities for consideration are support to remote area operations, support to Rescue at Sea, and the detection of missing targets (vessel, life raft or person).

Arctic Maritime Surveillance: Ship traffic in Polar Regions has been increasing as cruise ships make journeys to both Arctic and Antarctic waters, fisheries activity has increased, and merchant traffic has started making use of the Northeast Passage. Ship traffic, sea ice and pollution can be monitored using radar satellites or (weather and light permitting) optical satellite imagery.

Maritime Surveillance for external security and defence: In the context of the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO), where 25 participating Member States agreed to further cooperation in defence-related activities. Copernicus Maritime Surveillance could provide dual-use products for the civilian and military communities, serving as valuable tool for cooperation in this domain.

Copernicus Services in Support to EU External Action

In its role as a global actor promoting human rights, democracy and fundamental freedoms, the European Union has a responsibility to assist third countries in situations of current or emerging crises and prevent the destabilising effects of global and trans-regional threats. As such, the EU engages in numerous missions and operations overseas, in the context of its Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). The objectives of these missions include peace-keeping, conflict prevention, capacity building and training, combatting piracy and human trafficking, and supporting the rule of law.

Copernicus Services in Support to EU External Action (SEA) supply maps and intelligence reports to the EU actors engaged “on the ground” in these activities, providing decision makers with geo-information on particularly remote, difficult-to-access areas. Services can be delivered within very short timescales, as is necessary in cases of responses to crises such as political or armed conflicts.

Operations teams on the ground are supplied with information such as the extent of conflict-related damages and the status of road networks and other key infrastructure such as airports and harbours. The service also includes components dedicated to planning safe evacuation routes, analysing temporary settlements, monitoring borders abroad and providing situational awareness of crises. A wide range of activities with a security dimension can be monitored (e.g. large-scale movements of personnel and/or equipment, new construction, infrastructure development or decommissioning).

More examples of SEA service products can be found in the Copernicus Services in Support to EU External Action Service Portfolio.

The benefits of Copernicus SEA information include the improved and targeted allocation of resources and the mitigation of further damage and loss to human life. The services are mainly oriented towards European users, but can also be activated, under specific conditions, by key international organisations under cooperation agreements with the European Union.

The European Commission entrusted the European Union Satellite Centre (EU SatCen) with the Support to EU External Action (SEA) component of the Copernicus Services for Security applications, through the signature of a Delegation Agreement on 6 October 2016. This signature was the last of its kind amongst the Entrusted Entities of the Copernicus programme, and therefore marked the end of a long road towards fully operational services. The industrial framework contract for geospatial production in respect of the Copernicus Services in Support to EU External Action (SEA) was signed in May 2017. Since May 2017, the service has been activated 94 times by Authorised Users from the European External Action Service (EEAS), the European Commission and Member States.

According to Brigadier General Pascal Legai, Director for the EU SatCen “The Copernicus Service in Support to EU External Action provides valuable geospatial intelligence services to European actors involved in CFSP/CSDP missions and operations as well as to the European External Action Service and the Member States, helping to make these activities more effective. The service strengthens the situational awareness of European actors at decision making level and on the ground carrying out, crisis prevention and management as well as humanitarian tasks, enhancing the safety of the users and facilitating a comprehensive approach to the management of regional crises.”