An unknown party is causing a global ship location system to report false data on NATO and Swedish warships. The Automatic Identification System (AIS)—which most commercial and military ships rely on—is designed to show the ships’ locations for safety purposes.
Several warships have had their locations “spoofed,” causing them to appear in provocative locations, particularly in Russian waters.
An ongoing disinformation campaign is causing a worldwide ship location and navigation system to falsely identify the whereabouts of western warships.
The Automatic Identification System (AIS) is designed to enhance safety at sea, but it looks like Russia is weaponizing it to make western navies appear more provocative than they really are.
The results are “evidence” meant to embarrass the navies of NATO and Sweden, and falsified data meant to back up Russian claims of territorial violations at sea.
The Automatic Identification System was conceived of in the 2000’s to help mariners keep track of the ships around them.
Under the system, ships weighing over 300 gross tons are required to have a transceiver that relays its position, speed, and heading to shore-based receivers.
The AIS system then pushes data back out to all mariners, allowing them to view all of the ships around them at a glance. This gives mariners a third means (beyond visuals and radar) for identifying nearby ships.
Most navies use AIS, though policies regarding use vary from nation to nation. For years, the U.S. Navy used AIS at a reduced capacity, apparently out of a desire to prevent adversaries from tracking ship movements.
This policy changed in the late 2010’s after a pair of fatal collisions between destroyers and civilian merchant vessels. U.S. warships now turn on their AIS in areas such as the Strait of Malacca that experience high ship traffic.
Now, western warships are running into problems with the AIS system.
Between August 2020 and July 2021, researchers discovered more than 100 instances of AIS misreporting NATO warships’ positions, creating a case of “phantom warships.”
An unfortunate side effect of AIS spoofing is that it undermines everyone’s confidence in a useful technology originally meant to enhance safety. These misreportings can be serious.
This June, false AIS tracks for the Royal Navy destroyer HMS Defender and the Royal Netherlands Navy frigate Evertsen mysteriously showed the two ships sailing within Russian-controlled territory of the Black Sea.
Popular Mechanics / ABC Flash Point News 2021.