TOKYO (WASHINGTON POST) - Japan is working to develop technology that will fully utilise artificial intelligence (AI) to detect suspicious vessels, according to sources.
Aimed at strengthening maritime surveillance capabilities in waters around Japan, the envisioned technology is projected to be used for such purposes as monitoring North Korean ship-to-ship cargo transfers in international waters, the sources said.
The government aims to start testing the AI-based technology in fiscal year 2021 using vessels of the Self-Defence Forces.
The system will analyse information automatically transmitted by radio from the Automatic Identification System on board many ships.
The AI will learn an enormous amount of information on the location and speed of ships, making it possible to automatically detect abnormalities such as ships navigating far away from ordinary routes or in the opposite direction.
The Self-Defence Forces will identify suspicious ships by comparing the AI-collected data with information gathered by warning radar, and will dispatch destroyers and patrol aircraft for warning and surveillance activities.
Information on suspicious vessels will be shared with the Japan Coast Guard and other organisations to enable a rapid response.
The Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Agency has begun designing the technology and has concluded a contract with Hitachi, which possesses AI technology. The government plans to finalise the technology in three years.
In the future, the government will improve its ability to detect and identify suspicious ships that temporarily shut off the Automatic Identification System by also analysing such information as images of ships' wakes captured by satellites.
The government has begun developing the system because foreign and suspicious ships have been increasingly active in waters around Japan.
In the East China Sea, North Korea has wantonly conducted illegal transactions of refined petroleum products through ship-to-ship transfers.
Meanwhile, Chinese government vessels and fishing boats have repeatedly entered waters around the disputed islands known as the Senkaku - called the Diaoyu in China - in Okinawa Prefecture.
In addition, a South Korean research vessel is suspected to have conducted research without Japanese approval in Japanese territorial waters around Takeshima islands, Shimane Prefecture, in January and February this year.
The AI-based system is expected to supplement the monitoring activities of vessels and aircraft of the Self-Defence Forces and Japan Coast Guard, thus making it possible to efficiently monitor a wide expanse of ocean.
The government's third Basic Plan on Ocean Policy, formulated in May this year, calls for enhancing "maritime domain awareness" capabilities, including monitoring.
The government plans to bolster maritime surveillance capabilities further by introducing cutting-edge technologies, including an upgraded radar system installed on a satellite.