Targeting U.S. Technologies
Special Focus Area: Marine Sensors

Case Study


The ocean covers 71 percent of the earthís surface and is a major conduit for geopolitical objectives, global shipping endeavors, and littoral warfare. However, as it relates to technology, not all naval engagements are fought on or below the seas. Defense Security Service (DSS) analysis of reporting from industry clearly demonstrates that foreign entities, some acting under state sponsorship, consistently target U.S. cleared industry for littoral research and development (R&D) initiatives and naval defense technologies.

These collection efforts are frequently aimed at transforming indigenous naval arsenals from localized, brown-water forces to strategically important regional or international blue-water navies without having to undertake the massive R&D investment generally required for such an effort. In short, it is often easier for foreign entities to illicitly acquire U.S. marine technology than to develop it indigenously.

Foreign interest in marine-related technologies has risen steadily over the last 30 years and reports received from industry in fiscal year 2009 (FY09) only underscore this trend. Reporting from industry is consistent with U.S. Intelligence Community (IC) assessments that some developing regional powers, representing potentially adversarial interests towards the United States, are targeting marine technologies with the intent of transforming their respective navies into long-range blue-water maritime forces.

Cleared industry reporting in FY09 suggests this targeting trend has not dissipated and will remain a priority collection emphasis in the years ahead. This special interest area highlights the growing intensity of foreign efforts to acquire sensitive U.S. naval technologies.

Blue-Water Navy: A maritime force capable of sustained operation across the deep waters of open oceans. A blue-water navy allows a country to project power far from the home country and usually includes one or more aircraft carriers. Smaller blue-water navies are able to dispatch fewer vessels abroad for shorter periods of time.

Brown-Water Navy: A maritime force focused on riverine or coastal operations close to the home land. While such a navy tends to emphasize the defensive, many littoral vessels have strong offensive capabilities.


Analysis of FY09 industry reporting indicated foreign entity collection attempts of marine technologies nearly tripled from the previous year. In particular, the marine sensors sub-category was one of the top targeted technology areas, as evidenced by the three-fold increase in reports. Analysis of this reporting specifically identified entities originating from East Asia and the Pacific and the Near East as being especially aggressive in targeting cutting-edge, marine sensor technologies.

Countries from these regions have actively targeted cleared industry over the past decade, employing a variety of collection techniques to gain restricted or classified technology and information. Common methods of operation (MO) concerning marine-related technologies included asking for information directly through various media like emails and faxes, exploiting face-to-face contacts to request information during foreign visits to cleared contractor facilities, and offering and seeking business relationships or employment opportunities within cleared industry.


While marine R&D programs vary regionally, industry reporting indicates all regions in FY09 were active in targeting the full range of technologies appearing on the Developing Science and Technology List (DSTL).

East Asian and Pacific entities were the most prolific collectors, accounting for the largest share of requests for marine-related technologies, including over 40 percent of all reporting related to marine sensors. The need to close technology gaps and naval modernization efforts likely drove this collection focus with the intent to establish blue-water navies capable of autonomous self-sustaining defense, regional dominance, and power projection.

Analyst Comment: Industry reporting is consistent with IC assessments that state illicitly procured, marine sensors technology would likely narrow this technological gap and aid naval modernization plans toward blue-water navies. It is almost certain East Asian and Pacific entities will continue to target marine sensors technology as they seek to expand regional dominance and control sea lines of communication. (Confidence Level: High)

Figure 5

The number of entities from the Near East that targeted marine sensors technology in FY09 rose significantly from the previous year, making the region the second most prolific collector of marine sensors technology. Open source reporting indicates the regionís willingness to acquire a wide variety of technologies in order to address technological shortcomings and R&D gaps. IC and industry reporting reveal the regionís interest in sophisticated, bottom scanning sonar systems and deep-sea diving bells to address those shortcomings and circumvent U.S. export control laws.

Analyst Comment: Entities from the Near East will likely continue to target cleared industry seeking marine sensors technology beyond the scope of what is available from third party suppliers. Their aim is to strengthen coastal defense strategies and improve their naval asymmetric warfare programs. (Confidence Level: Moderate)

South and Central Asian collectors primarily used the direct request method to target cleared industry and focused their collection efforts on detection and neutralization technologies, like sonar buoys and sea-based radar systems.

Analyst Comment: South and Central Asian collectors will likely continue to pursue advanced marine sensors technology to bolster existing naval capabilities focusing on anti-piracy efforts and countering perceived naval threats from regional adversaries. (Confidence Level: Moderate)


FY09 industry reporting indicated sound navigation and ranging, or sonar, technology was the most targeted technology of the marine sensors sub-category. Sonar can be either active or passive and is used for a number of applications.

Active sonar employs acoustic signals to echo range and locate underwater objects. Military uses for active sonar include active anti-ship warfare, weapon homing, torpedo defense, mine warfare, swimmer warfare, deep-sea salvage, and underwater communication and navigation.

Passive sonar detects, classifies, identifies, locates, and tracks acoustically radiating vessels for anti-submarine and anti-surface to ship warfare. Navies covertly deploy passive sonar to locate underwater objects.


Some marine-related technologies fall into more than one category of technologies listed in the DSTL. For example, an individual technology categorized as marine systems may also be appropriately categorized within the sensors sub-category. Examining this sub-category of FY09 reporting, the foreign interest expressed in marine sensors was particularly dramatic.

Industry reporting documented increased collection activities originating from multiple regions, employing a wide spectrum of techniques to target marine sensors technology.

  • East Asian and Pacific collectors were the most prolific requestors of marine sensors technology in FY09.

  • Near Eastern collectors used multiple collector affiliations, at times combined with state-sponsored requests, to circumvent foreign military sales and perceived trade restrictions.

  • South and Central Asian collectors also used multiple collector affiliations, including state and non-state actors, to seek marine sensors and radars.

  • European and Eurasian collectors used predominately commercial collectors to mask end-user attribution and seek sensors and underwater surveillance technology.

In FY09, suspicious entities increasingly used surrogate commercial and individual collectors to expand on the information acquired through government collection attempts. The suspicious collector affiliates ranged from scientific universities to advanced technology corporations directly requesting marine sensor technology. These non-traditional collectors used misrepresentations at various levels to circumvent export restrictions and mask true end-user affiliation. Many times, foreign collectors would target specific marine sensors technology employing the full range of government, academic, and commercial affiliates.


DSS analysis of FY09 industry reporting suggests discernible hierarchies of interest expressed for specific subsets of marine sensor technology. The list below represents the overall subsets most frequently targeted:

  • Active Sonar

  • Passive Sonar

  • Side-scan Arrays

  • Sonar Power Amplifiers

  • Electro-optical Sensors

  • Transducers and Hydrophones

  • Sonar Buoys

  • X-band Radar

East Asian and Pacific collectors were interested in all sectors, Near Eastern collectors focused primarily on the first two subsets, and South and Central Asian collectors demonstrated interest in the last two subsets.


Industry reports of foreign interest in U.S.-developed marine technologies tend to validate IC assessments that regions, leveraging the full collection capabilities of their indigenous intelligence services and cooperating surrogates, are mounting extraordinary efforts to modernize naval capabilities to satisfy both military and economic imperatives.1

Marine sensors are essential to this objective and provide critical, dual-use applications that sustain economic, political, and military interests. In the near future, foreign collectors are highly likely to increase their efforts to acquire marine sensors technology to enhance maritime capabilities, whether for economic advancement or military advantage, against perceived competitors or potential adversaries.

It is highly likely that foreign collectors will increasingly target cleared industry engaged in marine-related contracts, especially those that work on marine sensor technologies, to bolster their growing need for self-sufficient, long-range maritime forces. (Confidence Level: High)

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