An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

My Coast Guard
Commentary | July 2, 2024

Coast Guard building better system to get operational decisionmakers the data they need

By Kathy Murray, Senior Writer, MyCG

Last year, Coast Guard cutters conducting missions near the California/Mexico border and in the Caribbean got new help gathering data. Wind and solar-powered saildrones deployed to search for suspicious vessels. Not only could these unmanned surface vessels (USVs) cover a lot of distance, their sensors also specifically zeroed in on pangas and other low-profile watercraft often used for illicit maritime activity.  

You would expect these drones to enable better decision-making. Yet, that was part of what was being tested. Their value to the Coast Guard would depend on a number of factors: How quickly could the USVs transmit their data? How quickly could it be compared with watchstander information, radar and aircraft surveillance visuals? How quickly could this data be analyzed and then put in front of the person who would decide the course of action? 

The answer: Not quickly enough. And that’s true across a spectrum of Coast Guard operations and systems. Despite the availability of new technologies that make collecting information easier than ever, the service often isn’t set up to reap the benefits. Stove-piped systems that can’t communicate with each other leave the field using antiquated data-sharing methods—like scribbling coordinates on the back of your hand—that don’t get decisionmakers the information they need in time. 

Now the Coast Guard is working to change that through an effort called Project Minerva. Named after the Roman goddess of strategy and wisdom, the initiative is designed to transform the service’s current operating infrastructure into an interconnected ecosystem—one that can quickly collect, transmit, process, and analyze data using machine-learning and artificial intelligence. The results can be shared with decisionmakers on a single screen that will allow machine-to-machine tasking. 

Accomplishing this will require replacing outdated systems, integrating data capabilities and networks, and upgrading interfaces between C5I platforms. But the result will be better Marine Domain Awareness and a true common operating picture. This will improve service to the public by making it easier for members to do their jobs and to get the most from advanced technology.   

“Drones can collect a lot of data,” said Capt. Thom Remmers, who leads the Unmanned systems team and helped launch Minerva. “But we could bury ourselves in data if we don’t also change the way we process and analyze it.” 

What is Project Minerva? 

The seeds of Project Minerva were planted in 2022, when Remmers and Mike Nasitka, the program manager for Command, Control, and Navigation (C2/NAV) Systems, took a hard look at how the Coast Guard managed operational data. At the time, Remmers was considering new USVs for the service and wanted to be sure the investment was worth it. 

Nasitka, meanwhile, was looking at replacements for multiple, outdated operational systems as part of the Next Gen C2, and the Tactical Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance (ISR) network. Among his biggest concerns: slow data transmission and processing because many parts of the current system were not connected. 

In fact, at least a dozen systems were stove piped, including Vessel Traffic Services (VTS), Unclassified Common Operating Picture (UCOP), Common Operating Picture (COP), and Joint Harbor Operations Center (JHOC). Some information was in different programs on the same computer, while other data was on different computers. The VTS watchstander, for example, could see video and radar related to traffic in busy waterways on his screen. But if he wanted to know what was going on in Rescue 21, the C2 system that helps locate mariners in distress, he had to go ask the Rescue 21 watchstander. This left decisionmakers having to make sense of a lot of disparate information in their head.  

“If we don’t do something different,” Nasitka later wrote in the Project Minerva Implementation Plan, “we’re going to be replacing existing stove pipes with modern stove pipes.” 

To figure out what changes needed to be made, he and Remmers decided to identify the information needed to complete each mission and then work backwards. They looked for data gaps and then ways to fill them—such as using USVs to gather intelligence for interdictions in places cutter crews couldn’t be. Then they followed the data to the eventual user, looking for points where the process could be improved. 

They documented this process in a chart as described below. This is also a good way to understand Project Minerva and the changes the Coast Guard will be making. The idea is to streamline data flow and ensure that the best information gets to the decisionmaker on a timely basis, whether he or she is an on-scene commander for a search and rescue case or a district response officer leading a suspected drug smuggling interdiction. 

Minerva is shaping the future of the Coast Guard by delivering improved maritime domain awareness and decision advantage through interconnected, enterprise wide C5I capabilities.


 What’s next? 

Project Minerva won’t happen overnight. Building the Coast Guard’s new ecosystem for managing operational data will take a few years. But work has already begun. Right now, some service members are already testing Minerva components in the field. These include: 

  • Sextant, the system that provides a single pane of glass to display geospatial data. It has been deployed across Command Centers Coast Guard wide since last November. 
  • The Minotaur Mission System, which serves as the primary tactical system to fuse, correlate, and share sensor information. Minotaur will allow cutters to share and track information, imagery, and chat messages with Coast Guard U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) fixed wing aircraft. It has been deployed as a prototype on a cutter. User feedback is being incorporated into the prototype effort and the system is being updated to better meet mission needs.   

In future articles, we’ll provide more details about Minerva and talk about some of these developments.  

You can learn more at the Minerva SharePoint site.