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Saab Global
Ships with AIS and VDES network

Let's set course for greener, safer shipping

5 min read

Making sea travel more efficient is vital to the fight against global warming. With its new VDES package, Saab is taking the next step in safety, navigation and traffic management technology, for greener, safer shipping worldwide.

More than 90% of global trade is carried by sea: it’s the most cost-effective way to transport millions of tonnes of consumer and industrial goods around the world.

However, maritime transport’s fuel emissions and pollution can affect marine ecology and are a factor in global warming. The United Nations’ International Maritime Organisation (IMO) has developed a framework to reduce greenhouse gases from international shipping by at least 50 per cent by 2050.

Using cleaner fuels and finding ways to reduce vessels’ overall fuel consumption are two potential solutions. One way to make a difference is by using technology that ensures ships take the most direct and most efficient route.

Pioneering Saab

This is where Saab comes in. As a pioneer of position-securing technology, the company plays a key role in responding to environmental, safety and economic challenges.

“Over many years, we have established ourselves as a leading provider of solutions for safety, navigation and vessel traffic management for use by ships, ports, container terminals and around coastlines throughout the world,” says Johanna Gustafsson, Managing Director and Head of Saab TransponderTech Products.

In 2002, Saab introduced the world’s first certified Automatic Identification System (AIS) for maritime traffic management, using transponders on ships to transmit information about vessel movements, including position, course and speed. In the same year Saab’s system went on the market, the International Maritime Organisation made AIS mandatory on ships with 300 or more gross tonnage.

“Today, every one of the roughly 150,000 vessels that are covered by the SOLAS maritime treaty must have AIS,” says Johanna Gustafsson.

AIS needs an upgrade

AIS has certainly made shipping safer and more efficient, but after 18 years it’s reaching its limits. An upgrade is needed for the challenges of today’s shipping industry.

“Global maritime traffic has grown enormously,” explains Johanna Gustafsson. “In busy areas such as the port of Shanghai, AIS ends up being overloaded because it hasn’t got the capacity for so much usage at the same time. We need to ensure constant communication for safety and efficiency’s sake.”

And in the era of the internet of things and just-in-time deliveries, AIS lacks the bandwidth to work with new e-navigation applications. One key initiative here is Sea Traffic Management (STM), a new global maritime digital ecosystem that will allow a standardised information exchange from ship to ship, ship to port and port to port. Saab is a partner in this project.

Finally, there needs to be continuous communication between the ship and port, no matter how far out at sea the vessel happens to be. That can only be chieved by a two-way satellite connection, which AIS does not have.

VDES - the next generation system

The VHF Data Exchange System (VDES) is the AIS upgrade that global maritime transport needs.

It has up to 32 times more bandwidth, giving it the capability for integration with new e-navigation systems and the capacity to deal with the growing traffic. It also provides unique satellite-to-ship communication capabilities, ensuring constant connection anywhere at sea.

Again, Saab is in the vanguard. Its new VDES base station is already in serial production. Johanna Gustafsson says the VDES transponder will be “an enabler” for applications such as STM, or similar e-navigation initiatives.

AIS is actually a subset of the international VDES standard, which means that all Saab’s VDES products will be fully backward compatible. Saab’s first VDES product is the R60 VDES Base Station, which is now entering serial production. The current shipborne R5 AIS generation will soon be succeeded by the new R6 VDES product line.

Saab technology for sustainable seas

Safer, greener and more efficient shipping is not only important to ports, service providers and shipping companies; our natural world depends on it.

And the same Saab transponder technology that lies at the heart of the company’s contribution to STM is being used to help protect the Great Barrier Reef in Australia from ship traffic.

Comprising more than 3,000 individual reef systems and coral cays, plus an abundance of marine life, the reef is the only living thing on Earth that is visible from space. But it is also located in an area with extensive maritime traffic and several of Queensland's busiest ports.

When the Government of Queensland decided to upgrade their vessel traffic services, Saab was selected to provide a new Vessel Traffic Management Information System (VTMIS), to meet the twin demands of international shipping and environmental safeguards.

The VTMIS delivers detailed information to ships about sea conditions, ship traffic and potential hazards. It also predicts and warn of potential problems, enabling authorities and ship crews to plan and implement safer routes that also skirt round sensitive marine areas.

Saab’s environmental strategy

For Johanna Gustafsson, the introduction of VDES and the work with the Queensland state government are key examples of Saab’s use of technology to advance its environmental strategy.

“We hope that our proven Saab transponder technology can help reduce environmental impacts at sea and live up to our environmental commitment”, she says.