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close this bookMeans of Identification for Protected Medical Transports (International Committee of the Red Cross , 1994, 18 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the document1. Introduction
View the document2. Flags and signs painted on the hulls of ships
View the document3. Radiocommunications
View the document4. Radar identification
Open this folder and view contents5. Identification by submarines
View the document6. Other devices facilitating identification
View the document7. Improper use of technical means of identification
View the document8. Conclusion

6. Other devices facilitating identification

Most of the technical means of identification described above are already available on the market and even employed in civilian activities.

Their use is mentioned in Annex I to Protocol I additional to the 1949 Geneva Conventions.

With the continued rapid development of technology, new technical means of identification will most probably become available in the future. Several devices in particular, which are already used for military purposes, could be made available for civilian applications as well.

Concerning radio transponders, in 1992 the ITU International Radio Consultative Committee (CCIR)14 adopted a recommendation (Rec. 825) pertaining to the characteristics of a transponder system using digital selective-calling techniques for use with vessel traffic services and ship-to-ship identification. The recommendation provides for medical transports to be assigned a specific code that would make it possible to identify them automatically.

14 The CCIR has since been incorporate into the ITU Radiocommunication Bureau.

It is also important to mention the development of satellite-based location and data collection systems, one of which, called ARGOS,15 is used by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) to collect data supplied by a vast network of data-collecting and transmitting buoys distributed across all the world's oceans and seas. ARGOS is also used to monitor the position and progress of ships taking part in long-distance ocean races.

15 ARGOS is a satellite-based location and data collection system. It is the result of a cooperative effort between the CNES (Centre national d'des spatiales, France), NASA (National Space and Aeronautical Administration, USA) and NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, USA). ARGOS equipment is carried on board two NOAA satellites in polar circular orbit (altitude, approximately 800 km), providing complete global coverage.

The Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS)16 can pinpoint emergencies by highly sophisticated and effective means: the International Maritime Satellite Organization (INMARSAT) and Cosmos Spacecraft/Search and Rescue Satellite-Aided Tracking (COSPAS/SARSAT) are capable of locating the EPIRBs (emergency position-indicating radio beacons) and ELTs (emergency locator transmitters) carried by mariners and navigators. The GMDSS terminals, as well as the INMARSAT Mobile Earth Stations, may now be equipped also with GPS (Global Positioning System)17 receiver cards, which enable those who carry them to communicate their positions as needed and even upon request.

16 Global Maritime Distress and Safety System, IMO, London 1987.

17 GPS, also known as NAVSTAR, is a satellite global navigation system developed and maintained by the US Department of Defense. Based on a constellation of satellites (18 of the planned 24 satellites are in operation), it enables the carriers of special receivers to obtain their position on land, at sea or in the air within a range of 100 m.

These new radiolocation and satellite-location possibilities can also play an important part in making the identification of medical transports simpler and more precise and their movements easier to follow.

New technology for which military applications have already been found could be used to improve radar identification for medical transports: radar fingerprinting, for example, which consists in an electronic analysis of the carrier frequency and the pulses emitted by a commercially available navigation radar and the establishment of its electromagnetic signature. This technology should make it possible to identify a medical transport unit, either an aircraft or a ship, by simply observing and analysing the signals emitted by its navigation radar, provided a record of its radar signature has been made and communicated to all the parties concerned upon notification. However, it should be pointed out that a signature may change in course of time because of the ageing of the components, maintenance or modifications made to the radar equipment.

In our opinion, the effectiveness of this means of identification could be further improved, for instance by introducing on the carrier frequency a specific identification signal that would be recognized immediately by the surveillance system and the carrier digital analyser system. Other technical improvements could certainly be considered, but they would have to be as simple as possible to bring into operation and compatible with the surveillance systems used by parties to a conflict.

The use of modern automatic radio direction-finding equipment makes it possible to determine the direction of any radiocommunication transmitter with great accuracy and speed. Several radio bearings, taken simultaneously from different stations placed at a sufficient distance from each other, thus make it possible to check the position and/or route of a ship or aircraft protected under the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols.

The means of identification described above are totally passive with respect to the belligerents, as they do not require the latter to emit any signal that could lead to their detection by the enemy.