The US Navy has started to broadcast the exact location of their vessels out at sea after a new policy that says the Navy has to notify all other ships, including commercial civilian ships if they are in high traffic waters.
This comes after the US Navy suffered multiple high profile collisions this year. The Navy destroyer, USS Fitzgerald collided with merchant ships off the coast off Japan in July, leaving 7 dead. Recently, the USS John McCain also collided with an oil tanker off the coast of Singapore, leaving 10 dead.
While it might seem like giving the location of a Naval ship at sea could be a potential threat to the safety of the vessel, a Popular Mechanics report notes the Navy taking this step clearly means that there is nothing useful or dangerous that an enemy can learn from just location. This policy also appears to be in effect only during peacetime and in areas of high traffic. When in open waters, the Automatic Identification System (AIS) will be switched off.
The AIS locators, as they are known, will announce the presence of a Navy vessel in areas that handle a lot of traffic, but a report by Popular Mechanics has noted that AIS is not a substitute for radar or watchstanders –members of a ship's crew that keep watch from the bridge, tasked with safe navigation.
Apart from ships in the immediate vicinity of US Navy vessels that can read AIS signals, websites like maritime traffic also pick up this information, says the report and people seem to be tweeting it out, tracking Naval ships near harbours.
Recently, while sailing through Hong Kong, USS Reagan was broadcasting its location and was picked up by Chinese news outlets. The report mentioned that the South China Morning Post made mention of the destroyer dropping anchor just off the Tsing Yi Island.
After dropping anchor, it is reported that USS Reagan stopped broadcasting location, but its escort - USS Chaffee - continued to broadcast its location. The USS Chaffee was docked at Hong Kong's China Merchants Wharf Pier and at the time of writing this report, had just started to navigate away from Hong Kong on its way to Pearl Harbor.