Select Committee on Defence Thirteenth Report

2  ISTAR: an overview

What is ISTAR?

5.  Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) was described in outline to us in the MoD's memorandum:

ISTAR is a key military capability that generates and delivers specific information and intelligence to decision makers at all levels in support of the planning and conduct of operations. The ability to convert information into intelligence that decision makers can act upon is a crucial aspect of the capability. ISTAR can be characterised as the co-ordinated direction, collection, processing and dissemination of timely, accurate, relevant and reliable information and intelligence. This process is of course fundamental to Network Enabled Capability and specifically, for example, to targeting and the integration of military effects, situational awareness (and hence Combat Identification and the minimisation of the risk of fratricide) and force protection. Complex terrain and agile adversaries, for example, increase the requirement for capable ISTAR.

ISTAR capability can be generated at all levels of military operations. At the lowest tactical level it consists of individuals using their eyes and reporting what they can see, so equipping them with binoculars and a radio can significantly improve capability. At the strategic level it involves the collection and analysis of a complex range of information from maritime, land, air and space-based platforms. Low level tactical ISTAR assets (for example, thermal imagers) are organic to maritime, land and air formations where ISTAR is secondary to other functions such as targeting.[3]

ISTAR and Network Enabled Capability

6.  The MoD's memorandum states that the ISTAR process is "fundamental to Network Enabled Capability".[4] The importance of Network Enabled Capability (NEC) was set out in the Defence White Paper Delivering Security in a Changing World published in December 2003:[5]

NEC is crucial to the rapid delivery of military effect. The SDR [Strategic Defence Review] New Chapter recognised NEC as being fundamental in countering terrorism abroad, with its ability to deliver precise and decisive military effects, with unparalleled speed and accuracy through linking sensors, decision-makers and weapons systems…. It relies on the ability to collect, fuse and analyse relevant information in near real-time so as to allow rapid decision making and the rapid delivery of the most appropriate military force to achieve the desired effect. In addition therefore to the provision of a digitised communications network itself, we must also ensure that the appropriate sensors are available to gather information and that our forces have the appropriate reach and deployability to achieve rapid effect…. Through NEC the command structure will improve its responsiveness to events on the ground and have the flexibility to respond in near real-time to fleeting targets, even where higher-level decision making is required prior to engagement.[6]

7.  Delivering Security in a Changing World—Future Capabilities was published in July 2004 as a supplement to the Defence White Paper Delivering Security in a Changing World and set out some of the equipment programmes, such as the Watchkeeper UAV, which would contribute to NEC:

Within the next five years there are several major programmes which will contribute to the high capacity network required to support NEC: Skynet 5 delivers the next generation of military satellite communications services to support all UK operations; Cormorant will link the strategic satellite based communications with operationally deployed headquarters, and Falcon will provide a secure communication system at the operational level; Bowman meets tactical voice and data communications needs. Building on these foundations, the Defence Information Infrastructure will provide the capability to exchange and share electronic information across Defence from foxhole to stores depot and from sensor to shooter. Elsewhere in the network, the MoD is continuing to invest in developing stand-off sensors, such as Watchkeeper, an Unmanned Air Vehicle and improved electronic warfare capabilities such as Soothsayer. The recently trialled ASTOR airborne surveillance system will meet the Army and RAF requirement for surveillance, reconnaissance and target acquisition information, as well as providing the UK's contribution to NATO's Alliance Ground Surveillance project. Improved stand-off sensors will not, however, remove the requirement for timely and accurate human intelligence (HUMINT), particularly in the field at the operational and tactical levels. We intend, therefore, to provide additional deployable HUMINT teams.[7]

8.  In its memorandum to our Defence Equipment 2008 inquiry, the MoD stated that nearly 60% of the current 500 or so projects in the equipment plan could be described as "significant contributors in some way to NEC". The MoD's memorandum provides a list of some of the key programmes, which include:

·  Defence Information Infrastructure (DII)—This network is being rolled out in the fixed sites in the UK. An initial capability has been approved to extend to deployed HQs at a cost of some £370 million for delivery in 2008-09. An initial top secret capability is being considered for deployment shortly afterwards. Decisions have not yet been made on the remaining requirement for deployed, fixed and top secret capability.

·  DABINETT—This programme is currently in the concept phase and intends to deliver a system of systems to address our future Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) requirements. DABINETT aims to address two distinct but related capability gaps—the ability to undertake deep and persistent surveillance of the battlefield and the ability to manage the intelligence cycle efficiently from end to end. Given its wide scope, DABINETT plans to adopt a programme approach with individual projects or groups of projects managed within an overall programme framework. Delivery is likely to be incremental and include a combination of existing and future platforms and sensors, support centres and links to intelligence systems.

9.  The memorandum also sets out the most significant challenges that needed to be addressed to deliver NEC and the likely timescale for meeting the NEC "Maturity States". It states that "a 3-Star Senior Responsible Owner has been appointed in recognition of the significance of NEC as a Defence priority."[8]

10.  We asked what progress the MoD was making with NEC. Air Vice-Marshal (AVM) Butler said that in some areas progress was "extremely good", but in other areas it was "more of a challenge". He considered that overall progress was "pretty good". He added that:

We would clearly always like to move faster but, within the constraints of the financial situation that any organisation finds itself in, it is given its relative priority, and we are constantly assessing, as you know, over time, about where we put our investment.[9]

11.  Network Enabled Capability (NEC) is a key future defence capability. In its response to our Report we expect the MoD to provide us with an update on the progress being made to address the challenges to delivering NEC and the latest estimates of when the NEC Maturity States are expected to be achieved. NEC is an area we plan to monitor closely.

Broad categories of ISTAR capability

12.  The MoD considers that the Armed Forces have available to them a wide range of ISTAR capability covering all operating environments. Output from ISTAR is used extensively in Joint Operations. Current ISTAR capability can be broken down into three broad categories—Strategic, Operational and Tactical. Examples of the main equipment systems under each of the categories are set out below:

The ISTAR "chain"

13.  The MoD's memorandum explained that "conceptually, ISTAR is delivered through two distinct but inter-related capability areas". The two areas are:

14.  At our evidence session with MoD officials, AVM Butler referred to "the ISTAR chain which is direct, collect, process, disseminate".[12] He explained that:

direct is really all about trying to prioritise the intelligence and surveillance needs of a commander on the battle field. So, what does he need to know, by when in a particular area? So that is direct, and then turning that into how we task the collectors that will then go out to collect that intelligence surveillance information. Collect is obviously the bit where, whatever type of collector it is goes out to hoover up that information, albeit whether it is an airborne platform or whether it is a ground sensor, or whatever it needs to provide the information that the commander needs, that information then comes in as raw data and then that need to be processed to form an intelligence product, and then the dissemination bit is how that is transmitted to the war fighter, and that war fighter may well be a single troop in the field or it may well be somebody working back here in defence intelligence, for example. So it is whoever needs that information to effectively gain information superiority which gives us the upper hand on any potential enemy. If you regard it as that DCPD chain, that is ISTAR in a nutshell, which, of course, the UAV platform fits into the collect but, of course, we have to consider it end to end, because unless all four bits of that chain work, the commander does not get the information he needs when he needs it.[13]


15.  Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), usually called Unmanned Aerial Systems (UASs) in the United States (US), have emerged as an important means of collecting ISTAR information. They have become increasingly capable and, compared with manned platforms, are well suited to missions / tasks involving the 4 Ds:

16.  UAVs are one possible solution to the collection part of ISTAR capability. The MoD acknowledges that, given the ability of UAVs to undertake missions / tasks involving the 4 Ds, they:

are therefore often seen, when equipped with Full Motion Video (FMV) and in some cases radar and other sensors, as the right solution to ISTAR collection requirements at the Theatre/Operational, Formation/Higher Tactical, and Lower Tactical levels.[15]

17.  AVM Butler told us that UAVs were "an extremely important part of the collect" part of the DCPD chain, but for a "UAV to work it must be a system and must fall within the DCPD chain, because a platform on its own just collecting the data is worthless".[16] The Defence Technology Strategy (DTS) published in October 2006 notes that UAV is increasingly referred to as UAS (Unmanned Aerial System) to reinforce the concept that the platform is "just one component of the wider integrated system, including payload and sensors, but particularly the communications and control environment within which the platform has to be integrated".[17] In our report we have generally used the term UAV, although we recognise that the UAV platform is only one part of a wider system.

18.   Our inquiry into ISTAR focuses primarily on the current and future contribution of UAVs to improving ISTAR capability.

3   Ev 48 Back

4   Ibid Back

5   Ministry of Defence, Delivering Security in a Changing World Defence, Defence White Paper, Cm 6041-I, December 2003 Back

6   Ministry of Defence, Delivering Security in a Changing World Defence, Defence White Paper, Cm 6041-I, December 2003, para 4.7 Back

7   Ministry of Defence, Delivering Security in a Changing World Future Capabilities, Cm 6269, July 2004, para 2.3 Back

8   Defence Committee, Defence Equipment 2008, Tenth Report of Session 2007-08, HC 295, Ev 38 Back

9   Q 4 Back

10   Ev 48-49 Back

11   Ev 50 Back

12   Q 2 Back

13   Ibid Back

14   Ev 66 Back

15   Ibid Back

16   Q 5 Back

17   Ministry of Defence, Defence Technology Strategy for the demands of the 21st century, October 2006, para B9.36 Back

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