Select Committee on Defence Thirteenth Report

4  UAVs: challenges to be addressed


68.   There are a wide range of challenges to be addressed to ensure that the significant benefits offered by UAVs, particularly in relation to improving ISTAR capability, are delivered. A number of these were identified in the memoranda submitted to our inquiry. A list of some of the key challenges are set out in Table 4 below.

Table 4: Key challenges to be addressed relating to UAVs and ISTAR
Key challenges to be addressed

Bandwidth and Frequencies

Airspace and Air Traffic Control

UAV operators and imagery analysts

Service issues

Operating with allies

Exploiting the information collected

Bandwidth and frequencies

69.  The NATO Joint Air Power Competence Centre Flight Plan for Unmanned Aircraft Systems identifies a range of problems relating to UAVs. Problems relating to Bandwidth and Frequencies were assessed as "Urgency: Very High" as:

70.  We asked the MoD how critical the problems relating to bandwidth and frequencies were to the operation of UAVs. AVM Butler outlined the issues relating to bandwidth and how the MoD was seeking to address them:

There are two issues largely with the UAV, one is the command and control route, i.e. how you tell the UAV to move around and how you tell it where to move and the other is the dissemination of the data. The first one is very simple: you have to almost have a 24/7 link while the thing is airborne because you need to be able to command it…. I have to say it is not a major user of the bandwidth doing the command and control. The bigger issue is the issue of disseminating the data, and the data can be very hungry in terms of bandwidth particularly if you are trying to do real-time full-motion video, for example. Again, wherever we can as we develop the capability, we are looking both nationally and internationally at how we can minimise that issue, and that can be done via a whole variety of means. For example, in the Watchkeeper era we were not necessarily getting into full-motion video all the time, it will be frame at a time at set intervals. Equally, we are looking at what is the best way to disseminate the information. If you transmit a picture over the Internet, for example, you can transmit it in a number of different formats. What we are looking at is what is the format that uses the absolute minimum bandwidth transmission to get it over the system. Again, we are looking at a lot of techniques as to how to do that. The other thing is we engage in the World Radio Conference to make sure that the military bandwidth that we require is allocated to us, and then we use it in the most effective manner, because of course we have to pay for bandwidth now, as you may well be aware. A number of things are coming together which minimise the bandwidth problem.

Another way of saving bandwidth was having platforms which "can store and analyse the data on board and they do not need to push all of the information they collect down to the ground" AVM Butler stressed that the MoD was "very bandwidth conscious".[77]

71.  On the issue of frequencies, the MoD made great efforts to ensure that the frequencies it used were allocated to it. However, in Iraq the MoD does not control the frequency usage and "the sovereignty of the bandwidth relies on the host nation country". AVM Butler said that he would:

be the first to say it has caused us problems in the past, and one of the things we have learned is when you put a system into a theatre you really need to have dialable bandwidth, so if the one you are attempting to use is not a good one you can move the dial a little bit and transmit on another one. Dynamic bandwidth management is something we are becoming increasing[ly] adept at.[78]

72.  The issue of bandwidth was also a major technology challenge for the US. John Brooks told us that technology provided the "ability to collect non-stop persistently across all of the spectrums essentially day and night, good weather and bad, imagery and electronics and signals and, therefore, something has to be done to make that useful. The current approach is largely a push approach to collect it and push it into the system where it can be dealt with. That means we have to expand the bandwidth available." He considered that the approach for the future should include both some technology that allows greater volumes of information to be pushed across the bandwidth and tools and procedures that made more effective use of the bandwidth available.[79]

73.  UAVs are collecting increasing amounts of ISTAR information, in a range of different formats, which is then disseminated to users. This is putting increasing pressure on the available bandwidth. The MoD is alert to this issue and is "bandwidth conscious". In its response to our Report, we expect the MoD to provide us with a summary of how it is seeking to address the issue of bandwidth and its assessment of the progress being made.

Airspace and Air Traffic Control

74.  In its memorandum, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) set out the issues relating to UAVs and Airspace and Air Traffic Control:

The long term industry aspiration is that UAVs will be permitted to fly in exactly the same airspace as manned aircraft. An essential prerequisite will be that UAVs will need to meet all existing safety standards applicable to manned aircraft, which are appropriate to the class of airspace within which they are intended to operate. However, this will not be permitted until the UAV industry can demonstrate that UAVs have an 'equivalent' capability to manned aircraft in a number of respects, including safety. Airworthiness of the aircraft is an issue being monitored by the CAA's Safety Regulation Group. In airspace terms, the critical issue will be the development of a technical solution replicating the ability of a pilot of a manned aircraft to see and avoid other aircraft. The latter requirement has yet to be overcome and therefore, for the time being UAV flights that take place beyond line of sight[80] are restricted to such airspace as can be segregated from other airspace users. The operation of UAVs must also be transparent to the ATC [Air Traffic Control] system which means that an air traffic controller providing a service should expect a UAV to react to control instructions in the same way as would a manned aircraft. To date, the impact of UAVs on UK airspace and Air Traffic Control has been minimal; however, there are clear indications that the demand for segregated airspace is on the increase, both from UK industry and from the MoD.[81]

75.  We asked the MoD how issues relating to airspace and Air Traffic Control impacted on the operation of UAVs. The MoD told us that:

Current national and international regulations require UAVs to comply with exactly the same 'Rules of the Air' as manned aircraft. In practice the requirement to see and avoid other air users cannot currently be satisfied by any unmanned platform and for this reason all UAV operations in the UK (civil and military) are restricted to segregated airspace; in practice this constrains MoD UAV flying to military danger areas. In Iraq and Afghanistan, the airspace is under coalition military control so UAVs can operate more freely, although their operations need to be carefully organised, for example through restricted operating zones and air traffic management. Defence is part of a wider initiative to review regulations for UAV flying. Under arrangements led by the Assistant Chief of the Air Staff, the MoD is closely involved with the development of procedures and regulations to allow UAVs to operate in national and NATO airspace. These collaborative efforts involve engagement with NATO, European Defence Agency and Civil Aviation Authority and are intended to form the basis for agreement to support global solutions for UAV systems.[82]

76.  The MoD was seeking to address the challenges by "engaging with a number of national and international organisations that are developing the 'Sense and Avoid' regulatory framework that will, in time, allow industry to develop technology that could allow UAVs to operate in non-segregated airspace". [83] AVM Butler said that the MoD was engaged in a number of programmes, "not least of which is ASTRAEA", which are seeking to identify solutions, both nationally and internationally.[84]

77.  The importance of the ASTRAEA programme was highlighted in a number of the memoranda submitted to our inquiry and examples are provided in Table 5 below.

Table 5: Examples from the memoranda received highlighting the importance of the ASTRAEA programme
The ASTRAEA programme
"BAE Systems formed the £32M UK ASTRAEA programme along with its fellow funding partners (Department of Trade and Industry (now DBERR), Welsh Development Agency (now WAG), North West Regional Development Agency, South East England Development Agency, South West England Regional Development Agency, Scottish Enterprise, EADS UK, Rolls-Royce, Thales, QinetiQ, Flight Refuelling and Agent Orientated Software. MoD supports ASTRAEA in an observer role and is being encouraged to become a full partner as a significant gearing to all parties could be achieved if knowledge and investment from the MoD were to be included. ASTRAEA investment is focussed on technology development, regulatory understanding and system demonstrations to achieve the goal of achieving the routine, non-segregated operation of UAVs in UK's airspace. From the success to date, further investment is being considered that would take the non-military investment to a total of £64M; of which Industry will have contributed £32M"—BAE Systems.[85]

"Thales is a key player in the UK ASTRAEA (Autonomous Systems Technology Related Airborne Evaluation and Assessment) programme…. Current manned aircraft regulations assume the presence of an on-board pilot and so ASTRAEA is investigating and developing technology solutions to perform equivalent functional performance while working with the regulators to interpret and develop appropriate guidance and regulations"—Thales UK.[86]

"The future prospect of the opening of non-segregated airspace to unmanned autonomous aircraft is a critical factor in the development of autonomous capabilities. For UAVs to be routinely used in place of manned aircraft, particularly in the civil sector, the current regulatory framework (as defined by the Civil Aviation Authority) will need to be re-interpreted to enable UAVs to operate alongside manned aircraft. The ASTRAEA programme is intended to pave the way for the integration of UAVs into non-segregated airspace within the next decade and is currently approaching the end of its first phase. A follow-up to ASTRAEA will be necessary to ensure that this work continues; its successful conclusion is likely to have a direct impact on the ability of industry in the UK to provide MoD with leading-edge autonomous technologies in the coming decades. It will also be critical if UAVs are to make a major contribution to supporting national security in the UK"—Society of British Aerospace Companies.[87]

78.   Simon Jewell is Chairman of the Steering Board for the ASTRAEA programme and provided the following details about the funding:

It has currently committed £32.4 million of which industry is spending £16.2 million over a three year period. That money runs out at the end of this year and we are looking to launch the second conclusive phase of the programme. We are looking to raise a further £44 million of which industry will submit half, £22 million, over the next three years. That is not under contract but something we are moving towards. ASTRAEA does not have any MoD money at all.[88]

He told us that they were looking for the MoD to commit resources into the next phase of the programme "as part of their commitment to achieve the goal. The goal would be that by three years hence, at the end of this year, we would have the ability to go forward to the Civil Aviation Authority and certificate for safe operation in the UK air space".[89]

79.  In its memorandum, Northrop Grumman highlighted the potential benefits of developing solutions relating to UAVs and airspace:

The culmination of efforts to integrate full sense-and-avoid capabilities into UAVs will open the way for UAVs to migrate into civilian roles and applications. These will include disaster relief, crowd control, anti-terrorism surveillance, maritime search and support to the coastguard, police, fire and intelligence services.[90]

80.  UAV operations in the UK are restricted to segregated airspace as they cannot currently satisfy the requirement to see and avoid other air users. We note that the MoD is working with national and international organisations on this issue. In its response to our Report, we expect the MoD to set out why it supports the ASTRAEA programme only in an "observer role" and its future plans with regard to this programme. We see UAVs, when permitted to operate in the same airspace as manned aircraft, as playing a major role in operations relating to both civil and national defence.


81.  The CAA memorandum notes that in terms of military UAV flying within the UK, the prime activity is for training. At the present time this is confined to existing Danger Areas. However, it was recognised that with the future introduction of the Watchkeeper UAV:

the size of the Danger Area complex in the vicinity of Salisbury Plain would not allow the UAV to utilise its full ISTAR capabilities due to the standoff range required for its sensors, i.e. the capability to operate at range from their intended target. As such, a proposal has been put forward by the MOD to establish additional Danger Areas to the south of the existing Salisbury Plain Training Areas. The Airspace Change Process is being conducted in accordance with CAA policy as set out in Civil Aviation Publication 725. Whilst this will clearly have an impact on other airspace users, full consultation will take place with, amongst others, the aviation community to ensure that the available airspace can be used in a safe and efficient manner and that the new Danger Area structure is proportionate to the MoD's needs and has the minimum impact on other airspace users.[91]

82.   On the issue of operating Watchkeeper, the MoD's memorandum stated that: "A small number of proposals to adjust current airspace arrangements are being taken forward through the civil authorities. The main one relates to an Airspace Change Proposal (ACP) to increase the airspace available to UAVs around the Salisbury Plain Training Areas".[92] AVM Butler told us that the MoD would like to operate Watchkeeper over Salisbury Plain because, in terms of routine training, that is where the Army units were operating. However, if the proposal to increase the airspace available to UAVs around Salisbury Plain was not successful, the MoD had "fallback options" including "a number of danger areas in the US" that it could use.[93]

83.  At our evidence session with representatives from Thales UK, we asked whether the issue of operating the Watchkeeper UAV over Salisbury Plain was likely to delay the programme. John Howe said it was significant issue, but he did not consider that it was "a clog in the process". He thought that is was being "addressed sensibly and very methodically and thoroughly, and we will get through the process".[94]

84.  On 17 June 2008 the MoD announced that is was undertaking public consultation on proposals to extend the existing airspace used by UAVs above Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire. The MoD press notice states that:

The proposal includes an additional area to the south of the plain. The extension to the airspace is being sought because the increasing sophistication of the Unmanned Aerial Vehicles used by UK Armed Forces means that the current airspace is now insufficient to accommodate the full training requirement.

The proposed new area of operation, bounded by Warminster, Andover, Stockbridge and Shaftesbury, would only be activated when required for training, predominantly during normal working hours. It would include additional airspace to provide separation from civil air traffic when activated.

Following initial discussions with a number of organisations, the public consultation period will last until late September.

Watchkeeper is expected to be the first UAV to utilise the proposed airspace, which extends from 8,000 to 16,000 feet. The MoD acknowledges that the proposed new airspace "may affect a small proportion of the aviation community that currently uses this airspace".[95]

85.  We note that the MoD has announced that it is undertaking a public consultation on proposals to extend the existing airspace used by UAVs above Salisbury Plain. We will wish to be kept informed of the outcome of the consultation and to be updated on the progress of the MoD's proposals. If the MoD's proposals are accepted, it will be important that appropriate procedures are put in place to ensure that any disruption caused by new airspace is kept to a minimum consistent with the requirements of defence and security.

86.  We were concerned about the risk of UAVs crashing, particularly when being operated over the UK. AVM Butler emphasised that the airworthiness regime that the MoD had to go through for UAVs was the same as for "ordinary fixed-wing aircraft".[96] He said that the "risk rates for flying your average UAV are broadly similar to a single-engined light aeroplane".[97]

UAV operators and imagery analysts

87.  In the Government Response to our report on the MoD Annual Report and Accounts 2006-07, examples were provided of the pinch point trades in the Army and the Financial Retention Incentives introduced to help address them. One of the examples related to UAV operators and the details are set out in Table 6 below.

Table 6: Deficit in UAV operators in the Army and measures taken
Trade Deficit

October 2006


January 2008

Measures taken
Unmanned Aerial Vehicle operators 51%48% 100% take-up on recently introduced £10,000 payment for three years return of service. The benefits will be seen in the future

Source: MoD[98]

88.  We asked why the deficit in UAV operators in the Army was so large. AVM Butler told us that the deficit was no longer at that level and had improved considerably. He stressed that there was "no impact at all on the operational theatres". However, he added that "what we are doing on the odd occasion is stretching people a little bit much but we do not actually have a deficit for supporting current ops".[99]

89.  Given that UAVs deliver imagery, we asked if there was a deficit in imagery analysts. AVM Butler said that the MoD was short of imagery analysts and confirmed that there was a deficit. He told us that:

it is an area which is one of our pinch points. They are quite difficult to train, it is quite difficult to get the right people and at the moment we do not have as many as we would like, but we are working through processes to ultimately get us up to the level that we need.[100]

90.  The MoD subsequently provided us with the following information on UAV operators:

  • At present, there is a recognised shortfall among trained senior UAV tradesmen.
  • For current operations, using the Hermes 450 system, there is currently no shortfall of qualified personnel.
  • The manning establishment of the Regiment [32 Regiment Royal Artillery] has recently been increased in preparation for the entry into service of the Watchkeeper UAV system which is planned to begin towards the end of 2010. If measured against this new establishment, the senior operator shortfall based on current manning levels would be around 70%. Over the next two years the Army will address this situation through normal manning processes, such as extra training courses and transferring personnel from trades where manning levels have been reduced to ensure that the new establishment is met…. If necessary, a range of extra measures, including Financial Retention Incentives (FRI), may be used to aid in recruitment and retention.
  • RAF manning for UAV operations is currently broadly in balance. There is no current requirement for UAV operators in the Royal Navy.
  • Overall, there is sufficient trained manpower to meet current operational requirements, albeit this has required, as elsewhere, a rebalancing of priorities and breaking harmony guidelines for some individuals.[101]

91.  The MoD acknowledges that the increased use of Full Motion Video and the introduction of new collection assets has increased the requirement for imagery analysts. There is a shortfall of some 18% in imagery analysts within the RAF. In the short term this is being addressed through management of training, including the introduction of a new basic course on FMV. For the longer term, the position will be monitored and the MoD is developing an overall strategy "to make better use of this scarce resource, including work to understand better the recruitment and retention issues and whether the training course structure is right". A recruitment strategy is being implemented although this is not expected to provide additional imagery analysts for around two years. The MoD considers that manning in the other Services is broadly in balance. The MoD memorandum states that:

Overall, there is sufficient trained manpower (with use of reserves) to meet current operational requirements but, as in other areas there has been a need to rebalance priorities.[102]

92.  The MoD needs the right number of UAV operators with the right skills to make maximum use of the UAV systems it has acquired and is in the process of acquiring. We are concerned to learn that there are substantial deficits in the number of UAV operators in the Army and that the position may worsen when the Watchkeeper UAV system enters service at the end of the decade. We will wish to be updated on the success of the measures being taken to address the deficits in UAV operators. We note that the MoD considers that the deficit in UAV operators has had no impact on current operations.

93.  UAVs are delivering increasing amounts of imagery. In order to optimise the value of the imagery collected, the MoD requires sufficient imagery analysts trained in areas such as Full Motion Video. We are concerned that there is an 18% deficit in imagery analysts in the RAF and that a recruitment strategy which is being implemented is not expected to provide additional analysts for some two years. As with UAV operators, we will wish to be updated on the success of the measures being taken to address the deficit in this area.

94.  We look to the MoD, in its response to our Report, to provide us with a list of the manning pinch points that impact upon the operation of UAVs, including those trades involved in supporting and maintaining UAVs. The list should set out the current deficits and the action in hand to address them.

Service issues

95.  In its memorandum, the Royal Aeronautical Society raised the issue of "UAS-ISTAR as a "purple" asset" and states that:

Inter-service rivalry in the development and deployment of UAS-ISTAR assets is a persistent issue, certainly for the US military. However, while the current UK experience appears to be somewhat better the Phoenix was a Royal Artillery (RA) -sponsored project and was seen as a RA Reconnaissance and Target Acquisition system (possibly also with battle damage assessment (BDA) capability). Any suggestion that it might be used for surveillance and intelligence purposes was fiercely contested. In summary, the other challenge is a cultural and organisational need to take an enterprise level view of capability management. It is vital that the UK should continue to develop a cross-service approach to this asset, particularly for the wider battlespace and strategic perspective. Currently, the Reaper is operated by the RAF, while Watchkeeper will be deployed by the Army. While there is no reason to suppose that use of these assets and the data they obtain will not be well coordinated, the MoD should ensure that all UAV assets are developed and deployed according to an overall strategy for UAV-related activities.[103]

96.  We asked why the RAF was operating Reaper UAVs and the Royal Artillery operating Hermes 450 and Desert Hawk UAVs. AVM Butler stressed that the important issue was where the product was delivered and "ultimately the product, irrespective of which UAV it comes from, is delivered predominantly to the fighting troops on the ground". The Reaper UAV was "more akin to an air force type strike aircraft" so the RAF was better placed as it was more experienced in that type of tasking. He added that:

there is not, to my mind, the discrepancy or conflict between the different services because it is where it naturally falls in terms of what we do best.[104]

97.  We were concerned about ISTAR information being lost between the different Services operating UAVs. AVM Butler said that it was "as seamless as things are in war time". In the case of the Reaper UAV the information went back to the US and was then disseminated to where it was needed. For other UAVs, the information was provided direct from the UAV to a small ground terminal which "the troops have in their hands—either a laptop or on-vehicle borne system".[105]

98.  We note that on current operations the RAF is operating the Reaper UAV and the Army is operating the Hermes 450 and Desert Hawk UAVs. The MoD has assured us that this approach has not caused any problems regarding the dissemination of ISTAR information, and that the focus has been on delivering what was required to the troops on the ground. In its response to our Report, we expect the MoD to set out its plans regarding which Service will have lead responsibility for future UAV systems and what consideration it has given to a joint UAV command.

Operating with allies

99.  The NATO Joint Air Power Competence Centre Flight Plan for Unmanned Aircraft Systems raises the following issues about using UAVs on operations:

In defending against UAS operations, how will NATO ground forces know that the UAS above them is friendly and not an adversary's reconnaissance platform? Or worse, an adversary's armed UAV? How will ground based air defences know what they should fire at and what to let go. The first problem is to separate friend from foe. The second problem is that NATO's Air Defence systems might be more expensive than the threatening target to fire at or, that NATO's Air Defence stems may be saturated by sheer numbers of small, low-cost UAVs. How will we deal with these problems for the future?[106]

100.  We raised the issue of identifying whether a UAV was friend or foe at the evidence session with MoD officials. AVM Butler explained how UAVs were tasked and that an air tasking order went out on a daily basis which "lets all of the other air users know where that particular platform is at any one time, and the way the system works". He said that:

We also have systems already on the UAV to an extent which does an element of identifying where the platform is, so very similar to the ones we use in fixed-wing aircraft, and the final bit of that puzzle is what we call "sense and avoid", which is an area of technology we are working quite hard on to try and bring forward, but at the moment we do as much as we can to make sure we have got that deconfliction within the air space.[107]

101.  In its memorandum, Northrop Grumman considered that "coordination among UAVs being used in theatre is critical to avoid redundancies, misinterpretation of facts on the ground, and radar interference".[108] The Royal Aeronautical Society considered that there was "good cooperation at many levels internationally and in the unmanned systems community generally, there is good sharing of common operational experience…. Bilateral, multilateral, NATO and EDA groups all share their experience, and the US-UK relationship has been particularly fruitful".[109] However, the NATO Joint Air Power Competence Centre Flight Plan for Unmanned Aircraft Systems states that "Integration of UAS is not occurring in NATO. Nations are developing stove-piped systems that do not integrate with each other nor with NATO networks". [110]

102.  We asked about interoperability with allies in relation to UAVs. AVM Butler told us that:

we are very much on key with the US. If you look at Reaper, for example, it is operated fundamentally over a US tasking system. On the wider issue of interoperability with other nations, we have number of fora where we get together, and I represent the MoD on many of them, where we have UAV focus groups to make sure that, as best we possibly can, we avoid any overlap of things like tasking, for example, and how we do command and control, and many of the other nations work very similar systems either to us or to the US. In actual fact, in theatre at the sort of tactical level there is not a problem because they tend to be supporting their own troops; at the strategic level we do tend to work it across a US/UK predominant battle space. So they tend to link in with us rather than us having to link in with them, but, as I say, there are a number of UAV groups that are together across both bilateral arrangements and "five eyes" and NATO arrangements where we are seeking constantly to make sure we are interoperable with other nations.[111]

103.  We asked about the dissemination of ISTAR information on operations which could be being collected by different UAVs. AVM Butler told us that to the soldier on the ground with his laptop receiving images he "does not actually care whether it is Reaper or whether it is a Watchkeeper or whether it is a Canadian system…. he just wants his data, so providing the standards work, it does not really matter". AVM Nickols added:

It is just worth making the point for instance in Afghanistan an awful lot of the UAVs are either Predator As, Reapers or Hermes 450 and the same ground terminal will accept the imagery from all three of those, whether they be UK, US, or indeed any other nation, so while there are still some problems with some systems we are tackling it and addressing the problem, particularly in the operational areas.[112]

104.  We note that there are arrangements in place to make sure that the UK's UAV systems are interoperable with those of other nations. In Afghanistan, the ISTAR information is collected by Predator A, Reaper and Hermes 450 UAVs, but it can be processed by the same ground terminals. The MoD assured us that, while there were some problems with some systems, these were being addressed. We consider it vital that the MoD ensures that interoperability is a key requirement when acquiring future UAV systems.

Exploiting the ISTAR information collected

105.  The MoD acknowledges that further improvements are required in relation to the Direct, Process and Disseminate elements of the ISTAR chain. Programmes such as DII and DABINETT are aimed at delivering the required improvements in the future (paragraph 8). Our inquiry focused on the contribution of UAVs, primarily as collectors of ISTAR information, to current and future ISTAR capability. However, issues about better exploiting the ISTAR information collected were raised in many of the memoranda we received. For example, the memorandum from Intellect states that "the exploitation (rather than solely the gathering) of information must be the focus of the UK's future development of ISTAR capability".[113] Intellect considers that:

A bias towards the acquisition of increasing numbers of platform/collection assets…. runs the risk of consistently gathering vast mountains of data which cannot be analysed…. Intellect's members are aware of an analysis which claims that 80% of the ISTAR gathering in support of Operation TELIC took place to acquire material which had in fact been collected previously, but was either not accessible or not known to be available.[114]

106.  In its memorandum, Thales UK considers that there is:

a strong value for money argument for the Watchkeeper system to provide the basis for the UK based NEC Ground Infrastructure exploitation and dissemination capability as one of the key components to integrate the layered manned and unmanned ISTAR collector systems across the different layers of command for maximum UK Forces benefit.[115]

107.  We asked how the Watchkeeper UAV system might provide this capability. Victor Chavez explained that:

At the moment so much data is stored but it is not easily accessible; it is not easily catalogued; and it is accessible typically through one system. Watchkeeper provides a distributed information system where any number of users can access all of that data. Watchkeeper at the moment, the ground information infrastructure is really designed around the various sensors that are going to be on board Watchkeeper—the electro-optic cameras, the infra-red cameras and synthetic aperture radar; but there is nothing to stop that being extended to the information that comes off another UAV, a Reaper UAV, or off a Global Hawk UAV, or using different sensors. If you were to add in communications intelligence sensors or electronic support measures which detect signals, there is nothing to stop you actually using that information infrastructure to share that information. That would fulfill part of potentially the requirement known as DABINETT…. DABINETT is certainly one if not the highest priority ISTAR programming in the eyes of MoD; because at the moment MoD has got quite a lot of collectors of information but it has not got in place the infrastructure to really get best value out of that, and that is why there is such a high priority at the moment.[116]

108.  The MoD acknowledges that the storage of information and intelligence and its analysis at later date is an area where improvements are needed. AVM Butler told us that:

I think the one thing it may be worth putting our hands up about that we are not quite as good as we would like to be as yet is storage and analysis of that information at a later date; but you can imagine with something like Reaper, on task for something like 15 or 16 hours, there is an awful lot of data that we pull in and, again, it comes back to my earlier point: if we want to improve and we clearly do, then it is that type of thing that we would ultimately like to be able to get a better handle on.[117]

109.  Dr Moira Smith, representing defence SMEs, considered it understandable that with the early UAV systems the focus was on the information they were able to gather rather than on the processing of that information. She said that there was now an emphasis "very much coming through from the MoD funding, to look much more at the data deluge problem".[118]

110.  The need to improve the way the collection of information and intelligence was directed and the resulting data processed and disseminated was also an issue in the US. John Brooks told us that:

these capabilities have to advance in harmony and that, as we demonstrated, the extraordinary power of persistence of a platform to not be episodic and pass over an area every great once in a while, but to maintain surveillance on a broad area for 24 or more hours, does place new demands, particularly on the exploitation system but also on the dissemination system, and it will require some level of manning and particularly some new tools to help automate that so that it can move forward. That is not to suggest that we should constrain our ability to collect down to what may currently be our ability to exploit…. We are moving in that direction but it does have to go forward in harmony so that you can capitalise on it.[119]

Ed Walby described an approach to tackling the issue during the operations in Afghanistan:

what we were able to do as techniques were developed was we took an intelligence group and attached them to Global Hawk electronically in that as it collected and processed that imagery it was immediately exploited. Then as we progressed further we did some experiments on how we archive that information and now we are to the point where the information that is collected is archived, categorised and posted on secure websites for individuals to go and retrieve what they want to retrieve. The requirements of the collection may be dependent on a particular day but the information collected may be relevant to the next day's mission or the next hour's mission. All of that is at the hands of those throughout the distributed system who have access to those classified websites. We have even taken the server on board the aircraft which was the mission recorder and replaced it with a 1.4 terabyte server and connected that to a field radio so that a troop on the ground can literally reach up and pull and retrieve right off the Global Hawk. That is a capability that could be platform agnostic as well. Because of its altitude, Global Hawk tends to be a place that you can connect with other nodes. On the archival of that information, we flew a Global Hawk in combat for a year and collected every single image on that server and it only got to about 70 per cent full, so you have got the entire library of those images on board that system.[120]

111.  The MoD faces a major challenge to ensure that the systems which process and disseminate the ISTAR information collected keep pace with the systems which collect it. The MoD's progress in addressing this challenge is a matter we plan to examine in future inquiries into ISTAR.

76   The Joint Air Power Competence Centre (JAPCC) Flight Plan for Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) in NATO, 10 March 2008, page 24 Back

77   Q 75 Back

78   Q 76 Back

79   Q 259 Back

80   Beyond line of sight is considered to be a range exceeding 500 metres from the operator and/or 400 feet above ground level. Back

81   Ev 75 Back

82   Ev 69 Back

83   Ev 69 Back

84   Q 78 Back

85   Ev 54  Back

86   Ev 73 Back

87   Ev 80 Back

88   Q 140 Back

89   Q 193 Back

90   Ev 79 Back

91   Ev 76 Back

92   Ev 69 Back

93   Q 85 Back

94   Q 216 Back

95   "MoD announces public consultation on UAV airspace expansion", Ministry of Defence website, Defence News, 17 June 2008 Back

96   Q 83 Back

97   Q 86 Back

98   Defence Committee, Fifth Special Report of Session 2007-08, Ministry of Defence Annual Report and Accounts 2006-07: Government Response to the Committee's Fifth Report of Session 2007-08, HC 468, p 9 Back

99   Q 21 Back

100   Q 32 Back

101   Ev 86-87 Back

102   Ev 87 Back

103   Ev 57-58 Back

104   Q 17 Back

105   Q 18 Back

106   The Joint Air Power Competence Centre (JAPCC) Flight Plan for Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) in NATO, 10 March 2008, para Back

107   Q 36 Back

108   Ev 79 Back

109   Ev 58 Back

110   The Joint Air Power Competence Centre (JAPCC) Flight Plan for Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) in NATO, 10 March 2008, page 25 Back

111   Q 38 Back

112   Q 96 Back

113   Ev 64 Back

114   Ev 63 Back

115   Ev 72 Back

116   Q 221 Back

117   Q 31 Back

118   Q 118 Back

119   Q 246 Back

120   Q 246 Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2008
Prepared 5 August 2008