Select Committee on Defence Written Evidence

Memorandum from the Ministry of Defence

  The Committee would be grateful for a memorandum on ISTAR which addresses the following questions:

    —    What is ISTAR?

  Current ISTAR capability

    —    Which equipment programmes provide or support current ISTAR capability? The Committee would be grateful for a list of these equipment programmes.

    —    What is the cost (acquisition and support costs) of the equipment programmes which provide or support current ISTAR capability?

    —    How do the various equipment programmes which provide or support current ISTAR capability contribute to the achievement of Network Enabled Capability?

    —    How are the equipment programmes which provide or support current ISTAR capability, and the outputs from them, integrated? How is the various information from ISTAR assets pulled together?

    —    Where does the output from ISTAR assets go—at the Strategic, Operational and Tactical levels?

    —    How does the MoD assess the operational benefits of ISTAR?

    —    How does the UK integrate / co-operate with its key allies with regard to ISTAR?

  Future ISTAR capability

    —    What is the MoD's future plans relating to improving ISTAR capability? The Committee would be grateful for a list of the programmes in the Equipment Programme which are to provide or support future ISTAR capability.

    —    Which of these programmes are priority programmes for improving ISTAR capability?

    —    What is likely to be the future role of UAVs in relation to ISTAR?

  ISTAR is a key military capability that generates and delivers specific information and intelligence[1] 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[2] 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. This Memorandum focuses on the dedicated capability and assets employed to provide ISTAR at higher levels of command and those tactical assets with a primary ISTAR function.


  The Armed Forces have available to them a wide range of ISTAR capability covering all operating environments, although each capability is not necessarily constrained to operate exclusively in a single environment. Output from ISTAR is of course used extensively in Joint operations. Current capability can be broken down into the following broad categories and in each one the main equipment systems involved are identified.


  The Fylingdales site provides early warning of ballistic missile threats to the UK and is an integral part of the US global early warning network. It also supports UK monitoring of space.

  Manned airborne electronic surveillance is currently provided by the Nimrod R1 system. This provides flexible and effective signals intelligence gathering and reconnaissance capability to support operational commanders' campaign plans and to prosecute specific targets. A similar and complementary collection capability is mounted on Royal Navy warships, both surface (COBLU) and sub surface (Eddystone). Land-based systems can also contribute but primarily operate at the tactical level (see below).

  A national capability to provide a strategic to tactical level mapping and digital geographic information and imagery derived intelligence to UK forces is pursued under the Picasso programme. This programme is an important component of the UK-US strategic relationship and collaborative intelligence sharing.

  For the production and dissemination of military intelligence required for strategic assessment, policy-making, strategic and operational level campaign planning, and as a key input to targeting planning, the UK contributes to and exploits a US classified intelligence database.


  As well as a mix of Type 93 and 101 air defence ground based radars in the UK, a deployable surveillance of airspace capability is provided by the Sentry E3D Airborne Early Warning and Control system. This has the ability to co-ordinate UK and coalition air operations and to direct forces during operations.

  The Sea King Mk 7 Airborne Surveillance and Control (SKASaC) helicopter system can operate off naval platforms or the land and provides air and surface surveillance using a mix of electronic, radar and electro-optic sensors.

  Long range ground surveillance is provided by the Raptor reconnaissance pod system for Tornado GR4. It provides a medium level, high resolution, long stand-off capability using electro-optical and infra-red sensors with the ability to display images in the cockpit and to transmit these in near real time via a data-link to a ground station for analysis.


  For land forces electronic surveillance is provided by the Scarus man-portable system and the vehicle mounted INCE and Odette systems. Radar surveillance and target acquisition is provided by the MSTAR man-portable lightweight battlefield radar system.

  Limited range full motion video surveillance is provided by the Phoenix tactical Unmanned Air Vehicle (UAV) system. Originally designed for operations in central Europe, it has not proved suitable for supporting ongoing operations in the more demanding climatic and geographical conditions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

  ISTAR support to the protection of deployed operating bases in Iraq and Afghanistan is currently met by a mix of visual and electronic surveillance systems often re-deployed from Northern Ireland, supplemented by improved CCTV and lighting.

Urgent Operational Requirements (UORs)

  In addition to in-service ISTAR systems, a number of additional capabilities have been provided as Urgent Operational Requirements (UORs) over recent years to address specific capability gaps in current operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some of these have delivered improvements to in-service capability; others have involved the bringing forward of capability originally planned for delivery in later years. For the period 2003-07 the emphasis has been on improving the ability to collect ISTAR against an increasingly agile and ISTAR-aware adversary. The main examples of ISTAR UORs are shown below:

  Reaper is a long-endurance UAV system providing wide-area all-weather capability in the Afghanistan theatre using electro-optical full motion video and radar sensors. Pre-programmed missions can be flown or the air vehicle can be piloted by datalink.

  At the tactical level, accurate, timely and high-quality electro-optical and infra-red imagery is provided in both theatres under a service provision contract with Thales UK using the Hermes 450 UAV system.

  The Desert Hawk mini-UAV short range, short endurance system provides a similar capability in direct support to deployed sub units.

  Remote video mobile ground terminals allow ISTAR data to be fed directly to deployed ground forces in theatre. The Remote Optical Video Enhanced Receiver (ROVER) III system provides a man-portable feed from a range of UK and coalition full motion video collection platforms to support tactical deployments and operations. It provides deployed ground forces with the ability to improve their situational awareness and force protection.

  To improve the current deployed operating base protection capability, new systems have been provided in Iraq and Afghanistan using mast and aerostat-mounted visual and electronic sensors.

Cost of current ISTAR capability

  The acquisition costs of the in-service ISTAR equipment covered by this Memorandum are estimated at £1.6 billion. This figure is derived from historical data and includes costs for equipment that in some cases has been in service for a considerable period. The projected cost of supporting the equipment providing current capability is estimated at £970 million over the next 10 years.


  Conceptually, ISTAR is delivered through two distinct but inter-related capability areas. The collection side aims to provide capabilities that can gather accurate and timely information across the environments and can detect, track, and identify enemy, neutral and friendly entities within a defined area, day and night, and in all weathers. The direction, processing and dissemination side aims to provide capabilities that can direct collection effort and then process and disseminate derived information and intelligence to all levels in national and coalition operations. Currently, considerable effort is needed to draw together the output from collection and analysis systems which tend to focus on specific sources or types of intelligence types and then to disseminate a useful product to users at all levels. Current systems used for this include Joint Operational Command System (JOCS) and other systems dedicated to handling highly classified material.

  The output from ISTAR assets is a key input to the planning and execution of operations at all levels and, by improving situational awareness, provides commanders with an increased range of options. The principal users at the strategic level are the Joint Intelligence Committee, the Chiefs of Staff, Defence Intelligence and key allies. At the operational level it is the Chief of Joint Operations and intelligence staff at PJHQ and in deployed higher formation national and coalition HQs. At the tactical level it is brigade and battlegroup commanders and the intelligence staff in brigade and battlegroup (or equivalent) HQs and coalition formations. At all levels, ISTAR output will be exploited by a wide range of capabilities, but this is often as a fused product and not as raw information.

  The operational benefits of ISTAR are continually reviewed through a series of formal assessments and informal feedback. Formal ISTAR capability audits are conducted at two yearly intervals as part of MoD capability planning against requirements set out in Defence Strategic Guidance, and are used to inform rebalancing of the Department's Equipment Plan. This complements the detailed operational analysis that supports submission to the approving authorities for each programme and is used to determine the capability to be delivered by DE&S. In addition, feedback is regularly received from operational theatres through visit reports, post-deployment reports and Directorate of Operational Capability audits to inform refinement of forward plans and when necessary to identify requirements for UORs.

  The UK has made considerable efforts to co-operate with key allies at the strategic, operational and tactical levels. This delivers significant benefit as, in some scenarios, much of the ISTAR output exploited by UK commanders may have been collected and/or analysed by key allies. Similarly, key allies gain significant benefit from the ISTAR output generated from UK ISTAR collection and/or analytical capability. At the strategic level, UK contributes to a number of collaborative intelligence programmes with key allies that maximise the benefits derived from high value collection and analysis capabilities. This includes the sharing of R&D and the development of common data and technical standards. As improved communications capabilities are delivered, the outputs of collaborative programmes are increasingly being exploited at the operational and tactical levels. Benefit is also derived from participation in a variety of international fora, including:

    —    The Interoperability Commission (IOC). The IOC is the key UK-US senior official level bilateral forum that addresses operational and technical interoperability. Fourteen UK-US "tiger teams" meet regularly to progress interoperability across the whole C4ISTAR (C4 = Command, Control, Communications and Computers) domain;

    —    NATO. NATO has a full sub-committee structure under the NATO C3 Board that covers all aspects of C4ISTAR;

    —    Bilateral Meetings. These include for example meetings with Australia to progress pan-environment military harmonisation;

    —    National Armaments Directors (NADs). The NADs of France, Germany, Italy, UK and the United States) supervise a number of working groups which address C4ISTAR issues including research and technology projects and future UAV operational concepts.


  The current ISTAR programme provides a number of capable collection and analysis capabilities that tend to focus on specific sources or intelligence types and relying on a variety of existing systems and processes to disseminate intelligence and information to all levels. The main issue is that, in general terms, there are sufficient dedicated collection capabilities in service or due to be delivered but that direction, processing and dissemination improvements are needed to exploit current and planned collection capabilities more effectively, to enable more timely satisfaction of critical information requirements and to assist the implementation of NEC. In principle, all ISTAR systems contribute to NEC but the full potential of ISTAR as a capability will not be realised until NEC is mature. The emphasis of current and future ISTAR development is therefore on improving the way the collection of information and intelligence is directed and the resulting data processed and disseminated. This emphasis is reflected in the following discussion of future equipment capability programmes

Future ISTAR capability equipment programmes

  The Department has plans to address the recognised shortfalls in the direction, processing and dissemination elements of the intelligence cycle and to improve the persistence, reach and accuracy of dedicated ISTAR collection capabilities. These plans are being closely co-ordinated with the programme to modernise Defence Intelligence operations which is addressing wider improvement in the handling of all forms of intelligence. The main dedicated new ISTAR programmes involved are described below.

  DABINETT is an incremental programme that will improve the coherence and networking of ISTAR across Defence to provide actionable information and intelligence at all levels. It is expected to include a combination of existing and future platforms and sensors, support centres and links to intelligence systems. It is about to enter the assessment phase. Delivery is expected to be through a range of separate but coherent projects. The programme has two main objectives: improvements to the direction, processing and dissemination of intelligence and information; and improving deep and persistent collection capability. The latter may be partially met by retaining the Reaper capability acquired to meet operational requirements in Afghanistan.

  ASTOR (Airborne Stand-off Radar) addresses requirements for surveillance, reconnaissance & target acquisition information on moving, stationary & fixed targets in the land environment. The system, based on business jet aircraft, provides a joint, near real time, 24hr and all-weather Synthetic Aperture Radar and Moving Target Indicator capability. It is currently due to come into service by the end of 2008.

  The UK WATCHKEEPER UAV system will provide UK commanders, primarily at brigade but also at battlegroup level, with accurate, timely and high quality information including imagery, using electro-optical and Synthetic Aperture Radar and Moving Target Indicator sensors. The air vehicle is based on the Hermes 450 but WATCHKEEPER will be fully integrated into the wider command and control network. The capability will begin to be delivered from the end of the decade.

  Project EAGLE aims to sustain and upgrade the UK Airborne Early Warning capability provided by the Sentry E-3D. It will enable Sentry E3D to perform more effectively as an Airborne Early Warning and Control (AWACS) platform, managing the air battle across the range of operations with maximum interoperability with NATO allies. The project is currently in the assessment phase.

  HELIX aims to sustain and upgrade the UK's dedicated airborne electronic surveillance capability against an evolving and increasingly complex target set out to 2025, replacing the capability currently provided by the NIMROD R1. The programme is currently in the assessment phase.

  SOOTHSAYER is an integrated vehicle-mounted Land Electronic Warfare (EW) System in the demonstration and manufacture stage. It replaces and enhances the Odette and Ince systems and will begin to enter service towards the end of the decade. SHAMAN is a broadly equivalent system for naval platforms and is currently in the assessment phase.

  URBAN and REAR ISTAR aims to provide a coherent and integrated urban and rear area ISTAR surveillance capability through the networking of ISTAR sensors and platforms to enable the Land commander to conduct ISTAR within these complex environments. It will also improve protection of deployed operating bases, releasing key manpower from surveillance tasks and enhancing force protection. It is currently at the early concept stage.


  DABINETT is the highest priority ISTAR programme because of the improvements it will bring to the way information and intelligence is directed, processed and disseminated, thereby improving the coherent exploitation of the increasingly capable collection assets and enabling NEC. Success is closely related to maintaining coherence with other programmes particularly those which support the programme to modernise Defence Intelligence operations such as Defence Information Infrastructure (DII) (particularly the above-secret elements of the programme), Picasso and the Joint Command and Control System Programme (JC2SP).

  Other priorities include upgrading the UK air defence ground based radar system, sustaining the electronic warfare database, electronic and wide area surveillance, how to meet the demands of time sensitive targeting and the implementation of robust procedures to exploit the new UAV capabilities. We also need to remain interoperable with the US while improving interoperability with other allies and ensure that we coordinate with other Government departments that have an interest in ISTAR capability, for example GCHQ.

Role of UAVs

  ISTAR collection requirements in Iraq and Afghanistan are being delivered through a layered approach using manned and unmanned platforms. This is seen as the model for the future. The manned capabilities (provided on current operations by for example the Nimrod R1, Nimrod MR2 and surveillance helicopters) provide variously point target, strategic and tactical ISTAR. The long loiter, deep and persistent requirement for ISTAR is increasingly being met through UAVs equipped with Full Motion Video (FMV) and in some cases radar and other sensors operating in three layers. These can be illustrated for the land environment as follows:

    —    Theatre/Operational Level. At this level there is a requirement for long range, long loiter systems to provide ISTAR in real time in order to assist decision making, improve situational awareness and support targeting. They can fulfil roles such as border surveillance. At this level, support to deployed formations is likely to be indirect in nature. The need to provide control over a large geographic area and provide product to dispersed locations, including strategic feed back to UK, means that such systems require a beyond line of sight communications capability. On current operations, the Reaper UAV system acquired under UOR arrangements is providing capability.

    —    Formation/Higher Tactical Level. At this level the requirement is for a UAV capability controlled by and in direct support of brigade level operations. Typical tasks include: pattern of life monitoring prior to specific operations; find/track surveillance of tactical high priority targets; provision of guaranteed continuous coverage of operations; force protection to convoys; and Improvised Explosive Device (IED) searches along supply routes. On current operations, the capability is provided as service by Thales UK using the Hermes 450 UAV system under UOR arrangements. WATCHKEEPER will fulfil a similar role.

    —    Lower Tactical Level. At this level, company and battlegroup level units require the ability to deploy rapidly a locally controlled ISTAR system to gain situational awareness relevant to an immediate localised threat or individual engagement. The very rapid response required, as well as the short range of these operations, means that a UAV, controlled at the lowest level in direct support of troops in contact is typically best suited to meet the requirement. On current operations the Desert Hawk min-UAV system acquired under UOR arrangements is providing capability.

  The layered approach ensures that products that support decision making, situational awareness and targeting are provided directly to each level within the chain of command. This also allows sensible investment and the achievement of value for money by matching capability to requirement. While the varied needs of each level of command could be met by a single platform type, the capability would need to be driven by the most demanding requirement (long range, long persistence, very capable sensors). This could lead to disproportionate cost, delayed timelines and, at lower levels, excessive capability.

19 February 2008

1   Information is unprocessed data of every description which may be used in the production of intelligence. Intelligence is the product resulting from the processing of information concerning for example threats or areas of actual or potential operations. The term is also applied to the activity which results in the product and to organisations engaged in such activity. Back

2   HCDC Inquiry-Defence Equipment-MoD Memorandum Q15 submitted on 23 January 2008. The networks, systems and applications that allow intelligence and information to be processed and disseminated are critical to successful ISTAR. Back

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