HC 950 Operations in Libya

OL 007

Written evidence from Raytheon UK

Raytheon UK is pleased to submit this written evidence in support of the Defence Committee’s inquiry into Operations in Libya. In particular this evidence is submitted with respect to the question posed about the implications of this operation for the outcomes of the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR).


The Airborne Standoff Radar (ASTOR) program that includes the Sentinel R Mk1 as the aircraft element was launched in December 1999 as a key component of the Armed Forces Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) capability to become the country’s future key ground surveillance capability. It provides surveillance over a wide area; the ability to focus on a discreet area of interest; and the ability to identify moving targets. Using a business jet enables the sensor to be flown much higher than larger aircraft thus greatly extending the range of radar coverage.

Raytheon delivered the programme to the original target cost of £850 million and went from concept to operational capability, deployed in theatre in just over eight years, a significant achievement for what was an extremely complex and technically ambitious programme.

The Strategic Defence and Security Review announced the retirement of the RAF’s fleet of five Sentinel R Mk 1 aircraft on completion of the support to ongoing operations in Afghanistan circa April 2015.

Support to Operation Ellamy

The Sentinel R Mk1 has been providing strategic ISTAR support to the UK and NATO since the beginning of operations in Libya . It has achieved a greater than 97% level of availability. The Sentinel capability has been critical in delivering data to support the general intelligence picture and also to identify specific targets for the strike force. The platform has been at times the only strategic ISTAR platform available and hence has been pivotal to the execution of tasking in support of the objectives of the coalition. The performance of both the platform and the support provided by Raytheon to the operations has been formally acknowledged and praised by the front line command.

The Sentinel R Mk1 has proven its critical role in support of both Operation Ellamy and Operation Herrick providing a wide area surveillance capability that currently can only be delivered by a few assets. It has been relied upon by the collation forces on a number of occasions, and is one of the few capabilities that the UK can deploy that can demonstrably add immediate value to the operation.

SDSR Capability Gaps

The Strategic Defence and Security Review announced the retirement of the RAF’s fleet of five Sentinel R Mk 1 aircraft on completion of the support to ongoing operations in Afghanistan circa April 2015.

This decision leaves the UK without a viable wide area ground surveillance capability. Raytheon’s understanding is that the MoD believes that wide area surveillance can be provided by a combination of the Scavenger* capability, the procurement of which has not yet commenced, and the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF).

However, whilst these programmes may provide a ground surveillance capability, they are intended to provide coverage complementary to Sentinel’s wide area capability. JSF and Scavenger will be optimised for local area surveillance provided by smaller sensors and less powerful processing capability. Unmanned assets like Scavenger need cueing from very wide area pattern of life based product libraries and without Sentinel, another means will be needed to update these databases in near real time. We are not aware of MoD plans to provide this capability.

With the JSF not due to enter into service until between 2017 and 2020 and Scavenger not planned to deliver an operational capability until sometime after 2018, there remains a risk of no capability in this area for a significant period of time.

The Sentinel system also has a valuable role in communications. The Ground Station currently provides the coalition forces with the only means of interoperation with JSTARS which will be lost when Sentinel is retired.

Furthermore this loss will have an effect on potential plans for the long range deployment of UAVs, for which radio relay of data may be required, especially if SATCOM bandwidth is limited or not available. Sentinel’s high altitude ceiling has been utilised in this way by the USAF using the original ASTOR demonstrator GEX 9001 as a trials aircraft operating out of Afghanistan.

The Battle Against IEDs

In addition to its pattern of life picture that Sentinel currently provides, the system could assist further in the battle against IEDs due to the inherent quality of the raw data provided. Offboard post processing trials have proven that there is the capability to identify disturbed earth and cue the identification of IED locations. The Sentinel aircraft does not require any modifications in order to deliver this near real-time IED detection capability. Therefore, with minimal additional outlay, further trials could be undertaken with in theatre data to refine this capability, and potentially help to reduce the casualty figures in theatre.

Such a capability is considered essential given the latest trend in warfighting scenarios, and would be valuable, not just for current operations in Afghanistan, but wherever the next theatre of interest lies. Afghanistan has proven that terrorism will likely continue to revolve around insurgency and IED based threats, a scenario that the current platforms have difficulty in addressing over wide areas.

Future Potential

The ASTOR System has untapped capability that with incremental investment could deliver significantly enhanced capabilities. This spiral capability development would be a more cost effective and lower risk way of delivering new capability, rather than investing in the development and entry into service of new platforms.

The SDSR decision to cancel the Nimrod MRA4 leaves the UK with maritime capability gaps that the Sentinel R Mk 1 capability could address, including:

· Deep sea search and rescue maritime target detection;

· Scene of Action presence for maritime emergencies beyond the range of current Sea King helicopters;

· Overhead naval force protection; and

· Wide area submarine threat detection.

The Sentinel Dual Mode Radar Sensor (DMRS) could be modified to accept a high sea state target detection capability that would match and possibly even surpass that lost by the cancellation of the Nimrod MRA4. This capability is already in service in the US.

In addition the ASTOR Ground Station could be upgraded, with relatively little investment, to provide a multi ISTAR hub for the reception of information feeds from Watchkeeper, Reaper and, in the future, Scavenger. This would fit well into the future plans for the Solomon programme, as we understand them, maximising reuse of existing assets, saving valuable resource and costs.


Sentinel R Mk 1 has proven invaluable to operational success in Libya and Afghanistan.

The SDSR decision to retire Sentinel leaves the UK with capability gaps covering significant wide area pattern of life surveillance, long range target detection and coalition force interoperability. Retirement of Sentinel leaves the UK with vital capability gaps some of which may be filled by new platforms in the 2020 -2024 timeframe, but not all.

In addition spiral development of the proven Sentinel capability could deliver solutions to capability gaps left by other SDSR decisions, such as maritime search and rescue, and deep sea threat detection, at significantly lower cost and risk, than developing and deploying new platforms.

September 2011

Prepared 14th October 2011