Locating shadows

Cover Story

Use of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) technologies in battle zone


As the modern battlefield is getting hi-tech and changing the rules of engagement, the demand for new intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) technology and infrastructure is growing significantly to meet new challenges and eliminating the elements of surprise.

Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities, which are strategically important in peacetime, are a vital national asset in crises when time is a critical factor in decision-making and demands for information escalate drastically.

No doubt, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance are critical to a nation’s strategic defence.

Many nations are actively employing ISR throughout the global theatres such as sea, air, space and cyberspace in order to collect, process and disseminate data in support of current and future national security needs.

Indeed, ISR has multiple functions, including information gathering based on imaging (imagery intelligence) or signals collection (signals intelligence).

The information provided by ISR is valuable to decision makers only after it has been converted into a useable form in a timely manner.

The rapid sharing of information among military leaders and civilian government officials is key to maintaining situational awareness and establishing a common operational picture. Combined and collated ISR information is far more valuable than its individual components.

Technological advances in weaponry and communications continue to drive the need for NATO forces to field responsive ISR assets that possess capabilities for interoperability.

Rapid and accurate collection, exploitation, and dissemination of relevant information are vital to achieving operational objectives. This applies equally to information derived from imagery (IMINT) and the electronic spectrum (SIGINT).

By defining a common interface between the air and ground systems, each nation would be able to build their own systems and enable data interchange (cross servicing) through this common interface of the mixed systems during joint operations.

For a variety of reasons, SIGINT has not had that same measure of scrutiny and policy collaboration as IMINT.

Nations have their own systems and procedures for collecting SIGINT. Sharing, if done at all, has been done on an ad hoc basis.

Procedures for exchanging SIGINT information need to be refined so that allied forces can be reasonably confident of working from the same information base for mission planning and dynamic retasking.

The value of sharing SIGINT data, particularly ELINT/ESM information for suppression of enemy air defenses (SEAD) missions, is obvious.

The near real-time information that SIGINT can contribute to dynamic force protection is unique. SIGINT data can provide equally vital information on other aspects of adversary activities, such as weapons status, situational awareness, and adversary intent.

In fact, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance comprise a crosscutting national security function. Military forces are often responsible for collecting information concerning another state’s military plans, force structure and levels, force disposition and current operations.

ISR also makes a vital contribution to strategic and operational early warning. ISR involves remote information gathering that depends on either visual observation or enhanced visual observation via electro-optical means (imagery intelligence) or enhanced listening via specialized receivers (signals intelligence).

ISR technologies

ISR sensors can see and hear across the frequency spectrum. Individual sensors are designed to exploit specific frequency bands that humans associate with their own senses.

While some platforms and even some sensors are multifaceted, platform missions and technical and operational disciplines have formed around these frequency bands.

ISR can be viewed as a “system of systems”-an explicitly designed, operated and maintained combination of individual reconnaissance systems-that collects information across the electromagnetic spectrum.

As such, ISR is foremost a family of collection capabilities that, taken together, can provide a more complete picture of another nation’s military operations.

This means that some ISR platforms may have more than one sensor and that other ISR technologies are designed to collect information unavailable by other means. Satellites are representative of this latter ISR capability.

ISR sensors are becoming increasingly complex, providing greater resolution than ever before, and in smaller and lighter packages that require less power to operate.

This means that airborne and orbiting technology with mounted ISR sensors can provide better performance at lower cost, thereby putting these tools within the reach of nations with even modest defence budgets.

Modern ISR technologies are also becoming increasingly powerful. Both purpose-built UAVs with ISR capabilities and militarized modern commercial aircraft continue to increase in range, airspeed, altitude and endurance.

An example of this trend is the P-8 Poseidon, a military aircraft Boeing has developed for the United States Navy. The P-8, a variant of Boeing’s commercial 737 airplane, will eventually replace the US Navy’s capable but aged P-3 Orion (itself a militarized version of the Lockheed Electra commercial aircraft).

Advances in remote operation technologies, along with enhanced sensors, have revolutionized the use of UAVs.

These intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance UAVs range from very small, hand-launched versions to much larger, transcontinental-range versions such as RQ-4 Global Hawk-an unmanned, high-altitude, long-endurance aircraft-which far exceeds the performance of the U-2 Dragon Lady in terms of mission duration for lower cost-a manned, high-altitude surveillance aircraft used by the United States Air Force.

Simulation-based engineering has long played a role in advancing ISR technology development-from unmanned systems to antennas to systems and embedded software.

The United States is the only country that operates intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance forces at every altitude. Still, the ISR club of nations is becoming larger and increasingly competitive.

Countries that were once holding their own in the ISR competition must work harder to keep up, while countries that are lagging are at risk of falling further behind.

Several developments are driving the expansion of ISR capabilities and the intensity of ISR competition. First, space is no longer is an exclusive enclave.

New entrants

Eleven nations are now orbiting ISR satellites, and that number is expected to increase to 14 in 2016.

The international availability of commercial reconnaissance satellites means that both state and non-state actors can benefit from space-based ISR without the expense of national space programs.

This commercial benefit is, of course, offset by the insecurity of commercial sources in times of crisis.

Second, new sensor developments are making modern ISR cheaper, smaller and lighter. This affects the ISR chain at every level: Very sophisticated ISR payloads have become much easier to fly.

Third, digitization of photography reduces problems of weight and expense. However in modern ISR, digitization of all-spectrum collection- not just imagery-drastically reduces the need for these recovery systems and avoids weight penalties.

Fourth, the globalization of aircraft manufacturing has led to the modification of more airframes of various sizes to carry ISR sensor packages.

These airframes are affordable for many more users; the commercial price is a steep discount from having to maintain a costly national aircraft manufacturing capability as a national security priority.

Fifth, the explosive development and fielding of UAVs have prompted a broad distribution of tactical ISR capabilities. Just as with manned aircraft, sensor packages can be mounted on these vehicles and the absence of life-support systems makes additional room for sensors.

However, the higher echelons of ISR have experienced a less dramatic impact, as has the globalization of aircraft manufacturing more generally. High-altitude systems remain a unique commodity.

They are rare on orbit and even rarer in the upper reaches of the atmosphere. But new HALE UAV aircraft, such as the RQ-4 Global Hawk, are the bellwether of change.

Increasing sophistication and deployment of anti-access, area-denial (A2AD) strategies in regions of interest around the globe requires developing counter-strategies and ISR capabilities that can operate effectively in both physically and electronically hostile environments.

In addition, the amount of data that can be generated from an ISR platform is growing exponentially, which is stressing decision-making and existing infrastructure, particularly in the military satellite communication area.

Converting these vast amounts of data into actionable intelligence is a real challenge. As one movs into an era of increasing importance for ISR technology, what are some of the trends and key technology areas to watch and how can simulation-based engineering continue to contribute?

Design for affordability in the traditional defense-spending nations of North America and Europe, the macro fiscal environment and draw-down of operations are driving a slowdown in new program spending and a renewed thrust on design for affordability.

ISR affordability

While affordability can be impacted by a wide range of factors, such as contract vehicle improvements and acquisition reform, the positive affordability impact of simulation-based engineering is felt in the ISR product development process itself.

Despite an increased focus on cost, the demand for ever-more sophisticated ISR solutions shows no signs of slowing.

To deliver these smarter yet affordable ISR technologies, the product development process must become more efficient and the teams developing the products more productive.

In the defense contractor community today, there is renewed focus on implementation of model-based systems engineering strategies.

An active goal of the design community is connecting project requirements through functional and reduced-order models to detailed physics-based simulation in an integrated model-based environment that interacts with testing and validation and couples with embedded control and display software.

Each step along this journey contributes to fewer high-cost late-stage product failures, improved product quality and increased innovation.

The reality is that today’s complex ISR product development process includes a range of simulation-based engineering design tools: from CAD and PLM to COTS systems and in-house developed/legacy tools.

This plethora of tools and working environments reduces engineering efficiency, as multiple similar operations must be learned, data exchange is inefficient, experts get bogged down in non-expert operations, and developing the skills of less experienced staff is challenging.

Leading product development companies across multiple industry sectors face similar issues and, thus, are developing innovative solutions.

These include establishing customized simulation workflow environments that allow experts to delegate tasks without sacrificing quality, knowledge and data management solutions that reduce repeat work and facilitate knowledge sharing, and integrated simulation environments that unite both data and geographically separated design teams.

With the rise of sophisticated A2AD strategies, ISR technologies, such as unmanned air systems, will need to perform in physically and electromagnetically hostile environments.

Simulation-based engineering will have a critical role in making this transition. Understanding the radar cross section of electrically large vehicles, the susceptibility of electronic systems to unwanted electromagnetic signals or pulses, and survivability of key components to blast and impact or harsh weather environments are just a few of the problems that engineering teams will face.

Modern computing

If Quantum Computing is to be effective, then ISR data must be converted into information that is actionable. The growth in generated data is staggering.

As an example, consider the rapid rise in individuals capturing video data using cell phones. Securely transmitting and processing this data for ISR purposes is stressing assets at all points along the communication chain.

Once received, the data must be processed as quickly as possible. Leading defense contractors and agencies are investing in the potential of quantum computing that if proved successful will have an integral part to play for ISR purposes.

Lockheed Martin’s recent investments in this area have been publicly announced as has its partnership with leading academic groups.

Simulation-based engineering has a key role to play in what can be described as a computing revolution, from designing the supporting infrastructure, such as mechanical racks or cooling systems, to components of the computer itself, such as microwave resonators.

Advanced materials can also play a key role as we enter the era of advanced materials systems, such as materials that offer more than a single function, the role the materials play in ISR technology development will proliferate.

At the tactical level, wearable electronics and sensors will provide real-time situational awareness.

Novel connected display technologies, similar to Google Glass, will enhance warfighter effectiveness.

Lightweight armor and force protection systems will increase soldier and equipment survivability.

Multi-functional materials will be deployed in aircraft wings and energy storage systems alike to increase endurance and persistence by providing more power at lower weight.

With the extension to harsh environments and a focus on sustainment engineering to extend asset life, novel materials will be employed to minimize lifecycle maintenance costs and optimize operational availability.

On the top of it, simulation-based engineering has a key role to play at all stages of advanced materials systems development-from materials science through design, manufacturing and lifecycle support.

Intensive research

Because ISR technology development has advanced rapidly in recent years, multiple duplicate functionality yet customized platforms have been created.

While meeting the short-term tactical need, such an approach does not satisfy the long-term needs of affordability or the practical requirements and logistics of supporting platforms in the field.

In coming years, therefore, the ISR community will see an increasing dive toward consolidation of common technologies, modularity so that a given platform can perform multiple functions, and interoperability to communicate with disparate systems.

While these can be seen as sensible high-level objectives, they pose significant engineering challenges-and simulation-based engineering is strongly positioned to meet the task.

In addition to mechanical integration challenges, such as size, weight, power and cooling, common mounting and bracketing of modular components, etc, one of the larger integration challenges concerns software integration and communication interfaces.

As platforms such as unmanned systems become ever more complex and dependent on increasing amounts of embedded software, modularity and interoperability of software and hardware is critical.

In the US, the Future Airborne Capabilities Environment (FACE) consortium is a step in defining standards for hardware and embedded software providers for military platforms.

Asia could see lot of increase in ISR use by respective militaries. Security relations in Northeast Asia are increasingly uneasy and heightened uncertainty is likely to drive regional powers to compete militarily in the sea, air, outer space and cyberspace commons.

Among the factors challenging the region’s peace and security have been incidents at sea, increased military deployments, covert action, disputes over resource exploitation, smuggling, piracy and terrorist activity.

The region’s maritime commons, in particular, have become increasingly contested with disputes over the South China Sea involving six claimant states, the row between China and Japan over the Senkaku, and the sinking of the South Korean corvette Cheonan on March 26, 2010.

Given this situation, an ISR capability that can track security developments and allow Japan’s civilian and military leaders greater warning time to make informed decisions is a high priority.

Since the demise of the Soviet Union, Japan, and the region more generally, have faced serious challenges from North Korea and China.

New situations

The threat posed by North Korea has endured since the end of the Korean War. The virtually unanimous international condemnation of the Kim regime in Pyongyang has allowed analysts, planners and political leaders to deal with the North Korean threat relatively directly.

Until recently, the impact of the threat posed to Japan by North Korea was limited to planning for the indirect ramifications of a war on the Korean peninsula including coordinating the evacuation of Japanese citizens from the peninsula.

Further, it may require providing rear-area support to US forces engaged in combat operations on the peninsula; operating in support of those operations from Japan or passing through Japan en route to the peninsula; and coping with potentially massive refugee flows across the Sea of Japan from the peninsula.

But North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs threaten Japan much more directly today than, say, a decade ago.

While the Kim regime has become arguably less stable since the 2008 stroke of Kim Jong-il, North Korea’s military arsenal has become more lethal. The challenge posed by North Korea means that Japan no longer has a wide margin of safety.

Uncertainties surrounding North Korea’s leadership succession have seized the headlines since the Workers’ Party conference in September 2010 elevated Kim’s third son to the rank of general and the unofficial heir apparent.

Equally serious, Pyongyang’s record of weapons proliferation and transfers is particularly unsettling, given that both missiles and nuclear weapons components and technology are involved.

Additionally, China’s meteoric emergence over the last three decades presents Japan with a huge strategic challenge.

The military dimensions of China’s rise, in particular, have become increasingly worrisome. China has repeatedly expanded its defence budget, enlarging its inventory of new ships, aircraft, missiles and other weapons.

In addition, China’s rhetoric has become more bellicose and its military deployments more confrontational.

Examples include China’s lack of transparency on security issues; the self-professed aim of denying the US military access to the Western Pacific; an increasingly aggressive assertion of unilateral claims to contested maritime territory and strategic resources in the East China Sea and South China Sea; and equally aggressive Chinese naval patrols and expanding jurisdictional claims.

Chinese doctrine

The People’s Liberation Army is developing both anti-access missiles and blue-water naval capabilities that would allow it to dominate the Western Pacific.

The development of these capabilities reflects much more than China’s effort to end the still-unresolved civil war between the mainland and the Republic of China on Taiwan.

In fact, it signals a strategic warning of China’s intention to eventually deny US military access to the Asia-Pacific as exemplified by its claims to disputed maritime territory and referrals to the South China Sea as a “core interest.”

China’s legal and economic strategies are profoundly at odds with those of Japan and many states in Southeast Asia.

In effect, China is mounting a challenge to freedom of the global commons. Asia’s rise and America’s geopolitical preeminence have been dependent on the physical openness of the global commons-the seas, air, space, and cyberspace-which has been sustained by US military dominance since the end of World War II.

Yet the emergence of new Asian military powers is creating states with a significant degree of influence over the security of the commons.

The emergence of these pivotal states is driving both cooperation and competition throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

Shared interest in the openness and stability of the global commons will compel like-minded states to cooperate in security operations and diplomatic initiatives.

Uncertainty about China’s rise, combined with distrust over the region’s many simmering territorial disputes, will also drive the region’s new powers to compete militarily with one another.

To deal with both the North Korean and Chinese threats, Japan requires greater strategic warning capabilities along the East Asian littoral from Singapore to Sakhalin. Knowing where to look will decide what capabilities Japan will need for effective strategic reconnaissance.

Although they are only one element of ISR, UAVs provide a perfect illustration of how Japan can improve its security situation.

Higher-altitude, longer-endurance UAVs with advanced sensors are transforming strategic reconnaissance. UAVs now have the ability to relay critical information instantly to the US armed forces and America’s allies, as a result of numerous improvements over the last several years.

The United States has employed UAVs extensively in conflict zones such as Afghanistan and Iraq, where they improve situational awareness and ensure a rapid response to hostile forces.

The widespread recognition of the benefits of UAVs-including better performance at a fraction of the cost of manned aircraft-is bringing the next generation of these aerial systems into sharp focus.

Providing these systems with the ability to cooperate across vast distances and with respect to different parts of the electromagnetic spectrum will be a high priority.

Japan has already made significant progress in establishing a modern ISR capability. It has placed four Information Gathering Satellites on orbit, and maintains a fleet of Air Self-Defense Force and Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) reconnaissance aircraft, complemented by JMSDF ships.

This regional ISR capability forms the potential basis for a more comprehensive Japanese ISR capability.