June 01, 2012
Credit: Credit: Thales
British UAVs currently in field—the General Atomics Reaper, Thales-led Hermes 450, Lockheed Martin Desert Hawk and Honeywell T-Hawk—are all off-the-shelf solutions to urgent operational requirements (UOR) for combat. But a future generation is being eyed, honed by a doctrine called Combat Istar, fusing intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance (Istar) capabilities with strike elements, either on single platforms or by linking different platforms together in streamlined and efficient systems.
The adapted Hermes derivative, Watchkeeper, is nearing a delayed deployment with the British army, but little detail has been disclosed to date about the two future Royal Air Force (RAF) projects, Scavenger and Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS). In an interview with DTI, two senior Defense Ministry UAV officials have outlined their plans and aspirations.
Scavenger is a requirement for deep and persistent intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) with a precision-strike capability, according to Wing Cmdr. Paul Mounsey, the desk officer on the ministry's Air Staff for UAV strategy and ISR. That could theoretically be met with a range of potential options, he says, but it is now accepted that the requirement will be filled by a medium-altitude, long-endurance (MALE) UAV.
“It's got the reach, and it's got the success we've seen with Reaper in Afghanistan,” says Squadron Leader Ben Sargent, a desk officer on the ministry's command, control, communications, computers and ISR (C4ISR) capability group. “The challenges for us include how far we can push the capability. And the solution itself—the platform—is still open to debate. But Scavenger is absolutely an ISR program—it's not just the platform.”
The intention is that Scavenger will not just provide a means of collecting information; it is to be a system that treats the analysis of data and production of intelligence as an integral part of its function. This comes from lessons learned from operating the Reaper in Afghanistan.
“Our simple problem—and this exists with all our ISR platforms—is that we can gather more data than we can process,” says Sargent. “What we're looking at is the idea of 'federated' intelligence, where the system does some of the work. Making some of the systems automatic—as opposed to automation—is very much what we want to do. We'd like the system to federate the data as it's gathering it, to put metadata onto it, then put it back into a wider intelligence space through a common intelligence architecture so it can then be pushed out to people who need it. Some of that technology exists, and it can be refined.”
The Scavenger requirement has not yet been made public, but preliminary draft iterations have been available on request to defense industry companies since March 2010. Version 1.0 has been produced and will be released to industry shortly now that the latest annual defense ministry budgetary process, called Planning Round 12, has been concluded.