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  • London and Washington Join Ranks on Advanced Intel and Weapons
    Posted by David A. Fulghum 9:00 PM on Nov 16, 2010

    So far, few have noted the London-Washington merger involving the “black” world of advanced intelligence, directed-energy weaponry and sensors operating in unusual parts of the electro-magnetic spectrum. Whitehall plans to institutionalize improved linkages to key Washington intelligence-gathering and analysis agencies, say U.S. officials.

    “In the future, the U.S. and U.K. will collaborate closer than anytime since World War II,” says a veteran airman with insight into a number of the programs that are expected to be shared. This comes in the wake of stunning changes resulting from Britain’s defense cutting including retirement of the intelligence-gathering Nimrod MR 2s.

    This change cuts to the heart of intelligence gathering in future wars and includes the few areas – centered around intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR)
    where major defense investments are likely to be made over the next few decades. U.S. and British planners have been scrambling to realign, consolidate and merge their efforts to catch this new wave of investments.

    ISR nowadays includes signals and communications intelligence, network invasion and other cyberoperations as well as electronic warfare and directed energy weapons. The goal of these types of weapons is less destroying a foe, and more fooling, tricking and undermining him to the point he is sitting on the battlefield powerless and in the dark.

    “The speed of response [during combat] and reduced collateral damage is going to drive [defense] investments,” says Clark Freise, head of the research and development center for BAE Systems’ electronic solutions group. BAE Systems is investing deeply in both the U.S. and the U.K., for example in directed-energy weapons.

    “There are two benefits to directed-energy weapons that I think will drive where investments go and how they are employed,” Freise says. “One is the ability to apply your effect to the target at the speed of light and to shorten the timeline in an uncertain environment. The second is collateral damage. With directed energy you can put a pinpoint illumination – in the case of a laser – anywhere you want it. With HPM (high-power microwaves), you have the potential to go directly after systems instead of the people standing around them.”

    ISR, with all of its adjunct disciplines, will be the heart of both a war on terrorism or of a nation-vs.-nation conflict. The winning organizations will be those that can maintain an unblinking surveillance of everything going on in the zone of conflict. The companies that capture this remaining big business won’t be those building large ships and manned warplanes with perhaps a few exceptions. By comparison, the unmanned aircraft industry could double or triple during the next decade and they will carry the new families of sensors and non-explosive weapons.

    In Britain, the improvements in intelligence will have to offset deep reductions in operational capabilities. British forces will likely be linked to those of France to compensate for shortages in unmanned reconnaissance, strike aircraft, aircraft carriers, troops and airlift. The value of that merger is being questioned because the strength of the military and defense spending is slipping in both countries.

    The U.S. already has a memorandum of understanding for the U.K. to buy into the U.S. Air Force’s premier intelligence gathering aircraft, the RC-135 Rivet Joint that is run by the secrecy-shrouded Big Safari program.

    But critics of the Rivet Joint purchase have suggested that the Royal Air Force/British Army’s new, Raytheon-built, Sentinel R1 ground surveillance radar aircraft (five of them with multi-service crews equip the RAF’s No. 5 Squadron) could be refurbished with signals intelligence equipment and offer 80% of the Rivet Joint’s intelligence gathering and analysis capabilities at a smaller cost.

    However, those involved with the U.S. Air Force’s special missions aircraft say differently.

    “They don’t know what they’re talking about,” says a veteran U.S. intelligence official. Even tacking additional equipment onto to the larger Nimrod still “will not make an 80% Rivet Joint – not even close. The UK is getting the full enchilada – basically a production unit of the Block 10 aircraft which is state of the art.”

    The Rivet Joint fleet of aircraft is continually being rotated through upgrade facilities at Greenville, Tex. where the Sentinel was also tested in the final phases of its development.  There three KC-135s from desert storage will be rebuilt into RC-135s for the RAF.

    “Unlike the Nimrod, which has a structural flow that cannot be economically repaired, the RC-135 airframe has no such structural issues,” the U.S. official says. “Big Safari [program] maintains them – as it will with the UK aircraft – from cradle to grave. The U.S. is already the world leader in the Sigint art and working hand-in-glove [with the UK] on RJ will provide both nations with ever increasing technical collection capabilities.”

    A senior U.S. Air Force officer, who was the liaison for technology transfers to and from Europe for a number of years, still sees a lot of unanswered questions about the new arrangement.

    “I’m not sure what additional information we are going to share that will make up for the two systems [Nimrod and Sentinel] they have terminated,” he says. “It is also indicative of a loss of [London’s] capability for sovereign action as they will be tied to conflicts [only] when the U.S. or France is part of the team. The U.K. will benefit from operating the RJ, but it does not provide airborne ground surveillance in the same domains as the Sentinel so it will be interesting to see how they backfill that information loss.”

    Tags: ar99, RivetJoint, UK, ISR, cyber

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