UK Plan to Integrate ISTAR Systems

Like many other countries in NATO, the UK’s armed forces have a whole variety of ISTAR systems either in service or on the drawing board. However, these systems were originally designed to work in isolation and with the UK in the process of planning a Network Enabled Capability (NEC) for their armed forces it is essential that somehow these systems are made to work with each other, rather than in the classic ‘stovepipe’.

It has recently been announced that General Dynamics UK (GD UK) have been awarded a £3 million contract for a 17 month programme to achieve interoperability between current and future UK ISTAR systems, known as the Modular Exploitation Capability (MEC) Technology Demonstration Programme (TDP). Among others these ISTAR systems include ASTOR, Watchkeeper, RAPTOR and the new Soothsayer electronic warfare system being developed by Lockheed for the Army and Royal Marines.

A MEC scooping study has already been completed which defines the MEC architecture together with a number of implementation options. GDUK hope that the subsequent TDP will ratify the basic design of the system, as well as conducting selective technology demonstrations to reduce risk in the eventual implementation phase. Once this basic technology is stable, the hope is that it will be followed by a carefully costed, low risk MEC migration strategy which can be rapidly rolled out across the UK armed forces.

I for one wish everyone involved in the MEC programme the very best of luck – the chances are that they will need it and a whole lot more besides. Integrating IT complex systems is fraught with difficulty and the UK government, and the MOD in particular, have a long, sad and very expensive history of failures in this area. Of course in an ideal world someone high up the food chain 10 years ago would have had the foresight to see that this capability would eventually be needed and then forced the various ISTAR programmes under development to adopt a common standard in certain crucial areas – had this been done then the planned integration would have been a relatively straight forward procedure. Money, or a lack of it, will be the key factor in the success or failure of this programme. Faced with the need to implement a similar solution in the USA, the DofD has thrown a very large amount of money around and is beginning to achieve the solution they need. As usual, the UK Treasury will only commit the absolute minimum they can get away with and I doubt it will not be long before GD UK come knocking on the MOD’s door asking for even more money if they are to have any chance of achieving their ambitious goal.