Defence cuts must not limit the intelligence war, say MPs

25 March 2010

Financial constraints must not impinge on plans to develop the intelligence war over the enemy, says the Defence Committee in its report published today.

The report recognises the efforts of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to improve the methods by which intelligence is collected, interpreted and then disseminated over the battlefield, where it can be used to best effect – a process known as ISTAR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance).

However there are fears that plans for the development of ISTAR capability might be put to one side or slowed during the process of the Strategic Defence Review, due largely to financial constraints.

Chair of the Committee James Arbuthnot MP, says:

"ISTAR is at the heart of flexibility and effectiveness on operations, maximising efforts and concentrating the impact of other existing capabilities. This vision of the centrality of ISTAR to overall defence capability needs to be taken into the Strategic Defence Review."

The report warns that control of such a vital resource as ISTAR needs to be clarified to ensure proper coordination and development across the Services. It also calls for the next Defence Committee to consider monitoring the place of ISTAR in the Strategic Defence Review and to ensure that it does not get overlooked on account of pre-occupation with tightening budgets, individual single Service procurement programmes or issues of the size and structure of the Armed Forces.

The Committee congratulates the MoD and the Armed Forces for bringing modified systems such as ASTOR (Airborne Stand-off Radar) into service in Afghanistan. ASTOR was a system that was originally designed for conducting operations against conventional armour but is proving relevant for today's asymmetrical operations.

Chair of the Committee, James Arbuthnot MP says:

"This capacity to bring into use equipment designed for another purpose in another theatre has been a hallmark of recent UK operations: while not ideal, it does show clearly the adaptability and flexibility of our Armed Forces, something which will always be needed no matter how tailor-made for a specific theatre equipment might be."

The Committee has been impressed by the commitment within the MoD, the Armed Forces and within industry to improve detection of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) as a priority, and to work creatively and co-operatively to that end. The technologies and techniques refined during the current campaign in Afghanistan must be mainstreamed into future UK ISTAR capability, the report adds.

However the theoretical expectations of what ISTAR can contribute to minimising civilian and UK military casualties must be kept in proportion, the report says. Realism about the nature of asymmetric warfare, and what ISTAR can contribute, is essential if ISAF and other missions are to succeed, it concludes.

Image: PA/Lewis Whyld

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