ISR Set to Once Again Take Center Stage at RIAT

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In July of this year, the Raytheon Technologies team will have the pleasure and honor of attending the 2023 Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) – one of the world’s largest and most prestigious military air shows. This annual event brings hundreds of thousands of spectators together to see incredible feats of airmanship and the latest in military aircraft and aviation technologies.

RIAT is more than just an airshow, however. It’s also an incredible opportunity for allied global militaries to come together, share best practices, and discuss requirements with their industry partners. And, while incredible aerial displays are invariably a part of RIAT, the discussions that our team has at the event with senior military leaders and decision-makers often change.

Every year, we tend to hear about new challenges that militaries are facing and new mission requirements that they have based on changes to their overarching priorities and the ever-shifting geopolitical landscape. But one thing that we don’t anticipate changing from last year is the military’s massive need for advanced intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) solutions that can keep up with the military tempo of today’s near-peer threats.

“The need to shift ISR missions from drones that hover over a battlefield to fast-moving jets screaming past the battlefield at an altitude of more than 40,000 feet creates unique challenges and requirements.”

Last year, with the war in Ukraine top of mind for many coalition partners, ISR was one of the largest topics of discussion. And the continued evolution in military weapons systems and platforms that we’ve witnessed in the past year ensures that ISR will once again be the talk of RIAT 2023.

Hypersonics and the transparent battlefield
One of the latest advancements in military effectors is the introduction of hypersonic missiles. These weapons can travel in excess of five times the speed of sound and over incredibly long ranges. And they’ve been deployed in increasingly large numbers by Russia in its war against Ukraine – with varying results.

As these new effectors continue to gain adoption and deployment across global militaries, the battlefield of the future will only expand. With effectors capable of traveling incredible distances in mere minutes, the amount of time that militaries have to react is reduced, and the amount of area that they need to defend increases. This means that modern militaries need the ability to identify a launch and eliminate a threat in a much shorter period of time, and in a much larger geographic region.

However, hypersonics are not the only change that we’re seeing in warfighting today. We’re also starting to see the emergence of a new trend – the transparent battlefield. In this new environment, practically everything on the battlefield is revealed to the adversary because of advanced IoT sensors and next-generational terrestrial and satellite surveillance capabilities.

This concept of the transparent battlefield could be debilitating for global militaries if their ISR capabilities and solutions aren’t on par with those of their adversary. This means that now – more than ever – adopting advanced ISR solutions is a priority for allied militaries.

But what technologies should they be looking at, and what capabilities do they need to compete on this battlefield of the future?

All-weather, all-the-time ISR
As we’ve talked about in previous posts on The Modern Battlespace, the ISR game has changed as the military has pivoted its focus towards more sophisticated, near-peer adversaries. No longer can a military park a drone over a battlefield to constantly aggregate surveillance data.

Today’s more advanced adversaries have the weapons systems and capabilities to easily and effectively deny ISR missions of that nature. Instead, militaries need to get their ISR data from a platform that is much harder to compromise. This involves leveraging fast-moving jets from incredibly high altitudes to generate images and videos.

The need to shift ISR missions from drones that hover over a battlefield to fast-moving jets screaming past the battlefield at an altitude of more than 40,000 feet creates unique challenges and requirements.

Traditional ISR solutions generate images and video from too narrow of a field to be usable. And, since the aircraft are flying so quickly and so high above the battlefield in a contested environment, they can’t take the time to generate large quantities of images and video. This means that modern sensors need to generate surveillance of a larger, wider area. Also, the images they create need to be incredibly high quality and show an incredible amount of detail.

Finally, these ISR solutions need to generate intelligence in any weather. A mission or operation can’t always wait for clear skies, and some ISR missions can only be run once – which means it needs to be done right the first time, even if conditions are poor.

“AI can be applied to the systems that are in the air and on the ground to help improve the outcome of missions and then expedite the processing and exploitation of intelligence data.”

Military leaders looking to get the most out of their ISR missions using fast-moving jets will have the opportunity to interact with a full-size model of the MS-110 multi-spectrum ISR system, which Raytheon Technologies will have on display at RIAT. This system was built with these requirements in mind, functioning to provide a longer, wider area of surveillance. Its advanced imagery and multispectral capabilities also detect targets with a higher degree of confidence even in poor weather and atmospheric conditions.

And what’s most exciting about the MS-110 is that Raytheon Technologies is already running test flights with it. The first flights designed to demonstrate aircraft integration, flight-worthiness, and full-system performance were completed in August of last year.

But ISR is about more than generating data. It’s also about generating actionable insight from that data. And, in today’s multi-domain, joint operations involving numerous allied nations and services, it’s also about sharing that data seamlessly.

AI and information sharing
There are few technologies that are bandied about and that receive as much buzz as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) technologies. Practically everything that’s announced or released today is called an AI solution. But there’s a good reason for that. AI can help militaries expedite, automate, and even eliminate some processes – streamlining workflows and improving operations.

The same thing applies to ISR missions and operations. AI can be applied to the systems that are in the air and on the ground to help improve the outcome of missions and then expedite the processing and exploitation of intelligence data.

For example, AI tools, such as the SCi-Edge solution created by Raytheon Technologies, can make every ISR mission more successful. It accomplishes this by immediately analyzing the information being gathered while the mission is ongoing to ensure that what is needed is captured. If one sensor isn’t capable of generating the intelligence needed because of environmental conditions or other challenges, it will leverage other sensors and tools to ensure mission success.

On the ground, AI tools and solutions can be used to help parse through intelligence data to only find what is useful. This is increasingly important as sensors proliferate and the amount of ISR data increases since the sheer amount of data being generated can be overwhelming to those analyzing it.

And that’s another point worth making. People still analyze ISR data. There will most likely always be a role for actual humans in the processing and exploitation of ISR data. But what happens when one allied nation has data, but no analysts to process and exploit that data? Or if multiple services and coalition partners are operating together, in theater, and need access to the same intelligence?

This is where solutions like Raytheon Technology’s SCi-Discover can play a role.

Sci-Discover is a sensor and data-agnostic database capable of enabling federated processing, exploitation, and dissemination (PED) operations.  Leveraging database solutions like Sci-Discover can enable the more rapid dissemination of ISR data between coalition and allied partners.

This is particularly important today when multi-domain, joint operations are so strategically essential to warfighting. The utilization of these database solutions can enable all partners and allied nations to be working from a single source of truth. But it can also enable them to leverage each other’s resources and strengths to accomplish difficult tasks.

“…modern militaries need the ability to identify a launch and eliminate a threat in a much shorter period of time, and in a much larger geographic region.”

For example, let’s say one allied nation is flying ISR missions and generating incredible imagery that needs to be processed and exploited for actionable insights, but they don’t have access to analysts and other intelligence professionals that can analyze that data. SCi-Discover would enable them to share that data with their allies, who could then put their analysts and intelligence professionals to work processing and exploiting the data to enable better, more data-driven decision-making for both nations.

While discussions at RIAT are a little different every year because the threats and challenges facing global militaries are always changing, the need for ISR will undoubtedly be a major topic of discussion at this year’s event. Massive changes in how wars are fought are making ISR more important. They’re also forcing militaries to change have they generate ISR data.

Thankfully, the military decision-makers at RIAT will find that industry partners are stepping up to help them meet their new ISR requirements and challenges. Advanced multi-spectrum imaging solutions, AI tools, and data-agnostic databases are making it possible to generate true situational awareness of the battlefield and enable multi-domain operations by making data PED easier and more efficient.

Featured image courtesy of the Royal International Air Tattoo.