Contract ISR – the Next Logical Step in the XaaS Revolution

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Over the previous few decades, we’ve witnessed a massive shift in how global governments and militaries purchase things. The overarching trend has involved a movement away from purchasing purpose-built, exquisite systems that require an incredibly large capital expenditure (CapEx) up front and then require the organization to provide continued maintenance and support over time.

Instead, these government and military organizations are moving toward purchasing products and solutions as a service – a model that often eliminates massive upfront CapEx investments and replaces them with a recurring operating expense (OpEx).

And there are a seemingly endless number of examples of this.

One great example is the cloud – potentially the most prevalent and most widely embraced new technology across global governments. Cloud services have long been viewed as a way to eliminate the need to build, operate, and maintain costly data centers. Instead, global governments leverage infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) from a cloud solution provider, paying a recurring cost for only what they use.

Another example can be seen in the commercial satellite industry, where we’re witnessing an increase in satellite communications offered as a managed service. In this model, global governments and militaries can forsake the expensive process of constructing and launching purpose-built satellites at a massive upfront cost. Instead, they simply pay a satellite provider a recurring fee to lease the equipment and capacity needed to meet their satellite communications requirements.

With ISR becoming so important in modern warfighting, there will ultimately be a number of smaller global militaries with limited resources that are looking to build a modern ISR capability. Contract ISR could be the key.

But these are just a few examples of what is becoming incredibly commonplace. The “as a Service” model continues to expand to include so many other important technologies and solutions. It’s a model and concept that’s so pervasive that a new term “XaaS” or “Everything as a Service” has emerged as a catchall for the seemingly endless list of services available today.

At this year’s Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT), I anticipate that we will hear quite a few discussions about a new service offering that could potentially open the door for wider government adoption of an important military technology – Contract Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR).

Situational awareness as a service

As we’ve discussed in previous articles on The Modern Battlespace, effective ISR is mission-critical for global militaries. It plays an essential role in giving military leaders situational awareness. It can help senior military decision-makers make better, data-driven decisions that turn the tide of battle. And it’s only becoming more important as we enter a new age where hypersonic missiles expand the battlefield and necessitate more immediate decision-making.

But building a modern ISR capability is not cheap or easy.

It involves global militaries purchasing the aircraft necessary to fly ISR missions. In today’s day and age, that means fast-moving jets, which can cost hundreds of millions of dollars. Then, those jets need to be outfitted with the latest in multi-spectrum cameras and other sensors. This is another expense that can run in the tens of millions of dollars; those expenses are just for the hardware. There’s also the need to recruit, train, and outfit a team of pilots capable of flying the missions.

This makes modern ISR capabilities simply unattainable for some smaller global militaries. But the emergence of Contract ISR solutions could soon change that.

…effective ISR is mission-critical for global militaries. It plays an essential role in giving military leaders situational awareness. It can help senior military decision-makers make better, data-driven decisions that turn the tide of battle.

The cloud greatly reduced the amount of purpose-built data centers that global governments needed to construct, outfit, manage, operate, and maintain. It also greatly reduced the amount of data center operations professionals that these governments needed to recruit and train. Contract ISR can have much of the same benefit when it comes to building a modern ISR capability for global militaries.

In this model, a military organization could effectively eliminate the massive CapEx of purchasing, outfitting, and maintaining a fleet of aircraft and pilots. Instead, they would pay a third party with their own fleet of aircraft a recurring OpEx to run ISR missions for them. They would effectively get all of the important ISR data they need without being on the hook to purchase and maintain a fleet of aircraft that they would use sparingly and at great cost to their citizens.

This is why I anticipate that Contract ISR will be a hot topic at RIAT. With ISR becoming so important in modern warfighting, there will ultimately be a number of smaller global militaries with limited resources that are looking to build a modern ISR capability. Contract ISR could be the key. But it’s not only an exciting solution for global militaries.

Essential insight for any agency
Practically every global government has a handful of agencies that could benefit from the increased situational awareness provided by modern ISR capabilities.

For example, agencies responsible for protecting national security could benefit significantly from aircraft flying ISR missions over their borders, providing data that could be analyzed for illegal or suspicious activity. Fish, wildlife, and wildland conservation organizations could benefit from airborne ISR monitoring for poachers, illegal fishing, and other unlawful activities on public land. And even law enforcement organizations could use modern ISR for planning and executing missions designed to keep citizens safe.

Unfortunately, these agencies with very important, very impactful missions often lack the funding of their nation’s military. The budget to procure and outfit a single ISR aircraft would probably take their entire fiscal year’s budget. For these agencies, the emergence of Contract ISR is about more than just reducing costs – it’s about democratizing ISR capabilities. This idea of getting ISR capabilities as a service could open the door to accessing this data for the first time ever.

Practically every global government has a handful of agencies that could benefit from the increased situational awareness provided by modern ISR capabilities.

But contract ISR is about more than just paying a company to generate raw data. The companies that are offering Contract ISR services – companies like PAL Aerospace, Metrea, and others – are also helping these agencies and organizations to leverage that data in their operations.

Just getting raw intelligence is useless for many agencies. This is especially true for agencies that lack the intelligence experts and analysts necessary to examine, analyze, and generate actionable insights from the data that ISR missions generate.

Thankfully, Contract ISR services can also help to meet these needs. The service providers offering ISR solutions to global governments don’t just generate data and dump it on their customer’s doorsteps. These companies can also advise government organizations on how to conduct the processing, exploitation, and dissemination (PED) of that data. This ensures that they’re not just paying for data but gaining actionable intelligence that can be shared within and between agencies.

It’s easy to see why the “as a Service” model has become so popular across global governments. It enables organizations to get the benefit of the latest technologies without incurring massive upfront costs. It also eliminates the burden of having to maintain, operate, and manage technologies and train staff.

Contract ISR is the next logical step in the “XaaS” evolution. And it will only democratize modern ISR capabilities for global governments and militaries at a time when situational awareness and intelligence are more important than ever.

Featured image courtesy of the UK Home Department.