C4iSR: Air

RAF transforming ISTAR to deliver Joint Force 2025

24 October 2018

The E-3D Sentry AEW1 is one of several elements that comprise the RAF's ISTAR force. While previously these elements have formed stand-alone components, the service is considering bringing them together into a more homogenous entity as it looks to deliver the Joint Force 2025 operational concept. Source: IHS Markit/Patrick Allen

The UK Royal Air Force (RAF) is working to bring together all of the disparate elements of its intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance (ISTAR) force into a fully integrated capability for the first time.

Speaking in London on 24 October, Group Captain Adam Northcote-Wright, Head of ISTAR Transformation at the RAF said that studies have been ongoing since 2016 to take the seven elements of the service's ISTAR force and mould them into a single capability in line with the UK's wider Joint Force 2025 concept.

"We are going from a tradition of using isolated forces elements together, to one where we can use a fully integrated force," Gp Capt Northcote-Wright said at the SMi Airborne ISR conference 2018, adding "[That] we need to transform and not to do [ISTAR] the same way as we previously have is crucial to that - all of the elements have existed for a while but it is only relatively recently that we have begun to bring them together as a force."

As outlined by Gp Capt Northcote-Wright, the six current elements of the RAF's ISTAR force comprise the Boeing E-3D Sentry AEW1, Raytheon Sentinel R1, Raytheon Shadow R1, L-3 RC-135W Airseeker, and General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc MQ-9 Reaper, as well as the recently formed 1 ISR Wing. This force is located at RAF Waddington in England.

While each of these elements has seen near-continuous operations since they entered service, they have done so largely as stand-alone components in the RAF's wider force structure. With the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) of 2015 setting out the objective for the UK military to be able to fight against peer and near-peer adversaries in a European theatre by 2025 while still being able to counter more asymmetric threats (known as Joint Force 2025), Gp Capt Northcote-Wright spelled out how the ISTAR component of the RAF is transforming itself into a more homogenous whole to achieve this goal.

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