Defence & Security Systems International: What role does the European Defence Agency (EDA) play in intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance collection?
Alessandro Vivoli:
EDA supports its member states to improve European defence capabilities, including intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) collection. Our final goal is to offer member states cooperative opportunities and options to fill in identified gaps in capabilities, thus improving the effectiveness of ISR-collection operations.

More specifically, what is EDA’s role in the ISR-capability development process?
EDA runs a project team to support a harmonised European approach towards ISR. We have to keep in mind that the topic is broad, and that it is up to member states to decide which areas and topics are suitable for discussion and joint analysis. The agency supports this process with its internal operational and technical skills, coordinates the relevant strategic research agendas, and creates the necessary links with other organisations and, when appropriate, EU agencies. ISR is a topic of high sensitivity that is often classified. Thus, the agency has to take into account national interests and concerns.

What are the advantages of harmonised ISR among European nations?
Very often, requirements towards ISR equipment are similar and support a cooperative solution. Commonality also allows a higher degree of interoperability among European armed forces. This is an important aspect of our work as interoperability is key for ISR operations to ensure that deployed forces can be provided with accurate, relevant and actionable information, so that they are able to achieve their tactical, operational and strategic objectives.

What challenges does EDA face trying to effectively marshal the efforts of participating nations?
Cooperation among member states in general is very good; however, we have to acknowledge that national priorities might differ. The above-mentioned security constraints shouldn’t be underestimated – we might experience technological gaps and have to take into account industrial competition.

It is important to keep in mind that member states follow their national or other multilateral programmes and, thus, we need to avoid duplication with initiatives run, for example, by NATO. Although on the operational or tactical level, exchange of information is frequent, the assets of collecting and extracting this information are rarely shared.

The Unmanned Maritime Systems Programme, which comprises 15 coordinated projects, is one of the largest in the agency. The primary focus of this programme is on mine countermeasures and other naval applications.

The EDA website makes mention of a current Unmanned Maritime Systems Programme, which will have ISRapplications. What stage is this currently at? The Unmanned Maritime Systems Programme, which comprises 15 coordinated projects, is one of the largest in the agency. The primary focus of this programme is on mine countermeasures and other naval applications. However, in addition to this programme, EDA has launched a project, with Germany and Poland as the contributing member states, that addresses the topic of biomimetic vehicles. The title of this project is SABUVIS (Swarm of Biomimetic Underwater Vehicles for Underwater ISR).

The three key principles underpinning this project are that with biomimetic vehicles, the propulsion is more efficient, which ensures increased duration on mission; the propulsion is quieter and makes the vehicles more difficult to detect; and, finally, the imitation of natural underwater inhabitants ensures that differentiation between the two becomes difficult also.
These characteristics naturally lend themselves to ISR activities, given that the increased duration and reduced likelihood of detection will thus increase operational capabilities in underwater ISR.

At the ISR event in London in April, you spoke about research into persistent surveillance (SULTAN). What work is EDA carrying out in this respect?
The SULTAN (persistent surveillance long-term analysis) capability study focused on persistent surveillance of extensive areas through continuous remote sensing performed by observation systems. It aimed to identify feasible and cost-effective options to enhance data acquisition for the 2025-30 target time frame.

The project provided operational scenarios; technology road maps; a rough estimation of costs and time schedules; and an assessment of the respective merits of assets/systems based on geostationary satellite systems, constellation of optical and radar small satellites in low earth orbit, automated high-altitude systems and remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS).
The initiative saw the active participation of a community of experts from member states and EU bodies such as the European Space Agency, FRONTEX, the EU Military Staff and the European Union Satellite Centre.

The selected capabilities were evaluated in terms of strengths and limitations against selected security and defence scenarios, demonstrating their ability to cover specific operational requirements as individual collection systems and in a combined mode.

For each of the proposed imagery intelligence collection assets, the critical technologies were identified and the related technology development road maps were provided with the necessary levels of investment needed. A rough estimation of the procurement and operations cost for each of the candidate collection assets was also provided. The study deliverables constitute a good basis for further analysis of future airborne and space-based surveillance systems.

A new phase of defining requirements, and a discussion with member states on possible cooperative opportunities in the future, can be supported through the results achieved.

Particularly, the RPAS programme and the work on future military space-based earth observation capabilities may benefit from the analysis performed in the course of the study. The dual-use ability of the surveillance system and the joint requirement analysis performed on security and defence scenarios can also be used in the framework of future activities in cooperation with the European Commission.

The agency’s focus, however, is not limited to the collection phase of ISR operations. Exploitation of collected data is crucial to feed the decision-making process at all levels and to support operations planning.

In this respect, a project called REACT (Radar Imagery Applications Supporting Actionable Intelligence) has just been initiated. It aims to give more value to imagery data by assisting imagery analysts to produce timely, accurate, relevant and possibly actionable intelligence. Essentially, the study will identify the areas where military imagery analysts can be assisted by tools and workflows to produce valuable intelligence according to users’ information requests. The focus will be on synthetic aperture radar (SAR) imagery and in the combined use of SAR and electro-optical images.

We became used to assigning ‘dirty, dull and dangerous’ missions to unmanned assets, and there are very good reasons for this. Unmanned surveillance will definitely have an increased role in the ISR business.

In addition to this, an initiative in the management of geospatial information, called GISMO (Geospatial Information to Support Decision-making in Operations), is being carried out in cooperation with the EU Satellite Centre to support decision-making in CSDP operations. It consists of developing a geospatial platform, initially customised for EU operational headquarters, with the aim of providing a centralised environment to facilitate and support requests, handling and sharing of geospatial information.
These capabilities will facilitate member states’ operational participation in CSDP operations and other geospatial activities outside CSDP commitments by implementing the same technologies for management of geospatial information.

Finally, how do you see ISR developing in the long term; will persistent unmanned surveillance become the norm?We became used to assigning "dirty, dull and dangerous" missions to unmanned assets, and there are very good reasons for this. Unmanned surveillance will definitely have an increased role in the ISR business as unmanned platforms increase the range and duration of ISR collection operations without putting humans in danger.

Some limitations still exist though, and there is much work ahead. Unmanned systems are, for example, not suitable for all military scenarios and operations; they have a strong dependency on satellite communications to be flown but also for exploiting the collected data. Additionally, the question of insertion in non-segregated airspace is still being worked on.
I thus believe that, in the near future, manned and unmanned ISR platforms will remain complementary to support the wide spectrum of operations that our forces are engaged in.