This year’s Defence Information Superiority Conference comes at a time when the MoD continues to face a number of challenges and a great deal of uncertainty. In April, the department will undergo a major restructure that will see the emergence of a new Joint Forces Command, the Commander of which will be the nominated Defence Authority for C4ISTAR while the department’s Chief Information Officer will retain some high-level decision making and responsibility for pan-government co-ordination. New capability planning powers are also being delegated from the Main Building to JFC and the single Service commands as part of the restructuring and DE&S, the MoD’s acquisition arm, is looking to adopt a different operating model and relationship with the rest of Defence.
Operations in Afghanistan and Libya have underlined the need for sustained investment in deployable, secure C2, persistent all-weather ISR capabilities and all-source intelligence collection. For the UK, the withdrawal of (combat) forces from Afghanistan in the next twelve to twenty four months will inevitably cause a drawdown of some IS capabilities, principally because of the difficulty in bringing UORs under core funding.
The global financial situation and the ‘age of austerity’ may drive greater collaboration and burden sharing across European nations. NATO’s Smart Defence is an attempt to try to develop this collaboration effort and also provide some strategic planning relating to the short-, mid-and long-terms. The ability of UK and indeed European forces to more widely commit resource to new national capabilities in the ISR space is limited and there is concern that unless NATO steps in, this will remain a yawning gap in European military capability. However, NATO is looking to plug some of the deployable C2 challenges with the Future Mission Network and the NATO Alliance Ground Surveillance system may well provide a model for future acquisition in ISTAR.
In essence, there will be a period of austerity within the UK information space, both within currently available capabilities and (in the short term) in terms of funding for future capabilities. However, Op ELLAMY was one of the first operations to use and exploit social media and there are many other innovative and cost-effective ways of producing ISTAR and intelligence developing in the commercial space which can and should be explored. This year’s Defence Information Superiority Conference will explore how structural changes will affect the management of C4ISTAR capability and information exploitation across the department. It will examine how much contingent C4ISTAR capability can and should be kept, and how much intelligence can be rapidly reconstituted in the event of an operation. Finally, speakers will address international co-operation initiatives and trends in the information space that might be applicable to future defence needs.