Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance in 2035 and Beyond

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With civilian use of the electromagnetic spectrum rapidly increasing, what will this mean for military ISR capabilities in 2035 and beyond? And how will this be affected by the emergence of (as yet unforeseen) disruptive technologies in the interim?

The vast majority of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities interact with or rely on part of the electromagnetic spectrum. Historically, the military has been the dominant actor within this electromagnetic environment (EME), driving advances in communication and sensor technology that exploited frequency and wavelengths to suit its own specific needs.

However, the commercialisation of the EME for communications and civil usage has driven the military into smaller areas of the spectrum, although it still – potentially – needs to understand all of it for intelligence-gathering. The spectrum has become congested, at both the domestic and global level, and the freedom that militaries once enjoyed in dictating the areas of the EME that they would dominate is now severely constrained by national and international regulation.

This paper has been written in response to a request by UK Joint Forces Command in 2015 for an evaluation of the ISR strategy requirements of the Ministry of Defence in 2035 and beyond – bearing in mind the emergence and integration of additional technologies likely to occur in the intervening twenty years.

The research project was broken down into three distinct points of focus: first, how the EME might evolve by 2035, and how the interplay between the EME and ISR might alter; second, how emerging and disruptive technologies could shape or be shaped by the future EME; and finally, human and organisational factors, and their impact on the successful execution of future ISR operations.

About the Authors

Peter Roberts is a Senior Research Fellow at RUSI who runs two research programmes, Sea Power and C4ISTAR. He was previously a warfare officer in the Royal Navy who served with each of the British armed services, and with international allies in the intelligence and surveillance domain. He is a visiting lecturer in strategy at the University of Portsmouth School of Business and Law, and is a Fellow of the Chartered Management Institute.

Andrew Payne is a Visiting Fellow at RUSI. He is an RAF intelligence officer with more than twenty years’ experience in the ISR domain. Andrew has a Master’s degree in International Relations and Affairs from Leeds University.

About the Project

This research project was enabled by generous support from Boeing Defence UK and Lockheed Martin UK, both of which also shared deep knowledge regarding the ISR domain beyond simple platform information. Other companies to participate included L-3, CSC, Atkins, Raytheon, Saab, Roke Manor Research, UTC Aerospace Systems, Luciad, Sony Computer Entertainment, Kuju, Kongsberg Satellite Services, QinetiQ, 3SDL, USAF Air Combat Command, USAF 25th Air Force, 480th ISR Wg, the BICES Group Executive, Rockwell Collins, Northrop Grumman, Airbus, BAE Systems and Hewlett Packard.


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Professor Peter Roberts

Director, Military Sciences

Military Sciences

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