Nick Lee-Frampton | Wellington
The NZ Defence Force (NZDF) is acutely aware of the human dimension in ISR.
"A UAV can't hand out lollies!" Mr Steve Smyth, head of the RNZAF's Program Management Office, told ADM.
"UAVs are ideal for dirty, dangerous and boring missions ... that's what they are all about.
"But they can't do search and rescue very well, they can't drop dinghies or supplies to people in distress.
"They might be able to in 10 years time, but not right now."
Air Commodore Gavin Howse, Air Component Commander at HQ Joint Forces, told ADM that a UAV "has high utility at certain ends of the spectrum and that's great if you can afford to have specialisation.
"If you can't, I think the P-3K2 is going to be able to fulfil the full range of military requirements from military diplomacy right through to combat operations."
Squadron Leader Brian Ruiterman, Assistant Director ISTAR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance), listed further advantages of a manned ISR platform.
"If you are looking at a ship, for example, you can see it from all aspects, you can look at it with a greater resolution than a satellite and you can do that in all weather conditions."
"The P-3 can cover the whole range of airspace.
"There is also re-rolling within a mission, situational awareness, so it is much more versatile than a UAV."
Howse raised an international perspective: "If a P-3 is going into the South Pacific on a maritime surveillance role that has a policing dimension for another country then other countries ought to be able to request support from the asset that we provide."
"We are going to have to fly more hours on the P-3 to give everyone the outcomes they require.
"The 400 hours of EEZ patrols we currently do will increase to become 1300 hours.
"The P-3K2's capacity to provide overland ISR to military operations allows a number of other outcomes.
"Military capabilities enable a lot of other activities to be undertaken."
"The defence diplomacy policy part of ISR is a major part of the capability, says Smyth.
"That includes supporting regional and Government stakeholders, including Conservation, Customs and Police, to be ‘intelligent' customers who know what can be delivered and know precisely what to ask for."
"Sometimes small scale has great benefits. Sitting round a table and getting the stake-holder's perspective is a great advantage to us."
Everything is driven around the task and customer requirements, said Ruiterman.
"For example, thermal images of active volcanoes for the Department of Conservation has been a great leap in technology."
Smyth says the various P-3 sensors help create a more detailed picture.
"The new sensors complement one another; you start to get a better understanding, with layers of situational awareness. "
But how is the data to be distributed? asked ADM.
"The UK, US, Australia, have large ISR organisations that routinely prepare data for and analyse data from their aircraft," said Smyth.
"We don't necessarily have the resource to do that, so we have to be very careful about targeting our surveillance effort."
"Through the intelligence enhancement program, which has been going on for a couple of years now, other aspects of handling ISR data are being addressed to allow us to exploit the information."
One example of this preparation includes the NZDF Geospatial Intelligence Organisation (GIO) that has been set up in Devonport.
"Our communications gateway is the Air Operations Communications Centre (AOCC) in Whenuapai," said Howse.
"The Integrated Mission Support Squadron (IMSS) will provide the gateway for analysis of data by the RNZAF, the NZDF and other agencies."
"Information management requirements will be tailored before each mission," said Smyth, "and the various links and distribution paths set up appropriately and maintained accordingly.
"That is currently a unique NZ way of doing business.
"Most importantly we need to manage expectations so stakeholders know what is not going to come with this aircraft.
"They are not going to get full-motion video downlink, certainly not straight away, that is not part of the project.
"But we will be able to send priority extracts from the (Wescam) MX-20, through the gateway, to customers.
"When the aircraft upgrade was planned, full-motion video was hugely expensive which pushed it outside the scope of the project.
"Since then the cost of video has come down and we are looking at both UK and US systems - and others out there - that might provide the capability."
Ruiterman said bandwidth is an issue. "Everyone wants more.
"Everyone will use as much as they can get."
"Compression technology has come along that allows us to use less bandwidth with higher data streams," said Smyth.
Science has its limits though, said Howse, "I don't know yet of an automated analytical system that tells you what you have been looking at and what you might need to do in the future.
"That part of the analysis is always going to require people in the loop to make the right judgements.
"We don't have a lot of people so we have to be smart and look at partnerships with other agencies, with like-minded countries who have security in mind in our region."
Will the updated Orion be able to substitute for the RAAF's AP-3C?
"For the majority of cases the answer is yes," says Ruiterman, "but it depends on the specifics of the task.
If you want a radio link they will both do that, if you want radar surveillance of an area they will both do that, depending on what type of radar picture you want, one may be better than the other because of differences in the equipment.
"They are both ISR platforms."
"The concept of operations won't change significantly, although operations will diversify into the overland environment.
"It is still an ISR platform, it will just be more capable.
ADM asked about rotary wing ISR potential within the NZ fleet.
"The Seasprites have an ISR capability with their FLIR. We are considering how to maintain this capability," said Ruiterman.
The present system is obsolescent, said Smyth, "so it is a matter of sustaining the FLIR capability at the moment."
Smyth cautioned against sensor excess.
"We would be foolish not to use the NH90 to its maximum capability but you don't generate capability without expense and we have to tailor our systems and support to the job at hand.
"There is no point, for example, in generating a hugely complex database and program for the NH90 RWR in an environment where there are few radar signals.
"We will have to tailor the systems to the operating environment we expect, because it costs money, it costs people."
In terms of the Orion's new radar, Smyth is confident that it will perform above and beyond expectations.
"The software of the EL/M 2022 radar that we are getting has been developed beyond the system the Australians have got.
"That's what Elta are telling us and confirming that will be part of the Operational Test & Evaluation (OT&E).
"The OT&E will be in three phases.
"We start with basic surveillance, then we move to support for maritime forces and then to support for land forces which is the ‘top end' of the new capabilities.
"It is crawl, walk, run to make sure we get it right," said Smyth.
ADM asked about ‘vanishing vendors' and the challenges of keeping up to date with technology given the rapid technology refresh rate.
"Obsolescence is a key issue for us," said Smyth, "as it is for any Air Force nowadays, because of the rapid turnover of technology.
"We are trying to develop a support philosophy where a component can be replaced if it needs to be replaced, incrementally and without ‘big bang' replacement philosophies."
"There is active management looking at replacement options before it becomes necessary," said Ruiterman.
"We don't want to be surprised when it comes to the actual obsolescence issues themselves," said Smyth.
"That's not to say we won't have surprises from the vendors!
"Every operational platform in the western world that is currently being produced is being used, to some extent, in a non-traditional ISR role.
"That's a big statement, but frankly that is what's happening."