Unifying Our Vision: Joint ISR Coordination and the NATO Joint ISR Initiative

By Martin, Matthew J. | Joint Force Quarterly, January 2014 | Go to article overview

Unifying Our Vision: Joint ISR Coordination and the NATO Joint ISR Initiative


Martin, Matthew J., Joint Force Quarterly


Every night and day that you flew into Kosovo or into Serbia, you had to accept that you were in the lethal range of a surface-to-air missile, because they were moving all the time. We could not identify their locations all the time, so the kids just accepted that.

--LT GEN MICHAEL SHORT, USAF

Joint Force Air Component Commander, Operation Allied Force

Imagine an aging but still lethal SA-6 surface-to-air missile (SAM) sitting a few miles from an international border in a suburb of a city in a conflict zone. The SA-6 is active and protects the illegal and belligerent activities of its master. Across the border and 60 miles up-range, a Norwegian DA-20 on a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) mission detects and geolocates the SAM. Due to the location and concern for potential collateral damage, the NATO joint task force (JTF) commander directs that a positive identification (PID) and collateral damage estimate (CDE) be conducted before he is willing to authorize an airstrike. But there is poor weather in the area. The NATO fighters on station with their targeting pods are unable to peer through the clouds and visually identify the SAM. What to do?

What if there was an allied special operations force on the border? And what if

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED] it could launch a small Raven unmanned aircraft to fly to the SAM site below the clouds and provide the PID and CDE? If the aircraft could transmit images back to a NATO intelligence exploitation center, imagery analysts could accomplish the task. Moreover, if they had access to the data from the Raven, they might even be able to convert that data into a set of high-fidelity coordinates. This would enable the employment of GPS-guided weapons to destroy the SAM. It would only be a matter of transmitting those coordinates (somehow) to a NATO fighter and directing that fighter to engage the target.

This scenario and others like it were demonstrated June 18-29, 2012, at the NATO Joint Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (JISR) trials held in Orland, Norway. The training and live trials involved land, maritime, and air forces and were conducted not only to demonstrate improved NATO JISR integration but also to build and refine tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs).

NATO is already deep into planning Unified Vision 2014 (UV14) with the hope of refining TTPs and the technical aspects of JISR integration to the point where they can then be incorporated into NATO doctrine and tactics manuals and be available to NATO commanders for future conflicts. But it has been a long road to get to this point, and the work of allied JISR integration is far from over.

This article provides an overview of the aims and results of Unified Vision 2012 (UV12), identifies the key requirements of operationally relevant JISR integration, and makes a few modest proposals for a way forward. As this article makes clear, the key to JISR integration is not only the technical connection of various ISR data sources (as important as that is), but also the operational integration, command and control (C2), and tactical employment of ISR capabilities. That simply is not possible without a sound and mature body of doctrine, TTPs, and training for those who will operate, employ, integrate, and control JISR.

The Initiative

Recent operations have highlighted NATO's limitations when it comes to conducting well-integrated JISR operations. In an April 2012 letter to the NATO Secretary General, the permanent representatives of the so-called Multi-intelligence All-source Joint ISR Interoperability Coalition (MAJIIC) nations stated:

  Operations in Afghanistan, and more recently in Libya, underlined
  several shortfalls in Alliance JISR processes, which have also
  been identified as BI-SC Priority Shortfall Areas: among others,
  scarce JISR assets, lack of efficient intelligence sharing for
  dynamic targeting, insufficient JISR dedicated staff preparedness,
  and over-dependence on a few nations for skilled officers
  trained in dynamic targeting operations. … 

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