Lack of IT standards hampering UK war effort

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Lack of IT standards hampering UK war effort

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has warned that differing US suppliers' proprietary software standards are hampering the ability of British forces in Afghanistan to make full use of data from unmanned air-reconnaissance vehicles (UAVs).

A report from the MoD said that it constantly seeks interoperability between intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and surveillance (ISTAR) systems, including UAV, but added: "There is a tension between working towards this goal through open or agreed standards, and the commercial imperative of key industry players to establish their own proprietary technology as the de facto standard. "

Replying to a report from the Commons Defence Committee, the MoD highlighted three major downlink standards used for dissemination from ISTAR platforms, two of which are either proprietary or subject to US Traffic in Arms Regulation controls.

The MoD acknowledged that interoperability is being achieved on a third, relatively low-level, analogue downlink standard.

The department argued that the need for more efficient use of the radio frequency spectrum has already mandated the move to digital downloads for future capabilities such as Watchkeeper, a range of UAVs which Britain is adopting.

"But with no internationally agreed single standard, there remain challenges to overcome to ensure that the user has access to all the information collected by coalition ISTAR platforms," the report stated.

The MoD recognises the need to balance emerging capabilities for collecting intelligence with appropriate processing and dissemination capabilities "to ensure that users continue to receive the right information at the right time".

This includes the exploitation of network-enabled capability, regarded as a key future defence capability, to "improve delivery of processed intelligence and increase agility of deployed forces".

The MoD sounded a note of caution over its ability to use US Reaper UAVs, which it has acquired independently, because, although the UK has "operational sovereignty", there are good operational and cost-effective reasons for sharing US facilities on which the UK is dependent.

There is a need to retain alignment with the Reaper technical baseline to benefit from hardware and software upgrades, and any move away from this to develop or upgrade Reaper independently would "introduce an unacceptably high level of technical risk".

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