Civil ISR conference 2013 – Report by Alan Warnes

 Tangent Link’s Civil ISR conference was set in the fantastic Imperial War Museum, within the Aerospace Hall, which included a TSR-2, Concorde, Harrier etc acting as a great backdrop during breaks.

Chairman: Rear Admiral Terry Loughran

Conference Photos: Alan Warnes


Keynote Address

Air Marshal Philip Sturley RAF (Retd) provided the keynote speech.  He told the audience of some 150 people, gathered from over 13 different nations that Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance was not just about platforms, but the sensors and analysts too – a lean approach was essential.  It was a complete team effort too he stressed.

“Following the end of the Cold War, recce intelligence had become a poor cousin and much of our skills and assets were lost in the drawdown.  The Army’s Pheonix became our prime asset for a while, which was a lame duck and short-sighted” he told us.

Then during the 2001 Iraq campaign the RAF hierarchy soon realised surveillance was an important requirement, ISR was needed after a decade of investing in platforms and weapons.  Over Iraq binoculars were used to gain a better vantage of what was happening on the ground as it was during the early days in Afghanistan. 

But it was in Afghanistan that the military realised their shortcomings and money was soon being invested into rectifying these issues with Litening pods for Tornados and Snipers for the Harrier being two solutions.  ISR is now more accessible and while Civil ISR is not new, the military can see it as one solution to meet ever decreasing budgets.

Philip talked about his young flying days as a Phantom pilot in the 1970s when he participated in Operation Tapestry over the North Sea, checking for illegal fishing etc.

Today such jobs are taken on by civil companies outsourced by the Government Departments responsible for these tasks.

He spoke of the increasing trend in civil companies now doing military jobs instead of the military, with 2Excel being among the leaders in this field, using their civilian registered fleet with SelexES sensors in a variety of roles.  The US continues to contract a lot of their ISR work.  Some countries like Ghana will buy into a service, as they have with Bournemouth-based DO Systems.  Civil ISR roles are expanding.

Guest Speakers.

The unenviable task of walking onto the stage first two officers from the Garda’s Operational Airborne Activities.   

X (names not disclosed for security reasons) is a veteran of 28 years service, primarily in the area of surveillance operations on both terrorist and serious criminal subjects.  He has served as an observer for 15 years on the Garda BN-2T Defender and been instrumental in the transition and development of the Air Support role in surveillance.  The second, Y serves with the Garda Air Support Unit (ASU) and has been in the service for 15 years. He is qualified on multi platforms with over 5000+ aircrew hours, primarily as a FLIR operator and is NVG qualified

They told us how the Garda is southern Ireland’s police force or Guardian of the Peace’, and unlike the UK, its role can range from traffic duty all the way to state security.

Some interesting facts about the Republic of Ireland then came:

  1. 84,412 sq kms
  2. 20th largest island in the world
  3. 4.4 million people

The Garda’s ASU is based at Baldonnel Airfield, 10 kms (6 miles) west of Dublin.  It has six operational areas in which to operate. 


The Garda’s operational areas



The Garda’s ASU has to provide aerial photography for ground based operations.


The ASU as the name suggests provides air support to the operational units and the pair showed a video dated July 7, 2012 of a helicopter tracking criminals. 

While the ASU is a Garda asset, the three platforms (two EC 135s and a BN-2T-4S Defender) are operated by the the Irish Air Corps.  The ASU, created in 1997 has at its disposal 15 Air Corp pilots.  A team is on alert, with a response time set at between 2-4 minutes and in recent years their deployment has spread countrywide.  The Defender uses a Skyforce moving map, with a digital downlink integrated with an elderly LEO 400 FLIR, a basic but still very effective system. 

The ASU’s main clients’ as the pair referred over the past 15 years have been:

* Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) now declared ceasefire

* Real Irish Republican Army (RIRA)

* Continuity Irish Republican Army (CIRA)

* Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) now declared ceasefire

* ex members of groups associating with criminal gangs

* New IRA

The New IRA comprises serious dissidents/hardliners but were originally known as Real IRA – Direct Action Against Drugs.

The line between criminality and terrorism is a blurred one. X spoke of how some of them just want to cause trouble and in recent times the terrorist groups appear to be splintering and forming other groups. So the ASU has to establish the right intelligence to see which ones needs to be tracked.

X  talked how in late June, the Garda seized 15 kilos of semtex and continues to track down and seize weapons caches in bunkers.  He wouldn’t go into specifics. What he did say was that 500 grammes of Semtex is regularly used for undercar devices, so 15 kg would have been enough for 30 cars…

Weapnry/IEDs are big threats, with the IEDs becoming increasingly more sophisticated   

Louis Armstrong, no not the late jazz maestro but the Chief – Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) for Transport Canada Marine Safety Directorate (MSD) was the next up.  He spoke of the need of Transport Canada’s National Aerial Surveillance Program (NASP) to prevent pollution from ships and the compliance and enforcement of regulations to protect the marine environment.

With three oceans, Central and Arctic, Atlantic and Pacific, to protect covering 243,000 kms of shoreline the NASP’s three aircraft and three teams has a huge task! 

Transport Canada (TC) owns and operates two Dash 8 aircraft located in Moncton, NB and Vancouver, BC, while a Dash 7 is primarily located in Ottawa, ON but also co-allocated to Iqaluit, NU. The aircraft are fitted with SSC’s MSS 6000 system, which includes a Sideways Looking Airborne Radar (SLAR) to detect oil spills up to 30 miles (48kms) away  – 15 miles (24 kms) each side and spotting ice across 80 miles (128kms) – 40 miles (64kms) each side.  Vessels can be detected at 90 miles (144kms) – 45 miles (72kms) each side.

An L3 MX-15 EO/IR turret system can lase the ships to identify them.  All the information can be transmitted via a satellite communication system that allows regular AIS information checks, continuous flight streaming, live streaming video capability, transmission of target information and Office Operable’ while airborne. 

In May 2010 the NASP deployed its Moncton based Dash 8 along with 13 personnel to assist the US Coast Guard and BP with the massive Deepwater Horizon spill in Louisiana.  The first pollution patrol took place on May 2, and there were two patrols per day until May 11 and one scheduled patrol per day from May 12 to July 15.  A total of 297 hours were flown, before TC co-ordinated with the Icelandic Coast Guard to replace them.

The TC aircraft, with remote sensing equipment on board was able to obtain the images and positive location of oil; calibrate satellite imagery with SLAR imagery, map the extent of the spill and the ability to differentiate between skimmable or burnable heavy oil. NASP continues to improve the detection of hazardous and noxious substances by airborne and optical facilities. Civil ISR at its best!



Three aircraft covering 243,000 kms of shoreline is quite a task but that’s what Transport Canada is faced with every day.


Neil Jeffrey, Manager Support Services Group, within the Intelligence and Covert Support Command of Victoria Police spoke of the differing role equipment that can be used for ISR platforms.  He discussed the various sensors and how they all filled different niches as well as video displays including integrated maps.  Talked of having realistic budgets to meet the clients objectives.  Not everyone agreed with his conclusions, but it showed the kind of quandaries the Civil ISR companies face.


David Jones, Commanding Officer of Rescue Global UK (RGUK) provided an overview of what his charitable organisation does – aerial recce in crisis and disaster.  He presented a Case Study including a fascinating video of how RGUK organised and carried out the simulated crash of a Boeing 727 in Mexico during 2012.  This came after NASA failed to deliver such a scenario a few years back.

The need to crash the Boeing 727, where the aircrew parachuted out once the jet was on target and under control by those on the ground, was to provide ground emergency units with experience of a humanitarian and disaster. 

Basically Rescue Global is a recce team primed for disasters but also experienced in snatch rescues ie civilian/diplomatic hostages.  It operates a King Air C90 which was parked on the ramp.

With their King Air they can act as a Pathfinder team, and in their own unique way gather intelligence for a risk assessment of any crisis or disaster.  Not surprisingly most of the operational team that makes up RGUK have Special Forces background.

“We gather info, so that first responders’ know the situation. We work with technical response teams around the world, set up crisis and disaster templates they require in a palatable way.  A risk assessment of the situation is part of that service.”

Dave and his team have recently worked in Costa Rica, providing SAR on a volcano which meant them take control of 18 US personnel.  The team had to develop a map of the area because the only ones available was a small tourist one! “We brought order to chaos” David told us.

RGUK also deploys their own mini-UAVs with digital ISR, analyse the data when it comes back to provide their partners and local agenmcies.

The first 72 hours of any such mission is the most important, which RG offer free of charge then after that, they charge the commissioning agency.  The Rescue Global offices are based in Westmionster.


Rescue Global flew their King Air C90, N121GT, to Duxford for the Civil ISR Conference.  The platform will soon be modified with sensors.  

Nick Brewer, Chartered Engineer of the JARUS (Joint Authorities for Rulemaking on Unmanned Aircraft) in UK was supposed to brief but he couldn’t attend so Air Marshal Philip Sturley RAF (Retd) stepped in.  He talked of the need for the world to unite on the rules governing the flying of unmanned aircraft, although he objected strongly to that term because there was always a man in the loop.  It was highlighted that some of the biggest regions in the world, like South America and China and India were not a member of JARUS and wondered why. He provided a great insight into the subject and provoked a lot of discussion from the conference delegates.


DO Systems is one of the UK’s leading Civil ISR companies and James Cranswick the Chief Operating Officer presented Commercial ISR in Conflict Areas.

DO Systems became the first UK company to enter a conflict with civil owned but RAF registered aircraft.  This was with a countermeasure equipped King Air, serialled ZK457, a concept which has since developed into other aircraft types and a number of different applications, mostly ISR orientated.

Jim talked about the deployment of DO Systems two DA42MPPs to Iraq for airborne surveillance, in which Jim himself flew 400 hours in 2005.  They were putting a live feed in to the Command Centre at Basra so the Battle Commanders could see what was going on. With the DA42 only burning seven US gallons an hour it meant it could stay airborne for long periods, but it was a massive play off between weight and mission length. 

“We were self sufficient, all we needed was the Jet A1 fuel – we had our own accommodation, life support etc as we didn’t want to be a burden to anyone.  We flew 2500 hours, were available 24/7 and hit 98% aircraft despatch rate. 

“Two sorties a day per 12 person roster, and the missions had to slot into a complex air environment.

“We once watched a door [through FLIR] for 36 hours straight [one aircraft on another off] as there were no other recce assets available owing to the Army’s Hermes 450 [at Basra] only being available 50% of time.

“UAVs will never be the complete solution as the pilot can bring a much wider area of view which brings huge benefits.  For example over Basra our pilot saw a mortar attack – the trail and the firing location. The firing position was pinpointed some 8 kms (5 miles) away and the info was relayed to the Force Protection team who went to talk to the person’!”

DO Systems has done a lot of work with the Police too in recent years working in complex environments.

James also discussed options in the Africa/Middle East region, which is a burgeoning market.  He gave an insight into DO Systems contract with the Ghana Government. 

Ghana which has bought the assets (twoDA42MPPs and DA42NG) for the Air Force’s Maritime Security/Safety Service Squadron but lease the service so they get what they pay for, until they are proficient enough to do the work themselves. The two DA42MPPs have sitcom, line of sight and camera equipment now.  

Ghana had an immediate requirement once their oilfields were opened in 2011 as piracy in open waters in that region is a real problem. In fact its now more of a problem on west coast than it is off the coast of Somalia now.

It is obvious that being a civil operator with civilian registered aircraft brings easier access in certain places, wearing a white shirt and gold bars means that movement around airports is easier than walking around in a military flying uniform.  You can provide rapid response as no diplomatic clearance is required and with survey aircraft being common place in Africa you don’t stick out!

Bournemouth based DO Systems has on its inventory four DA42s, one DA40, three King Airs with (G-ONAL being a hangar queen) and two Cessna 421s used by Met Office.



This is what’s on the horizon for Civil ISR operators in the Middle East/Africa according to DO Systems’ COO James Cranswick.


 Flying in from Italy was Lt Colonel Domenico Tavone, Commando Generale of the Guardia di Finanza (GdiF) who spoke about Airborne ISR Operations supporting Custom and Police Operations and the Lessons Learned.

The GdiF is a special Corps created under direct authority of the Ministry of Economy.  It is organised as a military set up and is a proper part of both the Armed Forces and the Police Force.  With its responsibilities ranging from tax law to economic, political, social and military tasks, the GdiF is the only eco-financial police force in Italy.

Their main areas of interest concentrate on drug smuggling, clandestine immigration and smuggling of weapons.

The cocaine/cannabis smugglers tend to head east up the west of Sardinia as well as the south of the island and to mainland Italy. The drugs and tobaccos are heading from Albania to Italy but this is now fading.  Illegal immigration heads in from Tunisia and Libya, while illegal tobacco and immigration also heads in from Egypt and Turkey.   The ATR 42MPs work close with military vessels to capture then seize the smugglers.

The GdiF has recently developed its own Air-Naval Division which is tasked with patrolling the sea from a financial police and maritime customs police perspective. 

It has a Long Range component which has four Helicopter Flight Units (22 AB412HPs and two AW139s) split between Pisa, Taranto, Cagliari and Catania and a Fixed Wing Flight Unit (four ATR42MPs, eight P166DP1s and two Piaggo 180AII) at Pratica di Mare where Ops Command is based.  There are some 37 officers and 210 NCOs.

The Regional Component has Helicopter Flight Units at Bari, Bolzano, Genova, Lamezia T, Naples, Palermo, Pescara, Pratica di Mare, Rimini, Venegono, Venice with 18 officers and 211 NCOs. These operate 29 NH500s and A109AIIs which will be replaced by the A109 Nexus.



GdiF’s ATR 42MP operations often takes the platform to the west…



…and to the south-east too in a bid to stop smuggling and illegal immigration.  


Neil White a maritime specialist with Coventy based C-Aviation and a former RAF Air Electronics Operator in Nimrods looked at how civil ISR companies are involved in Fisheries Protection. 

He provided some historical background  Using military techniques for civilian applications has seen civilian ISR companies working with the Fisheries Protection in a bid to strike the right balance between available fish stocks and the fishing efforts being conducted.

He outlined the extent of Operations in UK Waters with a 200nm EEZ or a median line around the UK as shown on the screen.  British ships have a 6 mile inshore limit.

Fishery Protection Areas of Responsibilities within the UK was outlined in a bid to illustrate who was responsible for what.

Fisheries Protection in English and Scottish waters is covered by a Cessna 208 and a Cessna F406 fitted with a RDR-1553 radar which flies out 200 miles, fitted with EO/IR and DF systems. 

P-68 Observer G-SVEY fitted with a Star Safire III has been used for Lyme Bay night surveillance and with the FLIR you can identify any vessel illegally fishing and what it is doing.   



Fisheries Protection Areas of Responsibilities in the UK



Neil provides images of the kind of fishing and vessels the Fisheries Protection are after.


During the evening RUAG sponsored the Dinner, open with welcome drinks and a 30 minute private viewing of the Aerospace Hangar.




Opening up the presentations for Day 2 was Superintendent Richard Watson, Ground Operations Director, NPAS (National Police Air Service).  He started his paper NPAS – Delivering Air Support to Policing by highlighting the difficulties of streamlining the Police Air Support structure.

In 2009 the 43 different police forces was autonomous, managed its own budgets and there were no procedures to work together! They were all locally controlled with the 31 Air Support Units operating 33 aircraft with an annual budget of £60 million.  Since then the policing budget has been cut by 25% so savings had to be made everywhere except for the local bobbies on the beat’.      

A comprehensive review was commissioned by Chief Constable Bernard Hogan-Howe in 2009 to identify serious inefficiencies with current air operations – both in terms of cost and capability.  The review recommended the current system be replaced with “A national service, regionally co-ordinated for local delivery”.

It would be delivered by a lead force model, West Yorkshire Police, with a centralised despatch function 23 bases and 28 aircraft including three reserve aircraft.

The rotary fleet comprises four EC145s, 17 EC135s (one is currently on lease to Norway), one A109 and seven MD902s.  Each helicopter is budgeted to fly 1,000 hours a year.  The MD902 based at Wakefield has 16,000 hours on the airframe – the highest in the world for this type of helicopter.

Richard claims 300 incidents are reported per day…over 100,000 per year.  In contrast UK SAR attends on average 8 incidents per day. 

Today some 98% of the population is within 20 minutes of an air support unit.  It is now a £55 million business, the equivalent to 1800 Police Officers so as Richard explained they need to deliver a tangible value’.

Richard told us “Without doubt a joined up service provides better value for money and availability has gone up by 20%.  There used to be no formal agreements between agencies when aircraft were being overhauled, so if they were away there was no replacement!

“The main driver behind this new structure has been to save money, we have already saved £8 million but could save another £7 million. Furthermore, you can now transfer to other forces now, you couldn’t before.  Longer term the economies of scale such as joint maintenance contracts on engineering, pilotage etc should see even better efficiencies.




NPAS Air Operations and the Regional Commands.


The Roll Out Schedule for the new Air Support Units are:

May 2012 1 aircraft loaned to Norway to support the Police there.

October 1, 2012             – South-East 4 Bases, 7 aircraft

January 29, 2013          – North-West 4 Bases,  4 aircraft

April 1, 2013                   – North-East 4 Bases, 4 aircraft

July 3, 2012                    – South-West 3 Bases, 3 aircraft

October 2,                        – Central Region 4 Bases, 4 aircraft

January 29, 2014         – Metropolitan 1 Base, 3 aircraft

TBC                                     – three bases and three aircraft

There are now aspirations to acquire a fixed wing fleet, with a trial expected to take start in Quarter 4 of 2013 for about six months. These could be used as command and control platforms providing Police and the helicopters increased situational awareness

Longer term there are hopes the Police ASUs could evolve into a Hong Kong Government Flying Service type of operations. This would include Fire and Rescue Service and HEMS (Helicopter Emergency Medical Service) and maybe even the surveillance needs of other government departments. Good luck on that one Richard!


Next up was Chris Norton, Director of 2Excel Aviation Ltd to present Airborne Surveillance Solutions.  He spent 22 years in the RAF as a Harrier pilot and commanded No 1 (F) Squadron before founding 2Excel.

2Excel has five Extra 300 supporting The Blades aerobatic team; five PA-31 as flying laboratories, three King Air flying laboratories and two Boeing 727s for oil pollution.

The company, founded in 2005, has four business sectors – Scimitar which is contract-air allowing people to contract their aircraft; Broadsword – Commuter work; Sabre – JTAC Training and the Blades aerobatic team.

He discussed the issues surrounding aerial surveillance and its differing contexts in which surveillance is conducted.  Explained how you can overcome issues to alleviate the impact of some of the constraints, or fail to deliver on its promises.  He discussed electro optics (EO), infra red (IR) sensors, lasers, radars and some of the techniques that can be used to enhance these products. 


Christoph Prahl, Head of the QFly Project, DLR – Institute for Solar Research, Germany discussed the challenging world of Airborne Shape Measurement of Parabolic through Collector Fields. 


Mal Hammans, Director ISR, Cobham is a former Tornado back-seater who flew 19 operational missions on the RAF jet during Operation Desert Storm. During staff tours he managed EW trials and evaluations at the RAF Waddington-based Air Warfare Centre.  Several of the trials were joint US/UK EW evaluations carried out at Eglin, China Lake and Tolicha Peak Ranges.  Mal joined FR Aviation as Head of EW Operations in 1997 based at Bournemouth Airport.  He was appointed Director ISR Operations, Cobham on July 1, 2012 and is responsible for all Flight Inspection and Surveillance operations and contract delivery.

He spoke about the Australian airborne contract – the biggest in the world.  Its primary focus is to provide civil maritime surveillance on behalf of the Australian Customs and Border Protection Command.  Until this contract was awarded to Cobham all the differing agencies worked separately, but now Cobham works with them all to ensure they get what they want.

In effect the company is carrying out strategic and targeted operations on behalf of various government agencies:

Australian Federal Police

Australian Quarantine Inspection Service

Department of Immigration

Australian Fisheries Management Authority

Australian Defence Force

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA)


Plus many more

The Cobham aircraft and crews often operate as Forward Air Support for the Royal Australian Navy and Australian Customs Patrol Vessels.  It also works with P-3 Orion surveillance aircraft of the RAAF. 

Cobham’s Australian assets are contracted for 17,000 flight hours (15,000 for Dash 8 surveillance and 2,000 on Cessna F406 surveillance). They are split between three bases spread over Australia. 

• Cairns, Queensland has ten crews and six aircraft:

3 Dash 8 Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA)

2 Cessna F406

1 Dash 8 LADS for Navy Survey

Dedicated Ground Training Facility and Instructors

• Darwin, Northern Territory with ten crews

      4 Dash 8 MPAs

• Broome, Western Australia with nine crews

      3 Dash 8 MPAs

The six Dash 8 series 202s are high wing so enabling better visual surveillance and are fitted with Raytheon radar and MX-15 FLIR.  A Selex mission system fuses all the information together and submits via Satcom to HQ at Canberra.

The four Dash 8 300s based at Darwin are all fitted with 1,000lb fuel cabin tanks to extend their range. 

During its duties, Cobham’s surveillance aircraft locate, identify and record evidence of vessels performing illegal activities within the Australian Exclusion Economic Zone. 

According to Mel “It’s like having a contract to patrol the whole of Europe! Australia has 36,000 sq km of coastline and 8,148,250 sq kms of AEEZ maritime area, which means we have to work closely with all the agencies to ensure they get what they want and most of it is tackling immigration. We only get paid when we deliver the data,”

Much attention centers around the Torres Straits, where there are some 250 islands.  There is only 4 kms (2 miles) between Australian islands and Papua New Guinea and there is a major quarantine risk, much drug and gun smuggling activity so aircraft surveillance is carried out in that area every day.



The Cairns area of operations covers all of Australia’s coastline surveillance needs.



And there is the small matter of surveillance over the Great Barrier Reef  which covers more territory than the UK!


Mel then went on to talk about Cobham’s Oil Spill Response Ltd (OSRL) contract, which has been operational since January 1, 2012.  This is classified as an Emergency Service by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and OSRL.  The Bournemouth based company has a Do 228 which is available 24 hours, 365 days a year to respond oil spills that need to be verified from the air. 

There is a 30 minute alert notice to move for verification and command control, with a maximum of six hours time over target (TOT) subject to agreed exemptions. Equipment role fit for the Do228 includes an MX-15 EO/IR turret, CarteNav system, three UV and IR nose mounted cameras, a maritime radar, a Satcom  to enable a live data and video feed as well as marine communications.

A second aircraft, a BN-2 Islander G-NOIL is operated under subcontract to Cobham on behalf of OSRL and has been based at Wick with effect from March 27, 2013 with full CAA approvals.  It has no systems on board, just Mk 1 eyeball.

The Islander has a 30 minute notice to move for verification with a TOT within four hours from activation and a 90 minute notice to move for spray with a TOT within four hours from activation with a full dispersant load. 

G-NOIL will be relocated to Bournemouth to allow Cobham to offer a layered response.  


That ended the presentations and a Civil ISR Workshop sponsored by RUAG Aviation then followed with Laurence Price Business Development Manager RUAG looking at Considerations for Modifications and Upgrade Programs.  



RUAG flew in a Swiss Air Force Puma, T-323 to the conference with its latest helicopter self protection system.



The ISSYS-POD is a podded, self-protection system that can be fitted to a range of helicopters, warning crews of radar, laser and missile threats. The system can also fire off IR and chaff decoys automatically.



RUAG’s ISR Portfolio.  It was revealed that the ISR dedicated Do228 was now named the Enforcer.  The Bangladesh Navy received their second aircraft during the conference.