WITH DWINDLING budgets, air forces can no longer afford to invest into expensive capital items like surveillance aircraft – eyes in the sky – which require a lot of investment, not just on the platform but the systems and personnel too. In Afghanistan much of the US surveillance work is being carried out by civilian companies. Some use their own aircraft, some don’t; some use their own operators some don’t – it is all down to the customer’s requirements. At the end of the day the company is providing a service for a profit.
These specialist Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) companies are also being used by civilian agencies to monitor disaster relief, fire-fighting operations, border control, maritime surveillance, policing and fisheries protection. This in turn has brought a newer generation of lighter Electro Optical/Forward Looking Infra Red systems and datalink/sat-link systems that can download the pictures taken in the air to the ground.
Many countries that once could not afford airborne surveillance are now looking seriously at acquiring the capability on a pay as you go service. In recent times the RAF sub contracted Bournemouth-based DO Systems in 2009 to provide this requirement over Iraq. The same company is now providing a turnkey’ maritime and border surveillance role with three DA42NG MPPs to the Nigerian Air Force.
In the USA, companies like Dynamic Aviation, has a large fleet of King Airs that support the US military with their needs to observe and monitor individuals or areas. Other activities are also being looked at, as defence work in places like Iraq and Afghanistan dries up. This will include the modification, maintenance and leasing aircraft for agricultural spraying operations, photo missions or even being used for observation work for aerial firefighting.
In Europe a civilian company has recently being using their aircraft to monitor islamist movements on the ground in northern Mali.
While the military are seeing budgets decline and in turn, much of their core capabilities it does not mean the requirement has gone away. Instead many governments are turning to a cheaper civilian option, often run by ex-military personnel to provide this niche skill in a developing market.
To help companies identify and benefit from non defence ISR opportunities – Tangent Link are organising a dedicated Civil ISR Conference & Exhibition (25-26 April 2013, Grenchen Airport, Switzerland)– which highlights the application for air-borne and space ISR platforms and systems for civilian operations. For full details, please click here.