Chapter 3: Sensing the elements of the operational environment that the commander does not control (B-GA-402-000/FP-001, Canadian Forces Aerospace Sense Doctrine)

Aerospace Intelligence Enterprise


As commander’s critical information requirements (CCIR) drive the process to provide situational awareness (SA) and knowledge about the entire operating environment, the priority intelligence requirements (PIR) process guides the data and information that is sought to provide knowledge of the elements of the operational environment that the commander does not control. Priority intelligence requirements are defined as "those intelligence requirements for which a commander has an anticipated and stated.[1] Accordingly, this chapter will focus on the PIR that the aerospace intelligence enterprise manages.

The intelligence enterprise can be defined from three different perspectives: organizations (tactical, operational, or strategic), products, and processes.[2] The three different perspectives of intelligence are well defined in Canadian Forces Joint Publication, CFJP 2-0, Intelligence and will also be found in B-GA-402-001/FP-001, Royal Canadian Air Force Intelligence Doctrine.

There are two distinct elements described below that distinguish intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) activities from ISR as a capability. The abbreviation "ISR" is widely used in the Canadian Forces (CF), often mistakenly utilized to generalize all intelligence activities or non-specific sensor capabilities under the same term. In the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance are also distinct elements and separate activities within the collection phase of the aerospace intelligence cycle and are grouped together to form the nexus of collection operations.

The overall aerospace intelligence enterprise is both a driver of the collection operations and a consumer of the data and information collected. This chapter focuses on the place ISR and collection operations have within the overall aerospace intelligence enterprise. A complete discussion on the CF aerospace intelligence enterprise will be found in B-GA-402-001/FP-001, Royal Canadian Air Force Intelligence Doctrine.

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Intelligence operations are the variety of intelligence and counter-intelligence tasks that are carried out by various intelligence organizations and activities within the intelligence process. Intelligence operations include planning and direction, collection, processing, production, dissemination, and evaluation and feedback.[3]

Collection operation is "[a]n operation to collect and disseminate data and/ or information from the collector to analysts and/or directly to end-users."[4]

Collection Operations

Intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions (collection operations’ constituent missions). Traditionally, three distinct elements[5] comprise the collection phase of the intelligence enterprise, defined as:

  1. Intelligence collection. The "I" in ISR is different from the three concepts described by the aerospace intelligence enterprise (i.e., organization, product, and process). It refers to intelligence collection that is usually conducted by units whose sole purpose is the collection of data and information of intelligence value. They usually do not have a combat capability beyond limited self-protection and are not normally assigned combat tasks. They are usually capabilities organic to intelligence units and formations. Some specialized intelligence capabilities include signals intelligence (SIGINT), electronic intelligence (ELINT), communications intelligence (COMINT), measurement and signature intelligence (MASINT), and/or human intelligence (HUMINT) units.
  2. Surveillance. Continuous monitoring for a period of time; in the air context, this mission is normally conducted by units that are capable of providing a persistent or routine presence over the named target area.
  3. Reconnaissance. In the context of collection operations, reconnaissance is sending a sensor out to sense or search for data and information about a target or area of interest.

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Surveillance and reconnaissance activities are normally conducted by units that have significant self-protection or stand-off capabilities. They are often assigned to support other combat tasks by providing combat information.

In Canada, these units are not usually under the command of intelligence organizations, but they sometimes are in other nations. Examples include ground manoeuvre reconnaissance and tactical helicopters, submarines, and long-range patrol aircraft. These are units that have significant data and information collection capabilities but are also weapon platforms fully capable of being tasked in a multi-mission role. Non-traditional ISR (NTISR) is a term used when referring to collection missions and tasks that are conducted by platforms not dedicated specifically to executing collection operations. An NTISR platform (i.e., any platform possessing suitable sensors or data collection capabilities) can be used to support the collection requirements of a collection plan. As well, NTISR missions and tasks can either be on an as-available, a non-interference, or a concurrent-activity basis during execution of the platform’s primary mission to gather data and information required by the collection plan.

Combat information. Relevant combat data will often simultaneously enter intelligence reporting channels. Actionable data and information is frequently sent directly to commanders and operational users as combat information, such as an unmanned aircraft system (UAS) flying over watch above a convoy and streaming video of the area of interest to the supported force or an airborne early warning system providing battlespace information to an interceptor. The need (or anticipated need) for combat information will often drive the prioritization and tasking of collection assets, which is an issue discussed in greater detail below.

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ISR as a concept. When used as a term, ISR implies more than the sum of those constituent parts. As a concept, ISR is essentially a staff activity as opposed to an operational activity and encompasses multiple activities related to the planning and management of sensors and assets that collect, process, analyse, and disseminate data in the form of intelligence support to military operations.

Aim of ISR. The aim of the ISR activity is to plan and manage the intelligence and information support to both current and future operations through the provision of accurate, relevant, and timely products. It ensures that intelligence operations (collection, processing, and dissemination) are conducted in accordance with the commander’s campaign plan, intent, and CCIR.

Interrelationships between the intelligence enterprise and ISR. The relationships between these two concepts are often misunderstood. In the CF, the intelligence process, also known as the intelligence cycle,[6] is divided into four constituents. It starts with direction, followed by collection, then by processing, and ends with the dissemination of the product. Collection operations and the production of intelligence are the manifestations of the ISR activity. As such, the collection operations are required to gather the data to feed the overall intelligence process based on gaps in the commander’s information and knowledge requirements. Therefore, intelligence collection, surveillance, and reconnaissance, while an important and integral part of the overall intelligence enterprise, correspond to the collection phase of the intelligence cycle. Essentially, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance taken together are more than the sum of those parts; it is the concept that by tightly integrating those three collection functions in a network enabled manner, greater operational effects can be achieved than by the operation of those functions separately. Hence, collection operations and their coordination-integration activity (i.e., ISR) are the primary means of sensory inputs for knowledge of adversaries and of the operating environment.

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Interrelationships between the three types of collection operations (intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance). All three collection operations’ constituent activities have a complex and dynamic relationship with each other. Surveillance can be used to cue reconnaissance: for instance, when ground-based radars monitor an airspace (a form of surveillance because it is continuous) and reconnaissance aircraft are sent to investigate more closely any suspicious activity detected by those radars. Conversely, reconnaissance can be used to cue surveillance: for instance, when a reconnaissance mission detects suspicious activity and surveillance is then established to monitor that suspicious site (e.g., by maintaining a continuous relay of airborne sensors overhead). Likewise, both surveillance and reconnaissance can be cued by intelligence collection, as when a HUMINT source indicates suspicious activity in an area, and either reconnaissance or surveillance assets are then dispatched to that area to confirm or deny the intelligence reporting. Conversely, surveillance and reconnaissance can be used to cue intelligence collection, as when reporting from surveillance or reconnaissance assets indicate triggers for specific questioning by interrogators. It is precisely because of these complex back and forth interrelationships that synergies can be realized by tightly coordinating and integrating collection operations through the ISR activities.

Interrelationship with other operations. Due to the ISR approach’s emphasis upon tight integration with other operations, prompt operational use of actionable intelligence is facilitated by short and direct sensor-to-shooter loops and by the provision of near real-time (NRT) or even real-time intelligence to commanders and operators. Likewise, ISR also facilitates a related concept, which is the idea of conducting operations to gain intelligence (e.g., by mounting an operation not just to achieve an effect in itself, but specifically to provoke a response that will allow for the collection of intelligence). The fact that RCAF collection platforms are multirole (e.g., a CP140 can be concurrently used on a reconnaissance mission or on an antisubmarine warfare [ASW] mission) forces the intelligence staff and the operations staff to consider these factors when planning collection operations. The keys to success are avoiding stove-pipe reporting, making sensor coverage overlap as much as possible, and networking the system together to make it operate as close to real time as possible in a continuous and corroborated manner.

Active/passive natures. Collection operations can be active[7] or passive.[8] Reconnaissance can be accomplished with passive sensors (e.g., a CP140 utilizing passive sonobuoys or an ELINT aircraft monitoring emissions) or active sensors (e.g., ground search radar from a reconnaissance aircraft or active sonar from an ASW aircraft). Likewise, surveillance can be active (e.g., radars monitoring airspace) or passive (e.g., ground-based ELINT collection continuously monitoring an area).

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Principles And Considerations

Principles for aerospace intelligence and ISR. The principles of intelligence detailed in B-GJ-005-200/FP-000, Canadian Forces Joint Publication, CFJP 2-0, Intelligence are fully applicable to aerospace intelligence.[9] However, for ISR as a concept and a coordination activity, three further principles should be emphasized:[10]

  1. Command led. Fundamental to the idea of ISR as a concept is that it is a tightly integrated operations-intelligence activity. It aims to integrate into one seamless package of dedicated intelligence sensors, operational assets not primarily dedicated as sensors, and operational forces in a manner that cuts across traditional operational intelligence (or traditional A2/A3/A5) boundaries. All staff, planners, operations, and intelligence must operate hand-in-glove toward their commander’s intent, which must be common to all staff areas. Such tightly bound integration can only be achieved by common purpose and coordination reinforced by command leadership. Furthermore, in accordance with the fundamental aerospace tenet of centralized control and decentralized execution, as well as with the fundamental principle of intelligence centralized control, collection operations are, optimally, centrally coordinated to help gain efficiencies and harmonize the efforts of the entire ISR process.
  2. Network enabled. The seamless integration that the ISR concept seeks can only be realized through the medium of a flexible, integrated, accessible network of sensors, intelligence processes, operational assets, and situational databases. This network should provide the means to access information and intelligence from other formations, strategic collection systems, national and multi-national sources, and agencies.
  3. Tailorable sensor mix. The provision of a robust mix of sensor capabilities provides flexibility and multi-source corroboration. It also enables the cross-cueing of sensors, which improves efficiency by refining the screening process and maintaining operational tempo. Collection assets should be sufficiently modular in capability so that they can be tailored to meet the needs of the mission.

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There are several key considerations for planning collection operations (employment of ISR) in terms of the overall concept and coordination activity, such as:

  1. Scarcity. Experience reveals that the demand for intelligence products always exceeds resource availability. While careful planning can balance asset demands somewhat, the need for commanders to prioritize demands should always be a consideration in the employment of collection assets, which are normally deemed to be high-demand/low-density (HD/ LD) assets; the corollary being that the collection operations and exploitation must be effectively and efficiently managed. Similarly, insufficiency in other key areas (such as a limited number of trained intelligence analysts to process the collected information or not enough access to satellite bandwidth) may constrain or limit the effectiveness of the overall enterprise.
  2. Multiplicity of roles. Roles and missions for many aerospace assets are now complex and multifaceted, often involving different roles during the same mission. Today, it is not unusual to find strike aircraft employed in an NTISR role, and some traditional collection assets can become weapons platforms. Whether the aircraft is dedicated to collection operations for the entire mission or only for part of the mission, the mission objectives, priorities, and guidance for multirole aircraft employment and the authority to task the sensor and weapon system should be clear and preferably worked out well in advance of mission execution. The air component commander (ACC) should ensure the following authorities are defined to ensure clear lines of control during multirole missions:
    1. Aircraft control. Organization or individual in authority and technically capable of controlling the aircraft.
    2. Sensor control. Organization or individual in authority and technically capable of controlling the aircraft sensor.
    3. Sensor tasking. Organization with the authority to direct sensor control and aircraft control to execute collection and processing taskings.
    4. Processing tasking. Organization with the authority to direct exploitation entities to execute processing and dissemination tasks.

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An example of a multirole platform is the CP140 Aurora. On a single mission, the Aurora can shift between reconnaissance, surveillance, ASW, and other roles. By properly defining command and control (C2) relationships and authorities, as well as mission priorities, the transition in effective employment is optimized between supported organizations or customers. While the CP140 is used as the example, there are many platforms that have similar capabilities where the same principles of defining C2 relationships and mission priorities are applicable.[11]

  1. Synchronization. The heart of the ISR activity is synchronization, accomplished through the collection management function. As stressed throughout this chapter, the essence of the ISR activity is the synchronization of collection assets (with other intelligence operations and other operations) in a network-enabled environment, rather than the independent operation in stove-pipe fashion. However, the intent of the ISR concept is not to impose a rigid and inflexible central management.

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Organization and Employment of the Intelligence Enterprise


ISR and the intelligence cycle. The ISR activity does not replace the intelligence cycle, but it is an aspect of it. It is essentially the direction provided to the collection operations and to the processing operations. It requires the application of various intelligence disciplines, operational planning, and targeting.[12] The key themes of ISR are coordination and integration. Figure 3-1[13] below shows how these processes flow from direction to dissemination.


Figure 3-1 illustrates the activities of the intelligence cycle. The commander issues their commander’s critical information requirements, which becomes direction for the staff. In order, the four steps of the intelligence cycle are direction, collection, processing, dissemination and then back to direction. The output of each step feeds into the following step. All four steps are coordinated through intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance activity. The processing step includes five sub-steps: 1) collation; 2) evaluation; 3) analysis and integration; 4) interpretation and assessment; and 5) exploitation. In addition to feeding into the direction step, the dissemination step also produces intelligence and combat information that is provided to the commander. A large part of the intelligence cycle activities is the collection management phase. It is an off-shoot of the direction step and feeds back into the processing step. The commander’s critical information requirement management develops priority intelligence requirements. Priority intelligence requirements are fulfilled through known data/information and unknown data/information. Known data/information moves directly to the data-and-information step of the collection-operation portion of the collection-management phase. The unknown data/information is fulfilled through information requirements. Some are fulfilled through allied data/information and the rest through a collection plan. The allied data/information moves directly to the data-and-information step of the collection-operation portion of the collection-management phase. The collection plan leads to the collection operation. The collection plan will have a number of tasks, such as intelligence collection; reconnaissance; surveillance; and non-traditional intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. Each of these tasks will generate data and information. When combined with the known and allied data/information, all data and information is forwarded to the processing step of the intelligence cycle. End Figure 3-1.

Figure 3‑1. Generic intelligence cycle activities

Intelligence Cycle

Direction. The direction phase focus is twofold: the commander provides direction to staff, and the staff plan and manage the collection, processing, and dissemination processes. Firstly, it is based on commanders’ orders to their staff and subordinate units. Commanders must provide clear direction regarding their intelligence requirements. The aim is to enable the staff (and de facto collection and processing units/entities) to prioritize and focus their efforts. Secondly, this direction is then taken by the senior staff and translated into their own direction to their own subordinates in order to enable the coordination and the management of intelligence operations and dissemination. Direction is the stage in which the ISR activity begins. This is when CCIR are translated into PIR, which are then transformed into information requirements (IRs), which form the basis for the production of collection requirements and, ultimately, collection tasks to be conducted by collection units. The ISR activity ensures that the intelligence operations (collection and processing) are prioritized and integrated into a coherent whole with other operations. The ultimate objective of this integration is to enable a seamless link between the sensor/platform, the commander, and, when necessary, the shooter.

It is important that direction is centralized and synchronized to ensure that, given limited collection assets, collection taskings are not duplicated or assigned when adequate data and information are already available. This entails an awareness of what data, information, and intelligence have already been collected, processed, and stored within own or allied databases. Implicit in collection management are systems, networks, and tools that provide this awareness; a process that is greatly facilitated by disciplined information management and the standardization of meta data. Further, effective direction ensures the most appropriate collection asset is used only when there is the actual need to collect.

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Collection. The aim of collection operations is to collect and transmit data and/or information from the collector to analysts and/or directly to end-users based on the collection plan. What can be derived from this definition is that the data collected does not have to go through intelligence processing prior to being disseminated to end-users. A commander given data (such as combat information) can process it to some extent and be able to make a decision. Since information can be extremely time-sensitive and perishable, it can be disseminated directly from the collection platform / sensor to end-users (subjected to on-board or automated processing), especially in a tactical setting when dealing with actionable intelligence. This is sometimes referred to as task, post, process, and utilize (TPPU). While this is not an RCAF doctrinal term, the concept of delivering the data to the end-user before processing by intelligence specialists to update the end-user is an essential concept, as most useable information has a relative time-expiration date. In order to be effective, TPPU requires an enhanced understanding of higher commander’s intent in order to ensure that the right information and intelligence are collected and disseminated.

The management, coordination, and oversight of collection operations is normally conducted at the operational level. Within the RCAF, given the lack of single-role collection platforms, the use of aircraft on multirole missions requires the collection managers, as well as other battlespace managers, to balance and prioritize these hidh-demand/low-density (HD/LD) resources. The coordination and control of collection operations happens at the operational level to ensure that the ISR assets can be reassigned to higher priority missions given the fluidity of the operating environment and the urgency of some tactical situations. For example, a UAS could be reassigned away from a pure intelligence collection tasking to support troops in contact. Furthermore, as collection may prove unsuccessful, it may create the requirement for new collection tasks or to re-prioritize collection platforms/sensors. The allocation of collection assets to a problem set is conducted in accordance with the priority established by commanders.

Processing. Processing is "the conversion of information into intelligence through collation, evaluation, analysis, integration, interpretation, [assessment, and exploitation]."[14] In many operations, it also includes the exploitation of the data and combat information in a timely manner. Airborne processing normally provides commanders and other end-users with combat information, while intelligence products require a greater degree of processing by specially trained personnel. While processing of data is normally conducted by intelligence processing entities, units, or subunits (intelligence specialists aided by other non-intelligence specialties) specialized in this endeavour, end-users of intelligence products can perform some degree of processing themselves (especially in a tactical setting when dealing with perishable actionable intelligence). In such cases, it is important that responsible intelligence staff ensure end-users have the required supporting intelligence to contextualize the information.

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Dissemination is defined as "the timely conveyance of intelligence, in an appropriate form, and by any suitable means, to those who need it."[15] Intelligence dissemination must be completed before it is too late to satisfy the purpose for which it was required or before the data has lost its value due to its nature. Furthermore, the data must be disseminated in a manner that it can reach its intended end-users. To achieve this, the dissemination staff must understand the commander’s priorities and consider the right media and the right format as well as the right classification for the products. It is important to aim for the lowest classification level possible as a principle. This is amplified when operating as part of a combined force or in a whole-of-government/comprehensive approach setting.

The following steps will need to be completed to ensure that intelligence planning (direction phase of the intelligence cycle) and the ISR concept are applied effectively, that is, coordinating and integrating collection operations with processing and dissemination as well as with other operations. It must be stressed that these are not separate and distinct "phases" in their own right, such as the steps of the intelligence cycle or the operational planning process. Rather, these are conceptual points that staff must ensure are addressed as they move through their battle rhythm:

  1. Identify information requirements. This task is performed by trained intelligence staff. Based upon the CCIR and the PIR, the actual information requirements are developed. They are normally sets of detailed questions regarding the adversary and the environment that need to be collected and answered, with an intelligence product, in order to satisfy the PIR and, ultimately, the CCIR. They serve to identify intelligence sensing requirements. These should be specific enough to allow execution. It is worth noting that a staff will have to consider the information requirements emanating from the subordinate formations/units as part of their commander’s requirements. This activity normally results in an intelligence collection plan (ICP).
  2. Identify production requirements. This task is performed by trained intelligence staff. Based upon the information requirements (IR), intelligence processing entities are tasked to develop products/output required to fulfill the commander’s overall enterprise. They are fed intelligence products from outside agencies as well as data/ information from their own commander’s collection operations.

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  1. Identify collection requirements (CRs) [converting IRs into CRs]. This task is executed by both intelligence staff and operations staff and is the process of converting IRs into actual CRs and, ultimately, into collection missions/tasks. It normally results in the production of a collection deck and is ultimately integrated into the planning process and subsequently executed through an air tasking order (ATO).
  2. Identify operational threats/risks/factors. This is a task for the staff responsible for the actual collection assets. Threats and risks to the assets as well as other operational factors (such as range, endurance, airspace coordination, air-to-air refuelling, or other specialized flying capabilities) must be identified. Ultimately, this is battlefield management, whereby a commander balances the risk to the asset versus the value of the information that is to be collected and, where possible, applies mitigation strategies to achieve the effect. In aerospace collection operations, it is critical that planning and tasking involve the operational air planners who will be better positioned to assess the feasibility of planned collection tasks from the perspective of good airmanship, with due consideration given to the following factors:
    1. Desired effects relative to the other potential mission priorities for the platform.
    2. Availability of collection assets based on apportionment and guidance.
    3. Capabilities and limitations of aircraft systems (endurance, armament, range, etc.).
    4. Roles and appropriate employment (matching the right sensor to target) of the asset.
    5. Command and control relationships required to accomplish the task.
    6. Potential threats to the collection asset (balanced against the benefits of collection).
    7. Force packaging requirements and geographic disposition of forces.
    8. Environmental factors (e.g., weather, time of day, and terrain).
    9. Operational factors (e.g., maintenance, crew availability, and crew duty day).

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  1. Coordinate, integrate, and synchronize (creating collection tasks). Based upon a comparison of the collection requirements against the operational factors, the optimal prioritized utilization of all sensor assets is determined cooperatively between the intelligence and operational staff, under the direction and guidance of the commander. It is important to note that the coordination and integration of collection operations with the other intelligence operations, such as processing and dissemination, is critical. In the best case scenario, the senior staff officer responsible for assigning collection priority should be responsible for assigning processing and dissemination priority. This activity normally results in a draft ISR synchronization matrix which, when approved by the commander, becomes input for the tasking of resources and other relevant operational direction like the ATO.
  2. Execute (conducting collection operations). The planned collection operations are executed by the collection assets (which conduct collection operations, i.e., intelligence collection, surveillance, reconnaissance, or NTISR). During the execution, the operational headquarters (HQ) provides oversight of the collection operation. Direct feed may be sent to supported elements to provide combat information. Simultaneously, all data should also be captured for processing by intelligence entities.
  3. Process and disseminate. The resulting data and information is not only fed into near real-time (NRT) systems but is also exploited to the full extent by intelligence analysts and disseminated through cyber networks. Dissemination may be provided directly to end-users with only sufficient processing to allow that user to utilize the information (commonly referred to as TPPU) or to an intelligence processing capability where the data is processed into an intelligence product and then disseminated to the end-user (commonly referred to as task, process, exploit, and disseminate [TPED]). Ultimately, the process ensures that the intelligence products are available in a format that operators can rapidly access and understand.

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Intelligence, Surveillance, And Reconnaissance Resources

There are two types of ISR resources:[16] the intelligence organizations and collection assets. Although there is a tendency to fixate upon the collection assets, it is the synergy created between all resources that is critical to the success of a working intelligence enterprise. Furthermore, network-enabled effects are critical to the ISR concept, and it can only be realized with robust, secure network connectivity and information technology (IT) processing capability. It is the network system combined with people "with the right mindset" that tie it all together.

Intelligence organizations. Human intuitive analysis and technological processing, as driven by planning and management, are individual capabilities unable to bridge the information gap to produce truly worthwhile intelligence. However, the combination of human and IT capabilities fusing information into discernable patterns and trends is the essence of an intelligence organization which performs the following:

  1. Planning and management. In the HQ context, the ISR activity will normally be planned within a specialized ISR organization (i.e., the ISR division within an aerospace operations centre [AOC]). Within a headquarters, the ISR planning is done by both operations and intelligence staff through the integration of the ICP and the collection tasks into the overall master air activity plan (MAAP) [ultimately executed in the ATO].
  2. Processing and dissemination. It takes effort to transition and process raw data (at the bottom end of the cognitive hierarchy) into knowledge at the top end. Modern IT allows some of this processing work to be automated, but there is still a heavy requirement for human cognitive aptitude in the processing of information to produce intelligence. This is normally done by dedicated organizations and trained intelligence professionals. Examples of these types of organizations are the ISR division within the AOC, which includes a multi-source analytical cell. This RCAF capability is mandated to provide end-users (pan-CF) with fused, multi-source intelligence emanating from RCAF collection assets, from intelligence produced from land and maritime elements, as well as with intelligence produced by national and international agencies.

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Collection assets. The list of possible information sources for intelligence is almost endless, including open-source media reports, academic work, and liaison with non-governmental agencies, to name just a few.[17] However, the aerospace intelligence enterprise itself is primarily concerned with assets that can be tasked and that can report directly to the commander. It is only the taskable assets that can be dynamically included in an ISR synchronization matrix, and due to the technical requirements of connectivity, only systems designed to report directly into the network can contribute NRT information. Platforms and sensors include:

  1. airborne systems;
  2. space-based systems;
  3. ground-based systems; and
  4. non-traditional ISR.

Airborne systems. Aircraft (manned or unmanned), fixed- or rotary-wing, can carry a variety of sensor types, including air and ground search and imaging radars, electro-optics, infrared or multispectral imagery sensors, ELINT, SIGINT, COMINT, and active and passive sonar. The strengths of aircraft as sensor systems are their speed, persistence, elevation, precision, stealth (or presence), and reach. By example, UAS can provide an important advantage to mitigate casualties and risk by operating in the airspace over prohibitive land environments. Manned platforms can provide on-board processing capabilities as well as common voice and data link networks with other aircraft and ground stations. Manned aircraft may provide the additional benefit of a penetrating capability. Weaknesses include their potential vulnerability, limited endurance for some platforms, sensitivity to weather, sensitivity to technology, fragility, and difficulty in detecting irregular forces.

Space-based systems. Satellites typically can carry limited payloads comprising either multispectral, electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR), radar, and/or ELINT sensors. Their strength is their wide coverage and ability for unimpeded over flight of denied territory. Their weaknesses include potentially discontinuous coverage, sensitivity to surface weather (for EO/ IR systems), and difficulty in detecting irregular forces.

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Ground-based systems. Three types of ground-based sensors are significant for the aerospace intelligence enterprise: radar, ELINT detectors, and fixed acoustic/seismic detectors. The strengths of such systems tend to be their continuous coverage, which is often used for early warning and cueing of other systems. In the maritime context, these capabilities are often resident within the naval platform and are employed as integral capabilities to the force at sea. Weaknesses in these systems are their susceptibility to line-of-sight limitations (horizon), terrain or weather interference, mobility and range, and often lack of correlation with other sensors.

Non-traditional ISR. This is still an emerging concept that has not reached full maturity across allied doctrine. There are several diverging philosophies that argue whether the use of a platform over time negates the "traditional" or "non-traditional" nature of that platform’s role and blurs the boundaries between ISR and NTISR. As the RCAF acquires additional dedicated sensors and/or collection capabilities and further develops its operating concepts, these diverging arguments dividing ISR and NTISR will likely be resolved. By example, the employment of the CP140 has evolved from a "traditional" maritime ASW platform to an NTISR overland collection platform, through concept development, capability enhancement, and command direction on the employment of the aircraft. With additional training and employment in the overland role it has become an ISR platform (vice NTISR). As the CP140 evolves, the nature of what is "traditional" and "non-traditional" also continues to evolve, proving that what is non-traditional now can become traditional in the future.

Non-traditional ISR assets (as collectors) are viewed as platforms that are not normally dedicated to collection operations, but rather are tasked to fulfill missions emanating from the collection requirements and the collection plan. It is increasingly important that collection planners and managers take these NTISR assets into account when creating the ICP and MAAP because the limited number of dedicated ISR collection assets in the CF will rarely be able to satisfy collection requirements due to low resource availability of pure ISR platforms.

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Canadian NTISR capabilities include not only the CF188 equipped with a sniper pod (when tasked to collect full motion video and stream via Tactical Common DataLink [TCDL]) and the Interoperable Griffon Reconnaissance Escort Surveillance System (INGRESS) capability onboard the CH146 but can also be expanded to include any platform with the sensor or capability able to gather the data or information sought by the collection requirement. This may include the generic use of visual or electronic sensors on board any CF aircraft or specifically tasked capabilities. By example, CF188s are traditionally controlled by tactical control radars or the Canadian Air Defence Sector radars that coordinate the movement of the aircraft and provide aerospace early warning, ultimately providing data and information of intelligence value to Canadian North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD) Region. These assets could also be tasked to conduct collection operations on egress or ingress toward their intended target location. In so doing, they can provide data (and often time-sensitive combat information) pre- and post-strike on known targets and/or provide indication and warning on emerging or potential threats. The complexity and challenge associated with the CF188’s employment in an NTISR role is the overall integration of its routine operations within the collection plan. This example reinforces the requirement for coordination, integration, and synchronization between the intelligence, plans, and operations staff within any organization.


Sound understanding and use of ISR concepts and principles, as outlined in this chapter, will enable commanders to develop the SA and issue the guidance needed to direct forces to achieve military objectives. As such, the close integration of people, organizations, equipment and processes which constitute ISR capabilities is crucial and must be command led.

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1. DTB record 1105.   (return)

2. It is worth noting that while the backbone of the intelligence enterprise consists of intelligence professionals (intelligence operators, geomatics technicians, communications researchers, meteorology technicians, and military police), its implementation exceeds those military occupational structure identification codes (MOSIDs). The intelligence enterprise is conducted by composite organizations filled with personnel coming from a myriad of MOSIDs. Ultimately, the intelligence enterprise belongs to the commander, not to the senior intelligence officer (SIO) or the Intelligence "cap badge." (return)

3. DTB pending. (return)

4. DTB record 41399. (return)

5. The three definitions are taken from the DTB and AAP-6, NATO Glossary of Terms and Definitions (English and French). (return)

6. The intelligence cycle will be discussed in greater detail later in this chapter. As well, see a companion explanation in the B-GJ-005-200/FP-000, Canadian Forces Joint Publication, CFJP 2-0, Intelligence. (return)

7. "Active" is defined as: "In surveillance, an adjective applied to actions or equipment which emit energy capable of being detected." (DTB record 3274) (return)

8. "Passive" is defined as: "In surveillance, an adjective applied to actions or equipment which emit no energy capable of being detected." (DTB record 5031) (return)

9. The principles of intelligence are: centralized control, timeliness, systematic exploitation, objectivity, accessibility, responsiveness, source protection, and continuous review. See B-GJ-005-200/FP-000, 2-3. (return)

10. These principles are reflected in B-GL-352-001/FP-001, Land Force Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition, and Reconnaissance (ISTAR), 1-2; and Allied Joint Publication (AJP) 2-0, Allied Joint Intelligence, Counter Intelligence and Security Doctrine. (return)

11. United States Air Force, Air Force Doctrine Document (AFDD) 2-0, Global Integrated Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Operations, 6 January 2012, 46–7. (return)

12. AJP 2-0, 1-4-4. (return)

13. Figure based partly on Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Primer; NATO figure from AJP 2.0, 1-4-4, adapted to reflect ISR activity; and the collection operations process described herein. (return)

14. DTB record 5786. (return)

15. DTB record 4100. (return)

16. AFDD 2-0, 25–33. (return)

17. See B-GA-402-001/FP-000, Royal Canadian Air Force Intelligence Doctrine (to be promulgated). (return)