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Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition, and Reconnaissance
Information is collected on the battlefield through systematic observation by deployed soldiers and a variety of electronic sensors. Surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance are methods of obtaining this information. The information is then passed to intelligence personnel for analysis, and then to the commander and his staff for the formulation of battle plans. Intelligence is processed information that is relevant and contributes to an understanding of the ground, and of enemy dispositions and intents. Intelligence failures can happen, however.
ISTAR is the process of integrating the intelligence process with surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance tasks in order to improve a commander's situational awareness and consequently their decision making. The inclusion of the "I" is important as it recognizes the importance of taking the information from all the sensors and processing it into useful knowledge.
ISTAR can also refer to:
a unit or sub unit with ISTAR as a task (e.g.: an ISTAR squadron)
equipment required to support the task
Variations of ISTAR
There are several variations on the "ISTAR" acronym. Some variations reflect specific emphasis on certain aspects of ISTAR.
STAR (Surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance)
A term used when emphasis is to be placed on the sensing component of ISTAR.
RSTA (Reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition)
A term used by the US Army in place of STAR or ISTAR. Also, a term used to identify certain US Army units: for instance, 3rd Squadron, 153rd RSTA. These units serve a similar role to the below mentioned US Marine Corps STA platoons, but on a larger scale.
ISR (Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance)
USNS Sea Hunter, an unmanned ocean-going surface vessel is well suited for freedom of navigation operations (FONOPS)
ISR is the coordinated and integrated acquisition, processing and provision of timely, accurate, relevant, coherent and assured information and intelligence to support commander's conduct of activities. Land, sea, air and space platforms have critical ISR roles in supporting operations in general. By massing ISR assets, an improved clarity and depth of knowledge can be established. ISR encompasses multiple activities related to the planning and operation of systems that collect, process, and disseminate data in support of current and future military operations.
On 28 July 2021 the NDAA budget markup by the House Armed Services Committee sought to retain ISR resources such as the RQ-4 Global Hawk, the E-8 Joint Surveillance Radar and Attack System (JSTARS) which the Air Force is seeking to divest.
Examples of ISR systems include surveillance and reconnaissance systems ranging from satellites, to crewed aircraft such as the U-2, to uncrewed aircraft systems (UAS) such as the US Air Force's Global Hawk and Predator and the US Army's Hunter and PSST Aerostats, to unmanned ocean-going vessels, to other ground-, air-, sea-, or space-based equipment, to human intelligence teams, or to AI-based ISR systems. The intelligence data provided by these ISR systems can take many forms, including optical, radar, or infrared images or electronic signals. Effective ISR data can provide early warning of enemy threats as well as enable military forces to increase effectiveness, coordination, and lethality, and demand for ISR capabilities to support ongoing military operations has increased.
For space-based targeting sensors, in a 2019 Broad Agency Announcement, the US government defined ISR in this case as "a capability for gathering data and information on an object or in an area of interest (AOI) on a persistent, event-driven, or scheduled basis using imagery, signals, and other collection methods. This includes warning (to include ballistic missile activity), targeting analysis, threat capability assessment, situational awareness, battle damage assessment (BDA), and characterization of the operational environment." Persistence was in turn described: "Persistent access provides predictable coverage of an area of interest (AOI). Most space-based intelligence collection capabilities consist of multiple satellites operating in concert, or supplemented by other sensors, when continuous surveillance of an area is desired. Persistent sensors must provide sufficient surveillance revisit timelines to support a weapon strike at any time." The United States Space Force, National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), and National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) share the satellite-based ISR task as of 2021.
NGA uses Data transformation services (DTS), a program begun in 2018, to convert raw sensor data into a format usable by its mission partners, who are government agencies whose names are classified.
NRO "has a proven track record in [ISR]", insists one of the founders of the US Space Force, who defends the capability of the NRO over the ambition of the Space Force to take over the role of ISR.
^Joseph Votel(15 Aug 2021) The Painful Lessons of Afghanistan "The Cipher Brief: Intelligence assessments wildly missed the mark on how fast Kabul would fall, what factors contributed most directly to this? --Votel: General Votel: Certainly, the departure of our own capabilities is a big part of this; the lack of direct contact with Afghan leaders is another important factor; and, of course, once it was clear that we were departing (and took our Commander out) -- we lost priority and access with our normal and reliable Afghan intelligence sources." See Fall of Kabul (2021)