Advancing warfare: Evolution of sensor to shooter cycle

by Hira Bashir

THE process defined as a ‘Sensor to Shooter’ (STS) cycle represents the process of carrying out an attack. It relates to Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance and Target Acquisition (ISTAR) assets, information processing, decision-making and the weapon systems involved. The STS cycle has many synonyms, among the most common is the ‘Kill Chain,’ defining the process from the appearance of a target, through planning and authorisation, to target engagement. Once a target is identified it could quickly send that data to the team where they could quickly prosecute the target.

Software and artificial intelligence (AI) are essential tools of modern military operations, driving the evolution toward multi-domain operations, improving communication across ally forces and assisting in achieving information dominance and decision-advantage over enemies. Having information about adversaries can enhance their decision-making process and improve the sensor-to-shooter link. Soldiers and military units engage in intelligence gathering activities to collect information about adversaries. This includes traditional methods such as human intelligence (HUMINT), signals intelligence (SIGINT), imagery intelligence (IMINT) and open-source intelligence (OSINT). The gathered data helps in understanding the enemy’s capabilities, intentions and disposition.

Great powers like the US, Russia and China are developing advanced weapon systems, for example, Hypersonic Weapons, Directed Energy Weapons (DEWs), Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), Electromagnetic Railguns, Autonomous Weapons Systems and Next-Generation Missiles. Artificial intelligence is dominating in every field and states are in the race of having regional technological hegemony. Due to these technologies, role of software has increased.

Much of the functionality and performance provided by military technology, such as the F-35, may be found in civilian products. The Lightning II fighter jet and Patriot missile defence system as well as the M1 Abrams tanks and the French Griffon, Jaguar and Serval armoured vehicles, are already software defined. As software now powers the majority of the operation of many military equipment, it is becoming evident that it is not simply organized on to military hardware. A weapons system is comprised entirely software.

Integration of software data is important. The challenge is that F-35 data is not compatible with F-22.The interoperability of software is something which is going to become a big challenge. Because data obtained from the same planes of the US not compatible with each other. To get optimum result in from the sensor to shooter link, countries need to adopt systems which can find it easy to share data.

The sensor-to-shooter link enables the integration of sensor data with weapon systems. This means that soldiers can receive accurate and timely information about enemy targets and engage them with precision. This allows for proactive measures to be taken to counter enemy actions and mitigate risks before they have a chance to strike. It offers effective decision making and gives strategic advantages.

—The writer is Associate Research Officer, at CISS AJK working on emerging technologies, nuclear politics and new trends in warfare.


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Center for International Strategic Studies AJK, King Abdullah Campus Chatter kalas Muzaffarabad, Azad Jammu and Kashmir