JED - August 2014 - 28

Back to the Future

By John Haystead

The Journal of Electronic Defense | August 2014


For reasons not completely clear, in
recent years a perception developed
within the SIGINT industry - as well as
in some circles of the military and intelligence communities - that with the
emergence of cellular phones, satellite
links and other newer forms of communication, the use of the High Frequency
(HF) portion of the spectrum and HF
communication systems, in general,
were becoming substantially less important, even "dead," as a significant
signals intelligence (SIGINT) environment. The reality, however, is that just
the opposite is true, and a number of
voices in industry and the military are
beginning to call attention to this fact
and the dangers posed by not paying
adequate attention to this part of the
spectrum. For example, James Kilgallen,
President of COMINT Consulting (Bozeman, MT), points out that "The telecom
industry apparently didn't get the memo
that things had slowed down in HF, so
they didn't. The major manufacturers
and even some of the smaller creative
manufacturers have continued their development and also spent a lot of R&D
money in HF."
Rather than HF going away, Kilgallen says that what actually happened is
that the SIGINT community just largely
decided to look away, focusing on other
parts of the spectrum instead. "But,
people always have a need to communicate and there are a lot of places in
the world without the communication
infrastructure of a Public Switched
Telephone Network (PSTN) or whatever."
In fact, there are many reasons why HF
has remained uniquely viable, such as
the demands of rugged terrain, longdistances, mobility, etc
The notion of HF going away may
have started in the '90s with the breakup
of the Soviet Union, the then principal

threat to the West and a heavy user of
HF. Russia, today, however is still a major user of HF, as are the military forces
of other large nations. Says Kilgallen,
"Both militaries and militants are using
the technology, and there isn't a modern military in the world that isn't an
extremely heavy user of HF with users
depending on HF as a crucial element of
their battlefield and fleet-level HF networks. Today, the problem is that, when
we looked away, we lost track of things,
and we're now in a position of playing
catch-up." Worse still, Kilgallen says
that many SIGINT companies haven't yet
realized just how far we've fallen behind
and so continue to lose ground.

Many advances in communication
technology that have emerged and been
implemented in systems using other
parts of the RF spectrum are also taking
firm hold in the HF universe. Although
the majority of commercial technology
development activity has been in the
higher, UHF, VHF and SHF frequency
ranges - primarily because of the greater availability of bandwidth requiring
less precise modem technology and the
availability of a greater variety of commercially available protocols - there has
also been a tremendous amount of technology development in HF as well. Today
there are not only stealthier forms of HF
transmissions including burst, spread
spectrum and frequency-hopped waveforms (especially by special ops forces),
but advanced HF technology is being
used by regular military forces as well.
On the data-exchange side, the technology has also advanced tremendously.
For example, Kilgallen says, "Just think
about the processing power in our cell
phones, and you can imagine what purpose-built chips can do. And now there

are also batteries available for HF that
give satellite communications a run for
their money and can be just as reliable."
Victor Wollesen, Founder of Per
Vices Corporation (Toronto, ON, Canada), agrees, observing that, setting
aside unique military frequency range
requirements, the demands of civil
telecommunications technology are
generally far more stringent than those
for defense. "Your cell phone, for example, with 3G or 4G LTE requires 25
MHz of very complex (both frequency
and time domain) protocols in order to
allow the rather simple experience of
downloading an application or checking the Internet while walking down
the street. Those kinds of capabilities
far exceed those of traditional military
requirements, which generally focus
on cryptographic strength, which is its
own box of worms and places its own
demands on hardware, but that is very
different than the actual radio receiver
front-end demands."
Per Vices is pursuing a business and
technology approach aimed at applying the hardware/application-software
development paradigm used with personal computers and other personal
communication devices to the broader
radio receiver universe. Says Wollesen,
"You'd never think of buying a different computer for every application
you run, but when it comes to wireless
hardware, that's often exactly what you
see - dedicated hardware for a dedicated purpose."
While Wollesen agrees that, in some
cases, there are very good reasons for
this approach, especially for very tightly integrated systems, at the same time,
he also points out that there are also
very good reasons to decouple these two
design aspects, "to achieve to the best
of your ability, a generic radio receiver


JED - August 2014

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of JED - August 2014

The View From Here
Conferences Calendar
Courses Calendar
From the President
The Monitor
Washington Report
World Report
Back to the Future With HF SIGIHT
HF SIGIHT Battles the Ionosphere
Technology Survey: Solid-State Power Amplifiers
Book Reviews
EW 101
Index of Advertisers
JED Quick Look
JED - August 2014 - cover1
JED - August 2014 - cover2
JED - August 2014 - 3
JED - August 2014 - 4
JED - August 2014 - 5
JED - August 2014 - The View From Here
JED - August 2014 - 7
JED - August 2014 - Conferences Calendar
JED - August 2014 - 9
JED - August 2014 - Courses Calendar
JED - August 2014 - 11
JED - August 2014 - From the President
JED - August 2014 - 13
JED - August 2014 - Letters
JED - August 2014 - The Monitor
JED - August 2014 - 16
JED - August 2014 - 17
JED - August 2014 - 18
JED - August 2014 - 19
JED - August 2014 - 20
JED - August 2014 - 21
JED - August 2014 - Washington Report
JED - August 2014 - 23
JED - August 2014 - World Report
JED - August 2014 - 25
JED - August 2014 - 26
JED - August 2014 - 27
JED - August 2014 - Back to the Future With HF SIGIHT
JED - August 2014 - 29
JED - August 2014 - 30
JED - August 2014 - 31
JED - August 2014 - HF SIGIHT Battles the Ionosphere
JED - August 2014 - 33
JED - August 2014 - 34
JED - August 2014 - 35
JED - August 2014 - 36
JED - August 2014 - Technology Survey: Solid-State Power Amplifiers
JED - August 2014 - 38
JED - August 2014 - 39
JED - August 2014 - 40
JED - August 2014 - 41
JED - August 2014 - 42
JED - August 2014 - 43
JED - August 2014 - 44
JED - August 2014 - Book Reviews
JED - August 2014 - EW 101
JED - August 2014 - 47
JED - August 2014 - 48
JED - August 2014 - Index of Advertisers
JED - August 2014 - JED Quick Look
JED - August 2014 - cover3
JED - August 2014 - cover4