JED - June 2011 - (Page 30)

As the world gets more dangerous, the international demand of SIGINT capabilities continues to expand 30 The Journal of Electronic Defense | June 2011 Elec ctron When considering the state of current airborne signals intelligence (SIGINT), as good a starting point as any is context. When this writer was a bright-eyed neophyte in the late 1970s, airborne SIGINT was probably the blackest of the black arts. The inextricable link between SIGINT and the Cold War and its place in national intelligence gathering meant that it was not a subject for open discussion other than in the context of tabloid-style “spy plane” stories. Again, the target set was essentially formalized (with air defense networks being high on the list) and the levels of classification were such as to preclude wide dissemination. That this was beginning to be seen as a major stumbling block had been demonstrated by the conflict in Southeast Asia, where vital information had been withheld from the war fighters because of compartmentalization and who was and who was not in the loop. Just as important was the level of available technology, with a typical high-end SIGINT platform taking the form of a bespoke, hardwired system that was pr imar ily a nalog, maintenance heavy and frequently manual in operation. Again, the hardware was big and heavy, while the target set was largely made-up of fixed frequency emitters that, in the radar context, relied on mechanical scanning. Techniques such as frequency agility, digitization and electronic scanning (both passive and active) were at best in their early stages of development and perhaps more importantly, the military targets being looked at were essentially conventional in terms of structure and implementation. Looking specifically at communications, conventional radio links predominated with satellite communications and (particularly) cellular telephone technology either just beginning to appear or still being but a gleam in a designer’s eye. Come up to date, and the SIGINT world has been turned upside down. On the operational side, the Cold War verities have been swept away to be replaced by both conventional and asymmetric threats, with the latter making use of non-conventional communications and command and control tools such as cell and satellite phones. Perhaps more importantly, the threat has in part moved off the bat- tlefield and into towns and cities where a new generation of well educated and equipped activists are prepared to die for a cause and to use mass killing as a means to an end. In the fight against homeland terrorism, communications intercept has become both a vital tool and one that sometimes sits uncomfortably alongside the traditional civil liberties that the western world cherishes. On the technology front, advances in digitization, miniaturization, reliability (solid-state and the like) and processing have all come together to create much more flexible SIGINT architectures that facilitate plug and play, virtually on the fly updating and which increasingly feature data hand-off capabilities in realor close to real-time. Real-time data hand-off (combined with a more open approach to who sees what) is probably the real game changer and one that is absolutely vital in meeting today’s battlefield and homeland security needs. Elsewhere in the described mix, current satellite link and processing technology together with miniaturization and improved reliability have opened the door to unmanned aircraft system (UAS) SIGINT platforms

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of JED - June 2011

JED - June 2011
The View From Here
Conferences Calendar
Courses Calendar
From the President
The Monitor
Washington Report
World Report
The World’s SIGINT Aircraf
Upgrading Fighter Aircraft
Country Profi le: France’s EW Programs
Technology Survey: Airborne Dispensers and IR Expendables
EW 101
2011 AOC Election Guide
AOC Membership Page
Index of Advertisers
JED Quick Look

JED - June 2011