JED - December 2009 - (Page 50)

Communications-Intelligence Systems By Glenn Goodman The global proliferation of commercial mobile wireless cellular communications devices readily available to irregular warfare insurgents has made the job of US military signals-intelligence (SIGINT) collection systems – particularly tactical airborne communicationsintelligence (COMINT) systems – much more demanding. Long gone are the days when COMINT systems only had to detect conventional “push-to-talk” VHF/UHF radio signals. Today, those systems must filter thousands of more complex digital signals rapidly across a wider frequency spectrum, using highly sophisticated and fully automated signal-processing hardware and software to intercept and locate the source of enemy voice and data communications. US military COMINT systems predominantly have been custom hardware-based, expensive to develop and proprietary. They have required long development times under the normal Defense Department acquisition process, while the technology in the communications systems rapidly evolved. This often meant that COMINT systems would fall behind the user’s operational requirements even before they became operational. As a result, many COMINT systems have been fielded initially on an accelerated schedule by the military services as a Quick-Reaction Capability (QRC) product – a stand-alone set of hardware answering an urgent operational need to address a specific new emitter or set of signals. Defense Department budget constraints, the need to respond faster in addressing emerging new signal types, and the size, weight and power (SWAP) limitations of signal-collection platforms are driving a move to more flexible software-dominant COMINT solutions. COMINT Software Applications Cost constraints have put a premium on the use of commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) hardware. As a result, the leading US COMINT software houses have developed architectures and software product lines that keep customized hardware to a minimum. Those architectures use many of the same COTS general-purpose digital receivers and signal processors built by a small set of US companies, such as DRS Signal Solutions (Gaithersburg, MD), Eclipse Electronic Systems (Richardson, TX), Boeing’s Digital Receiver Technology (Germantown, MD) and Cobham’s M/ACOM SIGINT Products business (Hunt Valley, MD). More importantly, the military services are moving away from proprietary SIGINT solutions that require adding dedicated hardware to detect each new type of threat signal and toward non-proprietary open-system hardware architectures. These can host different software applications to perform COMINT functions against specific threat signals of interest in particular frequency bands. The use of well-defi ned interface standards allows the software applications to be plugged into the hardware architectures, akin to hosting Microsoft Word or Adobe Acrobat on the Microsoft Windows XP operating system of a personal computer. As a result of the more dense signal environment and the growing types of threat signals that have to be detected and exploited, US tactical airborne COMINT systems today are always going to be SWAP-limited, Scott Francis, Group Director for Support to Military Operations at Zeta Associates (Fairfax, VA), told JED. “You can’t have rack after rack of hardware. We have to get away

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of JED - December 2009

JED - December 2009
Table of Contents
The View From Here
From the President
The Monitor
Washington Report
World Report
2010 EW/SIGINT Resource Guide
What’s New in SIGINT Software?
EW 101
AOC News
AOC Industry/Institute/University Members
Index of Advertisers
JED Sales Offices
JED Quick Look

JED - December 2009