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What’s SIGINT and How is it Used

Intelligence-driven decision-making is at the heart of every day operations and strategic planning for contemporary militaries and intelligence businesses, and Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) is a big part of what makes it possible. At the moment we’ll focus on how SIGINT works and why it is so essential, particularly as it applies to Electronic Warfare applications.

SIGINT Defined

SIGINT is the interception of signals for the purpose of gathering intelligence. It’s divided into three sub-disciplines:

Communications Intelligence (COMINT) which is the interception of communication between individuals and teams

Digital Intelligence (ELINT) which is the intercepting of electronic signals which are usually not specifically used for communication

International Instrumentation Signals Intelligence (FISINT), which is the collection of signals created by the testing and use of international weapons systems.

The origins of SIGINT could be traced back to the first world war when British forces started intercepting German radio communications to gain intelligence about their plans. This led to using cryptography to hide the content of radio transmissions, and as such, cryptanalysis grew to become an integral part of SIGINT as well.

As technology has advanced, so has the field of SIGINT. Right this moment, the US military gathers signals intelligence by way of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) like the Global Hawk and Reaper drones, which are geared up with powerful infrared sensors and cameras, as well as Light and Imaging Detection (LIDAR) and artificial aperture RADAR systems to assemble and transmit back valuable raw intelligence from the operational surroundings for analysis.

One downside of UAVs is that they fly slower and at lower altitudes than manned plane, leaving them more vulnerable to anti-aircraft measures. One solution is the EA-18G Growler. This plane is an updated version of the F/A-18F Super Hornet, which has been repurposed from a pure combat plane to an advanced, supersonic ISR platform. It may possibly fly a lot faster and higher than a drone and is equipped with sensors that may detect enemy RADAR and even cell phone signals.

Another more down-to-earth instance of contemporary SIGINT capabilities can be interception of digital communications data by the NSA, which can provide actionable intelligence in real-time by capturing data like emails, texts, phone calls and more.

When raw SIGINT is captured, it should then be translated, interpreted or represented, because the case may be, into info which can then be analyzed and used for determination-making.

How Does SIGINT apply to Electronic Warfare?

The time period Electronic Warfare (EW) applies to military motion involving using the electromagnetic spectrum. The goal of EW is to maximize the ability of friendly forces to access and exploit the spectrum while disrupting and denying the enemy’s ability to do the same. It additionally encompasses the usage of technology to defend towards attacks on spectral capabilities and the usage of offensive directed energy weapons. Examples of EW embrace radar jamming, communication jamming, and digital masking, as well as countermeasures in opposition to such techniques.

As with SIGINT, EW could be divided into three sub-disciplines. These include:

Electronic Attack (EA), which contains offensive use of directed energy against the enemy

Digital Protection (EP), which is defensive, like the Digital Warfare Self-Protection (EWSP) suite built into fighter jets

Digital Warfare Assist (ES), the follow of locating and figuring out the sources of electromagnetic energy signals for the purpose of supporting decision-making

It’s in this third class of ES that we see the overlap of electronic warfare and SIGINT because the systems and equipment used for ES can concurrently accumulate intelligence. While ES is more centered on rapid threats in the operational surroundings, much of the data obtained can be utilized to reinforce raw signals intelligence and SIGINT decision-making.

ES can detect the supply of an electromagnetic signal, the type of equipment generating that signal, and related data like frequency, modulation, etc. For example, ES personnel can detect an unknown radar signal emanating from somewhere in the battlespace. They’ll analyze the signal and decide the type of radar that is getting used, and examine their findings with countries known to make use of this type of radar, and what vehicles, ships, plane, etc. it is typically used with. They can then ascertain the character of the radar supply, and make clever predictions on what the unknown actor’s intentions are.

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