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SIGINT in Afghanistan

Updated on July 11, 2010

In the bag of tricks that ELINT brings to the table is the ability to locate and exploit enemy broadcast and transmission sources. One SIGINT asset being used in theater these days is the Prophet system. One of its biggest strengths is that it is mobile either in a HMMWV or carried by personnel on foot. One Prophet acting alone can actually perform direction finding and acquire an azimuth (compass bearing) from which the enemy signal (radio etc…) is being emitted. Two of them working together from different locations can use intersection (of two azimuths9) to get a better idea of where the enemy is located, but three of them can perform a triangulation that is accurate to within 10 meters (Lawlor 2002). It’s also integrated with GPS so that it can perform “on-the-move” operations.

This might not matter much to those who aren’t tactically inclined, but to those who are on convoys, having someone intercept enemy radio transmissions about preparing an ambush or emplacing an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) around the next bend will save lives with the early warning. Furthermore, listening in on enemy transmissions will give tactical units an insight into the enemy strength & numbers as well as their intent and capabilities. Before entering a village for a cordon and search, Prophet systems can provide coverage from a concealed position for up to 72 hours (Lawlor 2002) before the assault element moves out. This will allow the triangulation of enemy communication assets and provide leads to or confirmation for HUMINT reporting. When the assault element enters the town, they’ll know where enemy communications are coming from and can hit a target, only the target, capture the people on site for interrogation and exploit the location for other intelligence or information of interest.

This helps to win the hearts and minds of the people which we’ve been trying and failing to do for a majority of the time in Afghanistan. Without needlessly barging into the homes of innocent bystanders or terrorizing non-combatants, we give them less reason to support the Taliban which in turn will help us provide stability and bring out troops home all the sooner.

Tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicles are also being outfitted with SIGINT (payloads) the intent is that they provide organic SIGINT, electronic warfare, measurement and signature intelligence, and ground surveillance support to tactical commanders. The benefit of having airborne resources is that they provide an over the hill perspective that can become problematic for line of site in Afghanistan’s mountainous terrain.

Combined with the other INTs, SIGINT can be a lynchpin in the tactical intelligence cycle.

Lawlor, Maryann. Signal Intelligence System Uncovers Enemy Sites. October 01, 2002. https://www.afcea.org/signal/articles/templates/SIGNAL_Article_Template.asp?articleid=324&zoneid=31 (accessed June 15, 2010).

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