Tactical SIGINT Restructured: Beyond the GBCS and AQF

by David Messner and  Lieutenant Colonel Patricia J. Bushway

The technology revolution of the past decade has changed the global signals environment. Advances in electronics, computing and telecommunications have limited or negated some current, tactical signals intelligence (SIGINT) capabilities to access, collect, process, and exploit signals of interest. This revolution, coupled with dramatic changes in the future battlefield, dictates some significant changes in our tactical SIGINT systems as well. An extended, multidimensional battlespace; nonlinear, distributed, and simultaneous oper- ations; increased operations tempo (OPTEMPO); and information operations (IO) characterize this future battlefield.

The current solution to address this new environment is the Intelli- gence and Electronic Warfare Common Sensor (IEWCS) pro- gram, comprising the Ground- Based Common Sensor (GBCS) and Advanced QUICKFIX (AQF). However, repeated technological problems and outdated requirements are causing the intelligence community to reevaluate the mission of tactical SIGINT in the future and seek alternative solutions that will accomplish that mission in the most efficient and effective manner.

Reevaluating Tactical  SIGINT

The process of reevaluation began last July and August with a Devel- opmental Test/Operational Test (DT/OT) of the GBCS-Light (GBCS-L) platform conducted by the Operational Test and Evaluation Command (OPTEC). The test involved use of the AQF with the GBCS-L and soldiers from the 313th MI Battalion, 82d Airborne Division. The purpose of the test, completed at the OPTEC Test and Experimentation Command (TEXCOM), Fort Huachuca, Arizona, was to:

Simultaneously, the combat developers at the U.S. Army Intelligence Center and Fort Huachuca reevaluated the requirements for tactical SIGINT and electronic warfare at the division level, and considered the alternatives for providing that capability. That process included:

Recognizing that the requirement for SIGINT at the tactical level is an enduring one, the challenge facing the combat and materiel developers as they design and develop the next generation of tactical SIGINT systems revolves around two primary issues. We must provide a timely, accurate, and appropriate picture of the electronic battlefield to division and brigade commanders. We will develop a system that addresses the communications means of the current battlefield, and build into that system the growth capacity that will allow expansion with technology to meet future threats. The solution to these issues must leverage exist- ing capabilities and incorporate emerging technologies. Most importantly, the system must provide those SIGINT elements identified as essential by tactical commanders and G2s.

This process of determining the necessary SIGINT capabilities at the tactical level is a complicated one that requires input from the soldiers on the ground up to the brigade and division commanders they support. The combat developers must translate the information requirements of those supported commanders into the essential capabilities. This raises issues such as the level of detail needed, weighed against the time and effort required to produce that level of detail, and the degree of exploitation at various levels. For example, is an electronic template that provides basic order of battle information adequate for the fast-pace OPTEMPO of a maneuver brigade on the offensive, or will we need more detail to support the targeting process? Does the extra time needed to provide additional detail negate the value added of having that information? The answers to these questions will have a significant impact on the development of the future tactical SIGINT system and the associated force structure.

A Projected Solution

We must retain a SIGINT capability at the tactical level. The developmental efforts to date on the GBCS and AQF have laid the foundation for future work.

The combat developers will leverage the lessons learned and technological achievements in the migration to the follow-on system, Prophet. Additionally, Prophet will take full advantage of the innovative methods to accomplish the tactical SIGINT mission developed by U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOM), U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Command (CECOM), and the National Security Agency (NSA). This collaborative effort will address the current threat, and build in the growth potential that will provide the capability to meet future threats. To produce a system that will meet the requirements, it is necessary now to focus the tactical SIGINT program on research and development (R&D). In addition, we must carefully and methodically evaluate the suitability of existing technology and identify the gaps that we can only fill through further development and emerging technologies. Upon completion of this period of focused R&D, the Prophet system, comprising a control element, and ground and air sensor platforms, will proceed to full-rate production and fielding will begin in fiscal year 2003.

David Messner is a Systems Engineer and Technical Consultant for the Program Executive Officer IEW, and has provided engineering expertise to PM Firefinder, PM REMBASS, PM Combat Identification, and PM Signals Warfare. Mr. Messner served in the United States Air Force as a pilot for the Military Airlift Command.

Lieutenant Colonel Pat Bushway is the budget officer for the Department of the Army Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations and Plans, Directorate of Intelligence Electronic Warfare and Command and Control. She has served in a variety of command and staff positions in the 3d Infantry Division (ID), 24th ID, I Corps, and U.S. Forces Korea.  Readers can contact her via E-mail at and by telephone at (703) 695-6259 or DSN 225-6259.