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Signals intelligence collection, space-based

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The US launched the first signals intelligence (SIGINT) satellites, followed by the Soviets. Recently, however, the French have been launching intelligence satellites, on French and Russian rockets, and are exchanging information with the Germans and Italians, both of which are deploying synthetic aperture radar MASINT constellations, with an undefined IMINT or electro-optical MASINT capability on the Italian satellites.

The great advantage of space-based SIGINT is that it can pass over otherwise denied national areas, but the systems are costly and need sophisticated support. France has pioneered techniques of "constellations" of linked small satellites, which lowers the cost from the exorbitant to the merely extremely expensive.

Additional nations have launched IMINT satellites; SIGINT seems to be a lesser priority, with radar MASINT often a higher priority. There are a number of bilateral agreements for satellite cost and intelligence sharing.

European Military Space Policy

European nations deal with a complex set of issues in developing space-based intelligence systems. Many of the operational and proposed systems have bilateral information sharing agreements, such as France providing ELINT to its radar MASINT SAR and its IMINT partners. SIGINT capability, however, is fairly rare, with France in the Western European lead.

Quite a number of issues are driving European needs for intelligence policy. During the 1991 Gulf War, France's dependence on US assets convince it that it needed its own, or at least European, space-based intelligence. Balkan operations and both dependence on US assets, and exclusion from certain information, further pushed the desire, although the topmost levels of government had not yet been convinced.

In 1998, a British-French meeting in St. Malo, France, produced a declaration that the EU needed "a capacity for analysis of situations, sources of intelligence, and a capability for relevant strategic planning (emphasis added). This was a major change in British policy toward the EU, in that Britain had wanted the EU to stay out of defense issues, leaving them to NATO. At a 1999 meeting in Cologne, Germany, while Kosovo was being bombed by NATO, the EU leadership repeated the St. Malo declaration, including having EU military forces not dependent on NATO. They also called for " the reinforcement of our capabilities in the field of intelligence/"

WEU/EU Military Force

At a Helsinki meeting in December 1999 and a followup meeting in Sintra, Portugal on February 2000, there was agreement on a 15 brigade multinational corps with air and naval support, ready by 2003. European defense policy called for three new bodies that would need intelligence support: a Political and Security Committee composed of ambassadors with an advisory role to the EU Council of Ministers, a Military Committee of senior officers, and a Multinational Planning Staff. There was additional consensus on merging the WEU into the EU

WEU has concentrated on IMINT, which is increasingly less sensitive than other intelligence disciplines due to the availability of commercial imagery. The WEY headquarters does have an Intelligence Section that produces finished intelligene for the member states, within the capabilities of a staff of six.

European Union Satellite Center

In May 1991, however, the WEU ministers agreed to create the European Union Satellite Center in Torrejón de Ardoz, which became a permanent center in May 1995. The Center neither owns nor operates any satellites, but buys and analyzes commercial imagery. This is not wildly dissimilar to the way the US has the National Reconnaissance Office to launch and operate satellites, with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) analyzing the imagery. It should be stressed that the Torrejon center deals only with IMINT and possibly SAR and multispectral MASINT. It does not receive information directly from satellites, but from their operators.

The center contributed to planning with reference to situations in the Balkans and Africa in the mid-1990s. Up to May 13, 1997, the Center was only allowed to study an area after the WEU council agreed that an area was in crisis. After that date, they received a "general surveillance mission" and permission to build databases.

Bosnian operations continued to point out dependency on the US for C4I. The balance between building European capability without duplicating NATO remained an issueGerman SIGINT units that were part of the French-led Multinational Division (MND) in Bosnia provided intelligence to the division-level French headquarters.

Sharing the more sensitive disciplines

The biggest problem in joint intelligence is sharing, especially the now more-sensitive SIGINT, HUMINT, and MASINT. The next largest is damage to bilateral relationships, especially with the US. Not all EU nations have the traditional French priority for autonomy. It is not clear how far other European nations, especially the six that are in the NATO but not the EU, are willing to cooperate. Turkey suggested that if it cannot be involved in EU policy, it might work to block EU access to NATO. Norway also expressed concern over the St. Malo declaration, and in February 2000, British officials spoke about a proposal that the EUtake on collective defense, that still being a NATO responsibility[1].

European Space Council and current concerns

In 2004, the European Space Council was formed, although it is still struggling with dual-use issues, and the relationships with NATO and US policy. Complicating matters is that the European Space Agency (ESA) is restricted to civilian applications.

Should Europe proceed on its security objective, a policy needs to be defined that will not jeopardize the peaceful application [2]. This needs to happen without creating a false firewall with military activities, as the US created NASA as an ostensibly civilian-only organization, deliberately picking a civilian, Neil Armstrong to put the first footprint on the Moon.

China's anti-satellite (ASAT) test in 2007 concerned ESA, as debris from the test has produced numerous near-misses of other satellites. ESA also suggested it might work on a data relay satellite such as TDRSS, which is dual-use. Some of its present communications projects are dual use.

Next Generation

A pointer to the direction is whether there will be consensus on a next-generation European system of IMINT and radar MASINT satellites. A proposal in process is to generate the Multinational Space-based Imagery System for Surveillance, Reconnaissance, and Observation (MUSIS). The participants are Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Italy and Spain. EADS Astrium and Thales Alenia Space are competing, under the direction of the French defense procurement agency, DGA. This system could be operational somewhere around 2015-2017, around the time that the French Helios and joint French-Italian Pleiades IMINT satellites need replacement. The German SAR Lupe and Italian CosmoSkyMed radar satellites will last up to 2017 or 2018.[3]

Belgium: Satellite Platforms

Belgium is a financial partner in the French Helios 2 IMINT satellite system. French Essaim ELINT satellites were launched with Helios 2A. It has not been announced if Spain, as a Helios 2 partner, will have access to French Essaim ELINT.

Belgium is a MUSIS partner, which should be considered in assessing the potential of information sharing among the partners.[3]

France: Satellite Platforms

John Pike states the Socialist government, elected in May 1981 and led President François Mitterand were unknown at the time of his election in May 1981 marked the attempt to put SDECE under civilian control[4]. In June 1981, Stone Marion, a civilian who was the former Director of the Paris Airport, was named to the head of the SDECE but met with opposition, as a socialist and civilian, from inside SDECE.

France and Britain had both been facing both the desirability and cost of intelligence satellites independent of the US. In the mid-1980s, with the development of the Ariane launcher and its associated large launch complex in French Guiana, the French liked the idea of such independence. Planning started on French IMINT satellites called Helios, a radar imaging satellite called Osirus and then Horus, and a SIGINT satellite to be called Zenon when operational. France would launch technology demonstrators before a fully operational SIGINT satellite. France began its intelligence satellite program with Helios IMINT satellites, although they also planned on Horus (first called Osiris) radar MASINT and Zenon ELINT platforms.

France, still desiring to have three different space-based intelligence systems (IMINT, radar surveillance, SIGINT), had to face extremely high costs. In 1994-1995, French legislators tried to reduce some of these plans. In response, the French government sought Italian and Spanish funding in, and cooperation with, the HELIOS 1 program. They also sought German involvement in Helios 2.

Two first-generation Helios satellites, with 1-meter optical imaging resolution and no infrared capability, were launched in 1995 and 1999. Helios 1 was an Italian-Spanish. Helios 2 is a French–Belgian–Spanish partnership.

On 18 December 2004,[5] Helios 2A, built by EADS-Astrium for the French Space Agency (CNES), was launched into a Sun-synchronous polar orbit at an altitude of about 680 kilometers. There it will serve the French defense ministry, as well as cooperating European countries. Helios 2B is scheduled for launch in 2008.

The same launcher carried French and Spanish scientific satellites and four Essaim ("Swarm") experimental ELINT satellites[6].

Sources in the French procurement agency, DGA, confirmed Essaim, a system of ground station and satellite constellation, is working well. [7].

DGA, the French military procurement agency, announced that the constellation of four Essaim ELINT satellites launched with Helios 2A on 18 December 2004 would begin operations in May 2005. Essaims operate in a linked system of three active satellites with an in-orbit spare. There is one active earth station, with two due to follow.

Essaim is a third-generation technology demonstrator with some operational capability. A radio propagation experiment, S80-T, was launched in 1992, as a predecessor of the ELINT experiments. The first generation was Cerise, launched in 1995 and damaged in 1996 by a collision with the French SPOT-1 earth resource observing satellite. Clementine, the second generation, was launched in 1999.

Some French defense officials have criticized the DGA for insisting on a third in-orbit demonstrator program after a decade of initial validation with the previous satellites. DGA officials note that Essaim has greater capacity than its predecessors and will provide some operational data. They say Essaim is designed to maintain French expertise long enough to persuade other European governments to join in an operational eavesdropping effort, which France alone cannot afford.[7]

In a Ministère de la Défense 12/18/2004 statement, France announced [8] that Helios 2A is part of an exchange program planned with the SAR-Lupe and Italian COSMO-SKYMED systems, under development respectively in Germany and Italy.

France is also developing the new generation PLEIADES two-satellite optical dual-use (military-civilian) system. PLEIADES is intended to succeed France's SPOT system is considered part of the Franco-Italian ORFEO (Optical and Radar Federated Earth Observation) programme, being due for launch around 2008-10.[2] France is a MUSIS partner, which should be considered in assessing the potential of information sharing among the partners.[3]

Germany: Satellite Platforms

Germany's SAR Lupe is a constellation of five X-band SAR satellites in three polar orbits.[2] Following the first successful launch on December 19, 2006, Germany, using a Russian booster, launched the second satellite in its planned five-satellite SAR-Lupe synthetic aperture radar constellation on [9]. The second SAR Lupe satellite, was launched on July 2, and the third on November 1. Two more will follow in 2008. [3]

SAR is usually considered a MASINT sensor, but the significance here is that Germany obtains access to French satellite ELINT.

Germany is a MUSIS partner, which should be considered in assessing the potential of information sharing among the partners.[3]

Greece: Satellite Platforms

Greece is a MUSIS partner, which should be considered in assessing the potential of information sharing among the partners.[3]

Italy: Satellite Platforms

The first CosmoSkyMed (Constellation of small Satellites for Mediterranean basin Observation) went into orbit in June 2007. The second should be launched in late 2007, and the remaining two in 2008-9. According to a Thales executive, Giorgio Piemontese, a follow on needs to be planned soon to avoid a gap. [3]

Italy and France are cooperating on the deployment of the dual-use Orfeo civilian and military satellite system[10].

Orfeo is a dual-use (civilian and military) earth observation satellite network developed jointly between France and Italy. Italy is developing the Cosmo-Skymed X-band polarimetric SAR, to fly on two of the satellites. The other two will have complementary French electro-optical payloads. The second Orfeo is scheduled to launch in early 2008.

While this is not an explicit SIGINT system, the French-Italian cooperation may suggest that Italy can get data from the French Essaim ELINT microsatellites.

Italy plains joint development, with France, of the ORFEO (Optical and Radar Federated Earth Observation) system, to be launched in 2008-10.[2] Italy is a MUSIS partner, which should be considered in assessing the potential of information sharing among the partners.[3]

Russia: Satellite Platforms

The USSR appears to have emphasized ELINT more than COMINT in their space-based SIGINT program. [11]. After proof-of-concept of an ELINT payload on the first-generation IMINT satellites, the Tselina program was started in 1964, and the first successful launch of the simpler, lower-sensitivity Tselina O was in 1967. The more complex Tselina D first flew in 1970, a more complex Tselina D spacecraft started flying. Both versions flew until 1984, when the Tselina D was set up in a constellation of 6 satellites.

Both Tselina O and D versions were flying side by side until 1984, when Tselina O subsystem was abandoned and its functions integrated into those conducted by the Tselina D spacecraft. As the Western observers noted, the Tselina D spacecraft, known in the West as the "heavy ELINT," would orbit the Earth in groups of six satellites spread 60 degrees apart in their orbits.

Requirements for the Tselina-2 series were issued in 1974, with a first test launch scheduled for 1980 and full operational capability in 1982. Requirements grew until the Tselina-2 was too heavy for the Tsyklon-3 booster, and the program was switched to the Zenit booster in development. With the capacity of the Zenit, additional capabilities were added, including telemetry through relay satellites.

On April 27, 1979, the Military Industrial Commission, VPK, officially approved the Zenit as a launcher for the Tselina-2 satellite. The VPK scheduled the beginning of flight tests for the 2nd quarter of 1981. The first Tselina-2 blasted off in September 1984 under official name Cosmos 1603 and declared operational in 1988.

Tselina-2 system was declared operational in December 1988, which was confirmed by a government decree issued in December 1990. The most recent launch was on June 29, 2007, named Cosmos-2428. It is believed that was the last Tselina-2, with a next generation coming.[11], the Tselina-2 is intended for land targets, while the US-PU EORSAT is intended for naval ELINT. According to Pavel Podvig, EORSAT is passive, not to be confused with the nuclear-powered radar ocean surveillance satellites (RORSAT), no longer operational. [12] A full constellation of US-PU includes 3-4 spacecraft in LEO of 400 km, but not more than one has been in orbit since 2004, along with two Tselina-2's. Podvig also believes a new generation of ELINT satellites, possibly combining the land and sea missions, may be in development.

Spain: Satellite Platforms

Spain is a financial partner in the French Helios 2 IMINT satellite system. Spain plans a dual-use optical and radar system. Due to the arrangement between France and Germany to exchange Helios 2 and SAR Lupe imagery, excluding the non-French partners in Helios.[3] It has not been announced if Spain, as a Helios 2 partner, will have access to French Essaim ELINT. Spain is a MUSIS partner, which should be considered in assessing the potential of information sharing among the partners. [3]

United States: Satellite Platforms

The first US SIGINT satellites, Galactic Radiation and Background (GRAB) were launched in 1960 by the Naval Research Laboratory, but the existence of the program was highly classified. The name of the program was changed to Poppy (satellite) after the National Reconnaissance Office was created in 1962.

While there had been considerable resistance, in the 1970s, to admitting to "the fact of" satellite IMINT[13], there was considerably more sensitivity to admitting even to "the fact of" US satellite SIGINT [14]. The US decided to admit to using satellites for SIGINT and MASINT in 1996. [15].

US SIGINT satellites have included the CANYON series Rhyolite/Aquacade series, succeeded by the Vortex/Magnum/Orion and Mentor. Where the preceding satellites were in close to geosynchronous orbit, JUMPSEAT/TRUMPET satellites were in Moliyna orbits giving better polar coverage. [16] From 1972 to 1989, low earth orbit SIGINT satellites were launched only as secondary payloads with KH-9 and KH-11 IMINT satellites. They were code-named after female sex symbols, such as RAQUEL, FARRAH, BRIDGET and MARILYN.

Four geosychronous RHYOLITE satellites were launched in the seventies, with COMINT and TELINT missions. After having the name compromised when Christopher Boyce sold information to the Soviets, the code name was changed to AQUACADE.

In the late seventies, another class of geosynchronous SIGINT satellites, first called CHALET and renamed VORTEX after the code name was compromised. After the loss of Iranian monitoring stations, these satellites were also given a TELINT capability.

JUMPSEAT ELINT satellites, using a Moliyna orbit, started launching in 1975.

MAGNUM geosynchronous SIGINT satellites were first launched from the Space Shuttle in 1985. These were believed to be more sensitive and perhaps stealthier than RHYOLITE/AQUACADE.[17]


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  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 3.8 3.9 Wall, Robert (September 24, 2007), "France Steps up European Milspace Push", Aviation Week & Space Technology, Wall 2007. Retrieved on 2007-10-20
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  15. The White House (September 19, 1996). National Space Policy.
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  17. Richelson, Jeffrey T. (1989), Chapter 8: Signals Intelligence, The U.S. Intelligence Community, Ballinger