Electronic Weapons: UAVs Go Listening

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April 30,
2008:
The U.S. Air Force is equipping some Predator (MQ-1) and Reaper (MQ-9)
UAVs with signals intelligence (or SIGINT) sensor (electronic eavesdropping)
capabilities. The ASIP-1C (Airborne Signals Intelligence Payload 1C) will go on
the Predator, while the ASIP-2C will go
on the larger Reaper. Both will use technology already used by signals
intelligence equipment that equips the U-2 (a manned recon aircraft) and Global
Hawk (the largest UAV in service). The MQ-1 only can carry (and supply power
to) about 200 pounds worth of signals intelligence electronics. The Reaper can
handle over 500 pounds worth. The more electronic monitoring gear a UAV can
carry, the more frequencies it can monitor. A UAV has an advantage in that it
can spend a lot of time in the air, providing "persistence," which is very
valuable for electronic eavesdropping. You never know when the bad guys will
turn on their cell phone, walkie-talkie or satellite phone. When they do, you
want to be there to capture the conversation. Currently, such monitoring is
largely done by a small number of U.S. Air Force (RC-135) and Navy (EP-3)
aircraft. The U.S. Army also mounts SIGINT equipment on some helicopters. The
new SIGINT gear for the UAVs will be ready for service in two years.

 


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