The Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) could spend up to $725 million on new SIGINT aircraft between now and 2026.
Plans were approved by Republic of Korea’s Defence Project Promotion Committee (DPPC) on 26th June to acquire new Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) platforms for the ROKAF with a budget of $725 million.
The ROKAF uses two Dassault Falcon-2000S and four BAE Systems Hawker RC-800 SIGINT gathering aircraft. The Falcon-2000S jets were delivered in 2017. The RC-800 aircraft are slightly older, entering service in the early 2000s. DPPC plans call for four of the RC-800s to be replaced with the new SIGINT acquisition.
Both the Falcon-2000S and RC-800s are believed to gather Communications Intelligence (COMINT) and Electronic Intelligence (ELINT) at the operational, and possibly strategic, levels. To this end, they are thought to collect COMINT/ELINT across 500 megahertz to 40 gigahertz wavebands. This intelligence maybe analysed onboard by electronic warfare specialists and/or transmitted across air-to-ground datalinks.
It is reasonable to assume that the ROKAF may choose to procure at least four new aircraft to replace the same number of RC-800s. The force could spend up to $175 million on each aircraft with a residual $25 million covering training and other ancillary costs. Local reports state that the first new SIGINT aircraft could enter service in 2026.
The growing provision of private-sector signals intelligence gathering will take an important step forward with the launch of the UK’s IOD-3 AMBER CubeSat in 2020.
IOD-3 AMBER will be the first of a constellation of satellites providing a
global Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) footprint to enhance maritime security for
the British government. While the exact number of satellites that will
eventually be launched has not been revealed, it is expected to include less
than ten spacecraft.
satellites will possess both an L-band (1.3 gigahertz/GHz to 1.7GHz) and
Automatic Identification System (AIS: 161.975 megahertz/MHz to 162.025MHz) SIGINT
packages. This is derived from Horizon Technologies’ FlyingFish
COMINT-gathering system. FlyingFish routinely equips aircraft particularly
maritime surveillance, maritime patrol and signals intelligence-gathering
platforms. These furnish several NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation)
navies, coastguards and border protection agencies. The L-band equipment will
detect Satellite Communications (COMINT) from vessels across a waveband of one
gigahertz to two gigahertz. AIS is mandated by the International Maritime
Organisation for all vessels displacing in excess of 300 tonnes.
transponders equipping vessels transmit an array of regarding a vessel’s
voyage, identity and location. By correlating the AIS and the source of the
L-band SATCOM it becomes possible to cross reference both sets of transmissions
and match them to a vessel’s location. X-band (7.9-8.4GHz to 7.25GHz/7.75GHz)
downlink and S-band (two to four gigahertz) SATCOM COMINT receivers will also
be carried. Interestingly the concept of operations used for the constellation
does not require a number of satellites to receive transmissions and then
triangulate the position of a vessel, based upon signal’s time difference of
arrival at each satellite. Instead, the IOD-3 uses “a new proprietary
geolocation technology which does not include groups of satellites ‘flying in
formation’” to perform direction-finding, notes John Beckner, chief executive
officer of Horizon Technologies.
such technology needed? The high seas are home to criminal activities whether
that be narcotics or people smuggling, illegal fishing or environmental damage.
Sometimes such activities are betrayed by a vessel switching off its AIS
transponder, or altering its transmissions. This can have the effect of making
the vessel appear in a different location, or to be moving at speeds not routinely
associated with marine traffic. Should AIS transmissions be spotted from a
vessel that seems to be in two locations, the simultaneous collection of SATCOM
COMINT will indicate the likely real location of the ship: SATCOM transmissions
will not, for example, also be coming from the false position. The version of
the Flying Fish COMINT system equipping the satellite can also demodulate
L-band SATCOM transmissions. This means that users can directly listen to these
communications. This is important for gathering intelligence on what the
targeted vessel maybe doing. Secondly, AIS can be switched off by a vessel.
Should this happen and then SATCOM be initiated, this could reveal that the
vessel is engaged in suspect, or illegal activity. From a humanitarian perspective
monitoring L-band SATCOM can enable the user to instantly receive distress
calls and to immediately organise assistance given that the vessel’s location
can be determined through its SATCOM and AIS transmissions. For example,
satellite phones using the Thuraya (1.525GHz to 1.661GHz) network are routinely
used by people smugglers in the Mediterranean. The phones
are often the only means of communications with the outside world that boats
carrying refugees have. In this context, aircraft equipped with the Flying Fish
payload have helped saved numerous lives by intercepting distress calls from
these craft when they run into trouble.
IOD-3 Amber satellite will transmit its SIGINT to the Goonhilly teleport in
There, the data will be analysed using Horizon Technologies’ AMBER Ground
Exploitation System. The IOD-3 will be launched from the International Space
Station (ISS) in 2020. The satellite bus has been developed by AAC Clyde Space.
Several undisclosed UK government agencies will receive the SIGINT collected by
the satellites. The capability is being procured via a public-private
partnership: Horizon Technologies and AAC Clyde has joined forces with the UK’s
Satellite Applications Catapult technology incubator and Nanoracks which is
organising the launch from the ISS. Meanwhile, the British government is
funding the initiative and will be the customer for the intelligence.