Above Average Intelligence
Armada International Compendium |June - July 2017

The radio portion of the electromagnetic spectrum is becoming an increasingly crowded place, with civilian and military communications, and radar, all jostling for available bandwidth globally.

The radio spectrum spans a wave-band of three hertz to three tera-hertz. This may sound like a lot, but within that section of the electromagnetic spectrum military and civilian radar, amateur radio, civilian telecommunications, military telecommunications; television and radio broadcasting; professional telecommunications, radio control, and medical, scientific and industrial radio frequency users must all coexist. To make matters more complex, both the civilian and military use of the radio spectrum shows no sign of diminishing. As the introduction to this compendium noted; according to the statistica statistics website, the number of smartphone users globally will increase to 2.87 billion by 2020, from 2.32 billion today. Similarly, a report published in February 2016 entitled the Military Radar Market by Platform estimated an increased value of $13 billion in 2020 for that market, compared to $11 billion in 2015. While some of the future radar procurements represent the replacement of legacy systems in the land, sea and air domains, others will be purchases of new systems, thus potentially enlarging the numbers of military radars in service today. Similarly, the Strategy Analytics market research company estimated in April 2015 that the military communications market could be worth up to $35.3 billion by 2024. Ultimately, it seems almost inevitable that such increases will trigger a corresponding increase in the use of the radio spectrum, further crowding it and making the detection of signals of interest within this congested environment ever more important. Such considerations are arguably driving the acquisition of ELINT platforms and systems worldwide.


One area which has witnessed a recent growth in airborne ELINT acquisition is the Asia-Pacific. In November 2016 the Tentara Nasional Indonesia-Angkatan Udara (TNI-AU/Indonesian Air Force) announced that Leonardo’s SAGE-600 Electronic Support Measure (ESM) had entered service onboard the force’s five Airbus CN-235MPA maritime patrol aircraft. Open sources noted that this modification was performed by local contractor PT Dirgantara Indonesia in association with Integrated Surveillance and Defence; a US company. According to Leonardo, the overall SAGE ESM family covers a RF (Radio Frequency) detection range of between 0.5-40 Gigahertz (GHz). Dave Appleby, vice president of sales for electronic warfare at Leonardo’s airborne and space division, said that this product: “straddles the boundary between a traditional ESM and ELINT; it could be referred to as a ‘tactical ELINT’ system.”

The product’s bandwidth allows it to detect emissions from a wide range of radars, including naval surveillance radars, which typically operate in S-band (2.3-2.5/2.7-3.7GHz), C-band (5.255.925GHz) and X-band (8.5-10.68GHz). These bands are also routinely used by land-based coastal surveillance radars. The SAGE-600 also covers the upper end of the radar spectrum including Kuband (13.4-14/15.7-17.7GHz), K-band (24.05-24.25GHz) and Ka-band (33.436GHz). These latter three wavebands are particularly important as they cover RF signals frequently used by anti-ship missiles to locate and then home in on their targets. Alongside the Indonesian CN-235MPA aircraft, SAGE family ESMs are reportedly in service with the Republic of Korea Navy’s (ROKN) AgustaWestland AW-159 Wildcat naval support helicopters (eight examples have been ordered). It is interesting to note, according to Leonardo’s official literature, that the SAGE family can gather communications intelligence regarding signals in the Very High Frequency (30 megahertz/MHz to 300MHz) and Ultra High frequency (300MHz to three gigahertz) wavebands.

In tandem with its acquisition of the SAGE ESM, the Republic of Korea is thought to be satisfying its requirement to replace its existing ELINT gathering fleet, which is centred on four Hawker/Beechcraft 800SIG/RC-800 turbofan transports. These aircraftare expected to be replaced by two Dassault Falcon-2000 turbofan transports configured for the ELINT mission. These reportedly commenced flight testing in Texas in 2016, and are expected to enter service with the Republic of Korea Air Force this year. Very little information has been released publicly regarding the ELINT systems furnishing these aircraft although it is thought that such subsystems could be supplied by either SamsungThales or LIG Nex1.


Confusion surrounds the status of a putative ELINT aircraftprogramme announced by Ukraine and Saudi Arabia in November 2016. Contemporary news reports articulated that Saudi Arabia had planned to procure up to six Antonov AN132 turboprop freighters; two of which would be configured for ELINT tasks. Tellingly, no information was released regarding the possible specification of these aircraft, nor when they might be delivered to the Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF).

Nevertheless, during the International Defence Exhibition held in Abu Dhabi in late February, Ukraine’s state defence export company Ukroboronprom revealed to Armada that the exact specification of the ELINT aircraft had yet to be agreed by the RSAF and the Ukrainian company. Ukroboronprom sources were unable to provide any information as to when the configuration of the RSAF’s ELINT aircraft could be frozen, or when deliveries of these platforms would commence and conclude. For now, sources added, the initiative remains a ‘paper aeroplane’ with no indication as to when the design phase could commence.

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