Keepking Your Ears Open
Armada International Compendium |June - July 2017

The past twelve months has witnessed interesting activity in the Electronic Intelligence (ELINT) gathering domain, with the Syrian and Iraqi threatres, and the Baltic region, experiencing energetic activity in this regard.

Thomas Withington
On 25th April, two United States Air Force (USAF) Lockheed Martin F-35A Lighting-II fighters from the USAF’s 34th Fighter Squadron were deployed from Lakenheath airbase in eastern England, to Amari airbase in northern Estonia, arriving in Estonia at 1100 Zulu (Z). An official statement regarding the deployment released by the USAF stressed that it: “(had) been planned for some time (and had) no relation to current events.” Adding that the move: “(allowed) the F-35A to engage in familiarisation training within the European theatre while reassuring allies and partners of US dedication to the enduring peace and stability in the region.” The Baltic has been a tense place since the Russian government’s annexation of Crimea, formally part of Ukraine, on the Black Sea during Moscow’s intervention in the Ukrainian Civil War in March 2014.

Yet, the deployment of the F-35As was not the only event in late April which got plane-spotters’ tongues wagging, and fingers tapping, as illustrated by the quantity of online coverage of the event. The arrival of the F-35As in Estonia was punctuated by some interesting ELINT activity. A collection of plane-spotters listing to airband radio, and observing online air traffic information services, noticed that the F-35A deployment occurred simultaneously with flights by one USAF and one Royal Air Force (RAF) Boeing RC-135W Rivet Joint/Airseeker, and a single USAF RC-130U Combat Sent ELINT aircraft. Both these platforms are tasked with collecting, identifying, locating and analysing Radio Frequency (RF) emissions. According to open sources, the RC-135W is primarily focused on collecting communications intelligence, while the RC-130U is principally concerned with ELINT collection vis-à-vis radar transmissions. All three aircraft performed ‘racetrack’ orbits; the two RC-135W aircraft north-west of Russia’s Kaliningrad enclave to the northeast of Poland, while the RC- 135U flew over Estonia itself, close to the Estonian-Russian border. The F-35As completed their deployment at 1443Z and subsequently returned to the UK, the RC-135U/W jets leaving the area shortly afterwards.

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