Many TELINT signal collection and telemetry signal processing systems were built and deployed during the 1960s by NSA or sponsored by NSA. A ring of sophisticated TELINT systems was developed and deployed to gather information on the missile development and space activities of the Soviet Union.

At the same time, the DoD military departments modified various aircraft and ships to be able to collect missile telemetry. It was often necessary to position and use these telemetry collection platforms during many types of Soviet missile tests.

One of the major technical and managerial problems that made collection of Soviet missile and space technical data difficult was how to alert all intelligence sensors of impending missile test events. In 1964, to better orchestrate the various U.S.-sponsored intelligence collection sensor systems, DoD formed the Defense Special Missile and Astronautics Center (DEF/SMAC), a joint NSA and Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) center. DEF/SMAC served at the forefront of U.S. missile and space intelligence and defense. The center coordinated the collection of intelligence information on foreign missiles and satellites from the ground, sea, and in aerospace based on intelligence requirements, and then analyzed the initial collection results and provided reporting based on the information.

DEF/SMAC was an “all-source” operations and intelligence center that served as the focal point for real-time mission operations, analysis, and reporting of foreign missile and space events. It provided time sensitive alerts, initial-event assessments, and mission support to national agencies, national command authorities, DoD combat commands, and field deployed

data sensor platforms and stations. Below is the DEF/SMAC logo from that time. The DEF/SMAC acronym was later changed to DEFSMAC and the full title changed to the Defense Special Missile and Aerospace Center.(10)

One of the first actions taken in response to the DoD ELINT directive in March 1959 was to incorporate the National Technical Processing Center (NTPC) at Nebraska Avenue in Washington, DC, into the NSA organization as the “Non-communications Signals Analysis and Processing Division.” NTPC had been established in 1955 and by 1959 employed about 100 people, who primarily worked electronic intelligence (ELINT) signals and foreign radar signals.

The NTPC also processed, or managed the processing of, foreign telemetry signals obtained from missiles, satellites, and space probes while being developed or placed into operation. This data was collected from a large variety of collection facilities and platforms.

The NTPC processed Soviet telemetry signal data until the end of the Cold War. The word Technical in the organization name was changed to Telemetry when that became the major type of signal processed by the NTPC.

National Telemetry Processing Center logo

Once the telemetry tapes were processed, the signal analysis phase began. Signals associated with Soviet individual missiles or satellites were analyzed. In the case of missile data, the analysis contributed to the determination of flight characteristics, for example it could answer the “What is the range capability for that particular missile test?”

NSA had a major role in missile signal analysis and in managing the U.S. intelligence community analytic activities. Once the analysis phase was completed, then reports were prepared and distributed to the U.S. intelligence community, particularly the DoD intelligence agencies, and to the Army, Navy, and Air Force Intelligence Centers.

Featured Picture: DEF/SMAC logo from the early 1970s

10. Richard L. Bernard, “In the Forefront of Foreign Missile and Space Intelligence: History of the Defense Special Missile and Aerospace Center (DEFSMAC), 1960-2010,” Center for Cryptologic History, National Security Agency, 2012.

Source: Center for Cryptologic History