By the early 1970s NSA had completed, or sponsored, a network of ground-based foreign telemetry collection facilities and worked with the DoD military departments and services to develop aircraft and shipborne TELINT signal collection facilities.
In 1971 elements of the NSA Research and Development (R&D) organization and other NSA SIGINT operational elements were merged to form the Electronic Intelligence and Systems Management Group. This group provided an institutional base for NSA to manage TELINT and the development of new collection and processing systems for TELINT efforts. TELINT attained its DoD formal status as a separate “INT” in 1971 with the publication of the revised DoD Directive 5100.20, which gave NSA its updated charter at NSA. TELINT activities were managed by the Advanced Weapons and Space Systems Office.
Examples of collection and processing equipment are displayed in an exhibit at NSA’s National Cryptologic Museum at Fort George G. Meade, Maryland. The overview description of the exhibit reads as follows:
Telemetry literally means remote measuring. Something is measured and the data is received at a distant location. This can be the strength of an earthquake, the temperature on Mars, or the speed of a launched missile.
Telemetry from missiles includes speed, location, engine status, tracking, and other data. Telemetry from satellites may include similar information as well as imagery used in reconnaissance. Understanding the adversaries’ telemetry signals provides crucial information about their weapons systems’ capabilities. NSA’s involvement in Foreign Instrumentation Signals Intelligence (FISINT) began in 1959. Throughout the Cold War, it grew and improved, pushing computer development and improving warfighters’ countermeasures.
As the Cold War progressed, foreign countries began intense efforts to develop a broad range of weapons systems. As these systems went from research and development to operational status, each step required extensive testing. Designers carefully monitored their systems through telemetry. This same telemetry could sometimes be obtained and processed by the United States as well. The desire to closely monitor an adversary’s weapons development led the United States to a commitment to collect, process, and analyze the foreign telemetry signals.
Adversaries’ telemetry data can be collected from a variety of platforms. In WWII, converted bombers flew over the Aleutian Islands to electronically map the Japanese radars on the islands. EA-3B Navy aircraft not only worked against Soviet-built SA-2 missiles in Vietnam, they also helped target Iraqi antiaircraft missiles in the First Gulf War. In the 1960s, the GRAB and POPPY satellites collected Electronic Intelligence (ELINT) from Soviet air defense radar signals providing their locations and capabilities. By the 1970s, NSA had a network of ground-based foreign telemetry collection facilities gathering information on missile development and space activities of the Soviet Union.
Featured Picture – The National Cryptologic Museum’s HARDBALL and
RISSMAN telemetry exhibit
The photograph above shows the NCM display on the ground-based telemetry collection facility called ANDERS located on Shemya Island, Alaska, and some of the included telemetry collection equipment called HARDBALL. It also shows part of the RISSMAN signal preprocessing equipment display.
Typically, four large “horn” antennas, protected from the weather by a radome, received foreign telemetry signals from the roof of a two-story collection facility. The antennas collected telemetry from foreign satellites and sometimes from missiles within the HARDBALL “view area.” On-site analysts also used the signal to automatically follow or track the satellite or missile as it passed within view of the station. Shown below is a photograph of the ANDERS station (now closed) where HARDBALL was located on Shemya Island, Alaska. The HARDBALL system was designed and built by Sylvania Electronics Systems Western Division, now part of General Dynamics Mission Systems, under contract to NSA in 1965-66, and installed at ANDERS in 1967.
The second floor of the collection facility held most of the HARDBALL telemetry collection equipment. Racks of equipment received, displayed, and converted several signals before they were recorded on magnetic tape and forwarded to NSA for processing.
The HARDBALL system at the ANDERS location primarily contained:
• Antennas to initially receive the signals from satellites and missiles in view of ANDERS. These signals contained data on the satellite’s purpose or missile’s performance, such as reconnaissance photographs or rocket trajectory.
• Receivers to manipulate the signals and properly format the signals so that human operators could use oscilloscopes to graphically display the signals. This allowed the operator to make sure the equipment was adjusted properly to ensure that the signal could be processed correctly.
• Equipment which further converted the signals and then combined several foreign telemetry signals into data streams, which were then recorded on magnetic tape at the facility or at a processing facility at another location
• Equipment to initially analyze and report the results of the telemetry received The overall facility for the HARDBALL system was the DoD ANDERS station. An informal logo used by the station is shown here.
Picture – DoD ANDERS Station logo
The photograph below shows three “racks” of telemetry signals collection equipment typical for such a ground site collection facility. Each rack of equipment could receive one signal and convert it to be recorded on magnetic tape for further signal processing and analysis, either at the site location or at other processing facilities.
The photograph below is a view of one rack of equipment holding signal receiver equipment and signal manipulation (“demodulation”) equipment.
During the Cold War period many technology advances were made in TELINT collection and analysis equipment. These advances increased capabilities via more reliable configurations and used less electrical power. As the state of the art of foreign electronic equipment advanced, signals receivers had to keep pace. NSA also continued to modernize and expand the TELINT signals processing and analysis equipment at selected data collection locations and at NSA facilities.
Featured Picture: ANDERS Telemetry Collection Facility on Shemya Island, Alaska
Source: Center for Cryptologic History