An adversary’s telemetry data could be collected from a variety of platforms. The U.S. Army, Navy, and Air Force employed shipborne and airborne collection platforms to gather data from foreign missile tests.
NSA also sponsored a network of ground-based telemetry collection facilities that gathered information on the missile development and space activities of adversaries.
The featured photo is of the now-closed STONEHOUSE deep space TELINT facility that was located in Asmara, in Eritrea province, Ethiopia. This location had telemetry access to the Soviet command station for Soviet deep space objects and allowed reception of the command responses and telemetry from the probes. The antenna shown on the right is an 85-foot reflector, and the one on the left is a 150-foot diameter antenna. These large antennas were needed to receive the very weak telemetry signals from Soviet space probes that were as far away as the Moon, Mars, and Venus. Radiation, Inc., now part of Harris Electronic Systems Division, designed, constructed, and installed the STONEHOUSE system under contract to NSA in the early 1960s. The facility closed in 1975.
The USNS General Hoyt S. Vandenberg (AGM-10) and the USNS General H.H. Arnold (AGM-9) were U.S. Atlantic range instrumentation ships (ARIS) that were modified for intelligence data collection. These major mobile technical intelligence collection platforms provided radar signature data and collected telemetry data from Soviet ICBMs that impacted on the Kamchatka peninsula or in the Pacific Ocean when they were tested to their full range. The modified ARIS ships deployed on Pacific Ocean intelligence missions several times per year when Soviet ICBM tests were anticipated. The ships operated during the 1960s and 1970s. The Vandenberg was retired and now serves as an artificial reef off Key West, Florida.
Starting in 1973, DoD began development of a multi sensor collection ship to monitor Soviet strategic missile testing. It was designated the USNS Observation Island. The primary mission equipment was a sophisticated precision missile-tracking radar designated COBRA JUDY that was developed by Raytheon Corporation under a USAF contract. The ship became operational in 1982 and was retired from mission duties in 2014.
The EA-3B was an unarmed, electronic support measures (ESM)/reconnaissance variant of the A3D carrier-based bomber. Twenty-four of the variants were built and four were modified for technical collection of optical, radar, and telemetry information. SEABRINE operations started in 1961 and were targeted against Soviet missiles impacting on the Kamchatka peninsula. EA-3B aircraft were based on Shemya Island, Alaska. The SEABRINE aircraft were flown by U.S. Navy personnel, while the telemetry collection equipment was operated by U.S. Army Security Agency personnel since at that time the U.S. Army had the DoD overall responsibility for intelligence on foreign ground-to-ground missiles. The project was a very successful joint Army-Navy effort. The project’s short title for this configuration was SEABRINE. The aircraft modification for the SEABRINE equipment system was performed in the early 1960s by Sylvania Systems–Electronic Defense Laboratories, which also provided system maintenance at the operating locations.
An EA-3B aircraft is on display at the NSA National Cryptologic Museum at Fort George G. Meade, Maryland.
During the Cold War, the land-based AN/MSQ-90V telemetry collection system was available for air transport to locations around the Pacific Ocean. It was operated and maintained by the U.S. Army Security Agency (USASA) during the 1970s and early 1980s. Other smaller, limited-capability, transportable telemetry collection equipment systems were also used during the Cold War for special collection opportunities. The system project name was LEFTOUT, and the system was developed by E-Systems in Greenville, Texas, now part of L-3 Communications Holdings.
Only a few months after the end of World War II it was clear that the free world needed to be concerned about the spread of communism, and that the activities of the Soviet Union might be used to forcefully gain its political and geographic objectives. Winston Churchill summarized the world situation in his so-called “Iron Curtain Speech” in 1946.
The Soviet Union had already started, and continued, development of nuclear weapons as well as missile and space systems. The Soviets tested their first ICBM in 1957. Starting in 1958, NSA technical and management initiatives and expertise made significant intelligence gains for the United States and its allies from TELINT information. The information provided critical data on foreign missiles and space vehicles that were a threat to the United States, including vital intelligence information for use by U.S. missile and satellite system designers and system operating personnel.
The U.S. had also started political actions to limit the world-wide use of possible weapons of mass destruction. In 1972 the United States formalized an agreement with the Soviet Union on strategic arms limitations called SALT I. SALT I contained wording that allowed each party to use “national technical means” to verify aspects of SALT I and stated that neither party would interfere with the technical means of the other party. In 1979 the SALT II agreement contained the “Second Common Understanding,” which stated:
Each party is free to use various methods of transmitting telemetric information during testing, including its encryption, except that, in accordance with the provisions of paragraph 3 of Article XV of the Treaty, neither Party shall engage in deliberate denial of telemetric information, such as through the use of telemetry encryption, whenever such denial impedes verification of compliance with the provisions of the Treaty.
These provisions attested to the value of the information gained by both parties through the use of TELINT from each other’s missile and space developments. NSA sponsored an aggressive program to collect, process, analyze, and report on Soviet Union telemetry for use by U.S. policy makers and technical managers.
The information presented in the National Cryptologic Museum displays, including the HARDBALL and RISSMAN equipment, attempts to portray some of the system developments sponsored by NSA to accurately and thorouhly monitor Soviet achievements in the missile field.
Featured Picture: STONEHOUSE antennas and operations building
Source: Center for Cryptologic History
24 June 2021 at 11:15
In addition to the ships noted above, the Navy mounted Ivy Green missions in the Pacific. They were tasked to collect Telemetry and SIGINT from Soviet ships and missiles test fired into the Pacific. I was on one such mission, although I forget the ship’s name. The mission was probably in the 1969-1970 timeframe. Our team was based out of Kamiseya, Japan.
25 June 2021 at 05:51
Thank you Mario for another outstanding report of our history!
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