ELINT Management Begins at NSA:

One of the first actions taken in response to the DoD ELINT directive in March of 1959 was to incorporate the National Technical Processing Center into the NSA Collection and Signal Analysis (COSA) organization as the “Non-communications Signals Analysis and Processing Division.” By 1959, NTPC had about 100 people. This signal processing and analysis group formed the core of the NSA effort at that time.

Some of the DoD military departments and combat commands were not greatly enthusiastic about NSA’s new responsibilities, and as a result many management problems and effective coordination procedures developed. The Strategic Air Command (SAC) was long accustomed to doing ELINT business “their way,” which was tailored to fulfill their mission. SAC soon developed a productive and cooperative set of arrangements with NSA.

RB-47 aircraft (the reconnaissance version of the B-47 bomber)

SAC had an extremely active ELINT program using RB-47 aircraft (the reconnaissance version of the B-47 bomber) to probe Soviet aircraft defenses in order to get information to protect SAC’s fleet of B-52 bombers. All of the SAC B-52s were soon protected with “radar warning receivers” based on ELINT information.

In 1960, two major overseas ELINT processing centers became integral parts of the overall DoD ELINT structure NSA developed. These centers processed and analyzed data primarily from the US military departments’ ELINT collection assets. In 1974 the USAF Europe sponsored programs with NATO partners and was fully integrated into the NSA system. Later this effort was combined with the NSA engineering support office in Europe.

Now-closed STONEHOUSE deep space TELINT facility

NSA built and deployed — or sponsored — many ELINT and TELINT signal collection systems during the 1960s. A ring of sophisticated systems was developed and deployed in the TELINT area to gather information on the missile development and space activities of the Soviet Union.

Since the early 1960s, NSA had been a participant in the National Reconnaissance Officer (NRO) and US Navy-led GRAB and POPPY efforts to collect ELINT on Soviet air defense radar signals from an orbiting satellite. Intelligence from GRAB and POPPY provided the location and capabilities of Soviet radar sites and ocean surveillance information to the US Navy and for use by the USAF. This effort provided significant ELINT support to US forces throughout the war in Vietnam.

One of NSA’s new responsibilities was to prepare a National ELINT Plan (NEP) in coordination with the ELINT community at that time. The first plan was completed in 1963 under NSA leadership with the participation of the US military departments, the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), DIA, and CIA. Several plans followed.

Picture Early GRAB satellite for ELINT signal collection from ground radars

Another response by NSA related to the expansion of NSA ELINT responsibilities was the creation in 1967 of a special group called DAGER, the Director’s Advisory Group on ELINT and Reconnaissance. It was a small group headed by Mr. Charles Tevis, who originated the idea and was a strong proponent and technical leader of NSA’s stewardship of ELINT.

In the late 1960s during the Vietnam War, ELINT played a major role: many military airplanes were outfitted with warning receivers and jamming equipment to counter the North Vietnamese antiaircraft guns and surface-to-air missile sites provided to North Vietnam by the Soviets. This radar warning and associated jamming equipment significantly reduced US aircraft losses. One of the key aircraft used was the Navy A-3 SKYWARRIOR, which could be aircraft-carrier-based. When configured for electronic warfare, it was designated EA-3B.

The EA-3B was particularly effective against the Soviet-built SA-2 surface-to-air missile systems which targeted US fighters and bombers over North Vietnam.

The EA-3Bs remained in service until the early 1990s and served around the world as ELINT and electronic warfare aircraft; they were based on land and on carriers. The aircraft were used in the 1991 Gulf War and helped target Iraqi antiaircraft missile systems for allied air-to-ground missile destruction.

EA-3B Skywarrior

In the early 1970s a joint National Reconnaissance Organization (NRO) and NSA field ELINT processing center was opened. This joint effort added NSA’s expertise in signal processing and its reporting responsibilities to NRO activities, provided many collection and processing advantages, and improved timely reporting of NRO collection results.

Featured Image: NSA Fort Meade complex in the 1960s

By Richard L. Bernard