Chapter 7 Development and Assessment of PLA’s Electronic Reconnaissance Capability
Modern electronic warfare can be divided into electronic attacks (EAs), electronic support (ES), and electronic protection (EP). Electronic support consists of electronic intelligence (ELINT) and communication intelligence (COMINT). While the former is based on radar signals with a frequency range from 1.2 to 40 GHz, the latter usually covers 80 to 3,000 MHz used in radio communications. These two detect, intercept, identify, and position electromagnetic and radiation data and collect information about the characteristics of emission sources to facilitate further analysis. There is some overlap between signal intelligence (SIGNIT) and electronic support. However, electronic support emphasizes tactical applications. For example, the receipt and comparison of signals onsite are directly forwarded to Radar Warning Receiver (RWR) for radar early warning intelligence. Signal intelligence is more focused on long-standing surveillance, interception, and analysis for long-term strategic planning.
Analyses are performed on the electronic parameters and data collected from electronic surveillance ships, aerial reconnaissance aircraft, and ground reconnaissance vehicles for direction-finding. Electronic reconnaissance, which provides electronic protection and data required for attacks, is also part of electronic support. However, ships, aircraft, or vehicles are limited to platforms and usually cannot carry out large-scale and continued reconnaissance for long. Nonetheless, there is no limitation for electronic reconnaissance satellites/ ELINT satellites in outer space. Access to this intelligence source becomes the most critical element in common operating pictures of the C4ISR system.
During the Cold War, the U.S. and Russia embarked on many secret programs in the development of electronic reconnaissance satellites/ ELINT satellites to obtain electronic intelligence (ELINT). For example, the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory carried out the Galactic Radiation and Background (GRAB) experiment in the 1960s in the guise of observing solar radiation to obtain the Soviet Union’s anti-aircraft radar information. It is said that the Soviet Union launched over 200 electronic reconnaissance satellites/ ELINT satellites in 1967-1991 to stay on top of the U.S. Armed Forces and aircraft carriers of its allies. While there have been vibrant commercial activities by using signal intelligence in Europe and the U.S. from electronic reconnaissance satellites/ ELINT satellites in recent years, the development of the PLA’s electronic reconnaissance capability has been relatively overlooked.
This report intended to examine the development, utilization, and R&D of the PLA’s electronic reconnaissance equipment in order to assess the PLA’s potential capability going forward. It also focuses on the influence of the increasing number of electronic reconnaissance satellites/ ELINT satellites.
“Advanced Trigger Based Multichannel Pulse Analysis to Characterize Radar Warning Receivers,” Rohde and Schwarz, https://www.rohde-schwarz.com/ph/applications/advanced-trigger-based-multichannel-pulse-analy sis-to-characterize-radar-warning-receivers-application- card_56279-1039004.html; Mario LaMarche, “Elec tronic Support: An Overview of Electronic Warfare Part 3,” Mercury Systems Blogs & Podcasts, November 2018, https://www.mrcy.com/ company/blogs/electronic-support-overview-electronic-warfare-part-3.
John Pike, “Project Tattletale: GRAB Galactic Radiation Background Experiment,” Federation of American Scientists Space Policy Project, February 20, 2000, https://fas.org/spp/military/program/sigint/grab.htm.