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US Navy’s Ship’s Signals Exploitation Equipment (SSEE)

Signals intelligence (SIGINT) is intelligence-gathering by interception of signals, whether communications between people (communications intelligence—abbreviated to COMINT) or from electronic signals not directly used in communication (electronic intelligence—abbreviated to ELINT).


The abbreviation SIGINT – Signals Intelligence – stands for collecting and analyzing of information from radar- and radio-signals. Because these signals come from radar and radio sources that belong to other nations (that do not want the information to become known by others), these activities are falling under the definition espionage.


Signals intelligence is a subset of intelligence collection management. As classified and sensitive information is usually encrypted, signals intelligence in turn involves the use of cryptanalysis to decipher the messages. Traffic analysis—the study of who is signaling whom and in what quantity—is also used to integrate information again.


SIGINT activities are carried out from ground stations, ships, satellites and aircraft. Ships can provide mobile, yet longer-endurance platforms for collecting signals intelligence (SIGINT), without the limited antennas feasible on submarines, the short endurance of aircraft, or the cost and range issues of satellite-based platforms. Their major disadvantages are their low speed and lack of stealth.


Modern ship installations generally involve intercept stations in mobile vans, which can be put onto the deck of a warship, although some nations, such as Russia and Spain, use essentially unarmed modified fishing vessels.


China operates at least 10 AGI-type (i.e., modeled after fUSSR intelligence collection “trawler”) vessels. PLA-N has a growing force of very capable, high endurance ships designed and equipped to collect intelligence and it is sending them increasingly far afield and for longer periods. The Type 815G intelligence gatherer (AGI) No. 853 Tianwangxing (in English Uranus) was not the first of its class to conduct such operations. Its sister ship No. 852 Haiwangxing (Neptune) deployed in the same way to monitor the last Talisman Sabre exercise in 2017.


Denmark can field one containerized SIGINT/ELINT component, to be fitted in its FLYVEFISKEN class patrol crafts. France has operated several generations of SIGINT ships, but is moving to its first purpose-built vessel as the third generation.


The German Navy operates the Oste class fleet service ships which are purpose built SIGINT and ELINT reconnaissance ships. Also other Navy vessels, such as the Bremen class frigates, Brandenburg class frigates, Sachsen class frigates and Braunschweig class corvettes are equipped with extensive SIGINT/ELINT gear. UK Type 42 and 45 destroyers carry radar and communications intercept receivers for tactical ESM. They also can receive information from NATO and national sensors, via JTIDS.


There is a high level of interoperability among NATO vessels, using the Joint Tactical Information Distribution System (JTIDS). While not all ships have sufficiently secure areas for all-source (i.e., including SIGINT) intelligence sensors, commanders with access to all-source information can distribute appropriate parts to units under their command.


US Navy’s Ship’s Signals Exploitation Equipment (SSEE)

SSEE is a cryptologic system designed to carry out real-time signals intelligence analysis and offers precise geo-location across a range of targets.


The SSEE system evolved from the AN/SSQ-80 Local Monitoring Subsystem (LMS) and the TRUMP system that provided the system with a basic cryptologic analysis capability. The SSEE system’s increasing capability to detect, identify, and locate targets near to and over the horizon will contribute significantly to the ship’s Command and Control Warfare (C2W) capability and will become the center of the ship’s Information Warfare (IW) operations.


Program Executive Officer (PEO) Command, Control, Communications, Computers and Intelligence (C4I) information operations principal assistant programme manager Chris Parente said that the SSEE systems have been providing critical information to warfighters for more than a decade to effectively execute their missions.


Phase 2 program

The Ship’s Signals Exploitation Equipment (SSEE) Phase 2 program is a signals exploitation system that allows the operators to monitor and analyze signals of interest within the Ship’s Signals Exploitation Space (SSES) aboard a variety of ship classes.


SSEE takes advantage of government-off-the-shelf (GOTS), commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS), and non-developmental items (NDI) when possible. Due to the success of the SSEE system it has become a fundamental building block for the other PMW 178 programs, such as the Cooperative OUTBOARD Logistics Upgrade (COBLU) and the Battle Group Passive Horizon Extension System (BGPHES). Reciprocally, SSEE will benefit from other PMW 178 proven system technologies; for example, SSEE will integrate the Tactical SIGINT Technology Adaptive Recognizer (TSTAR) and the Narrowband Acquisition Subsystem (NAS) from the Combat Direction Finding (CDF) system. A phased approach to procuring the SSEE System has led to three existing baseline systems and two planned systems increments.


The use of COTS/GOTS/NDI hardware and software is innovative and creative because incremental upgrades to hardware can be integrated, tested and fielded in a shorter time than traditional development efforts. The system can evolve and adapt quickly in order to exploit new threat emergent technology thus allowing the Navy to take full advantage of state-of-the-art technology being used in the commercial market. The use of GOTS/COTS hardware common with other systems also allows more economical procurement of hardware and spares. SPAWAR can exert greater control over the development and system costs by using a field activity as the integration agent.


This approach has accelerated testing and deployment of SSEE system improvements and increased shipboard cryptologic capabilities. Since 16 March 95, when SPAWAR 00 granted full production of SSEE Phase 2 Increment B hardware, over 35 systems have been procured and installed on surface combatants and at shore sites. SSEE is using the same hardware and software as Cryptologic Carry-on Program’s Advanced Cryptologic Carry-on Exploitation System (ACCES), and some common hardware and software with PRIVATEER, a SOCOM program. For example, SSEE is using the same Spectrum Analyzer, Radio Frequency Management System (RFMS) hardware as PRIVATEER. In addition, SSEE is using PRIVATEER’s Local Monitoring System (LMS) and PRIVATEER will use SSEE’s Core Digital Signal Processing (CDSP) software.


SSEE has achieved positive results based on the number of systems fielded. The use of COTS/GOTS/NDI hardware presents challenges to the traditional configuration management practices and support structure. For example, vendors for laptop computers being installed on SSEE platforms are continuously replacing current models with new systems that must be tested each time to ensure they work with existing software. In addition, the government is relying more on commercial manuals for guidance on troubleshooting and operating procedures.


Boeing has delivered the 100th ship’s signal exploitation equipment (SSEE) system to the US Navy, as part of an ongoing effort to meet the contractual obligation of 113 systems.


RF electronics provider Azure Summit Technology has won a $697.4 million single-award indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity (ID/IQ) contract under the U.S. Navy’s Ship’s Signal Exploitation Equipment (SSEE) Transition Production program.


Azure was also awarded the first SSEE Transition Production delivery order, under which the company will deliver SOSA aligned, VPX open architecture tactical cryptological systems to the Navy.


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