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Communications intelligence (COMINT) technology

Electronic Warfare EW, encompasses, in all battle phases, military actions involving the use of EM energy to determine, exploit, reduce or prevent hostile use of EM spectrum and the actions, which retain friendly use of the EM spectrum. EW consists of three related sectors, viz., Electronic Protection (EP), Electronic Attack (EA), and Electronic Support (ES).


ES sensors allow the passive detection of emissions from radar systems and can be used to classify and geo-locate radar systems operated by an adversary. ES is responsible for supplying intelligence and threat recognition that are necessary for EA and EP to function effectively. In the context of radar, ES consists of two divisions: Electronic Intelligence (ELINT), and Electronic Support Measures (ESM). Although ELINT is technically a subset of SIGINT or Signals Intelligence, ELINT specifically deals with radar signals, whereas SIGINT is often associated only with Communication or data link signals.


Communications intelligence (COMINT)

Communications intelligence (COMINT) is information gathered from the communications of individuals, including telephone conversations, text messages and various types of online interactions.

COMINT efforts seek information about voice, text and signal transmissions and attempts to determine a number of intelligence considerations about them. intelligence, in this context, is information that gives an organization or individual support for making decisions that are intended to provide them with a strategic advantage. The term is often abbreviated as “intel.”

COMINT activities are intended to determine details about the communications such as:

  • Who the communicating parties are.
  • Where those parties are located.
  • The organizational function of the transmitter.
  • Time and duration of communication.
  • Frequencies and other technical details of note in the transmission.
  • Encryption used and whether it can be decrypted.


Friendly military communications are also monitored similarly as a part of communications security (COMSEC). While intelligence communities in the U.S. have stated that COMINT is concerned only with foreign entities, the Snowden revelations show very similar tactics used on the country’s own citizens. It was disclosed, for example, that the National Security Agency (NSA) had been gathering the communications and related metadata of private citizens since at least 2001.


Traditionally, COMINT has involved collecting the information within a message (signals internals) as well as the information about a message (signals externals), such as signals type, frequency, duration, emitter location, etc. This was more or less an arrangement of convenience, because the personnel and units who were collecting and recording the signals internals where also capturing the external signal parameters as part of the intelligence process. Before high-data-rate battlefield networks became available, tactical forces relied on intelligence units to collect COMINT and share tactical information (emitter type, location, etc.) about communications emitters in their mission area.


Tactical forces are now connected over more robust data networks, which means lower-echelon units can share information more easily. Secondly, as these data networks began to emerge, these lower echelon forces could operate their own sensor nodes (including comms ESM systems) and share the information with the mission commander quickly. These innovations are helping drive today’s need for smaller comms ESM systems that can be integrated onto tactical UAVs or “ride along” on whatever tactical platforms (tanks, APCs, small boats, etc.) are operating in a local area of interest. The point is that the tactical commander can now see – with more precision and timeliness – what is happening in communications signal environment where his or her forces are operating.

Instantaneous Tactical Geolocation With ComDart’s Revolutionary Antenna Technology

The ability to detect, track and classify hostile communications is a requisite intelligence capability that modern military forces must incorporate into their arsenals. However, legacy Electronic Support Measure/Communications Intelligence (ESM/COMINT) systems are based on traditional antenna arrays and use Angle of Arrival (AOA) or Direction finding (DF) techniques to locate emitters. While these techniques can determine the direction to the emitter, they do not inherently identify its location.

In order to geolocate the target, azimuth measurements must be intersected from multiple sensor platforms, which may impose an unattainable burden on tactical operations. Alternatively, a mobile sensor platform may geolocate the emitter using multiple DF detections, but this process is complex and may not be feasible in the event of short transmissions or a moving transmitter. Furthermore, traditional DF technologies require multiple and complex antennas, which can be challenging if the ESM sensor must be mounted on a compact platform such as an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV).

Addressing the need to provide forces with a geolocation solution that is easily deployed and provides quick and reliable performance in the tactical environment, IAI subsidiary ELTA Systems Ltd., the defense electronics subsidiary of IAI, Israel’s largest aerospace and defense company, has fielded the innovative ELK-7065VU ComDart Compact V/UHF 3D RF Geo-Location System, utilizing the company’s exclusive Vector Sensing Array (VSA) technology.

The VSA measures an accurate vector to the emitter – a three-dimensional arrow that points directly from the platform to the target. By calculating the point of intersection between this vector and a digital map of the terrain, an accurate geolocation is achieved. In comparison to AOA/DF antenna arrays, the VSA is considerably reduced in size and weight, allowing for installation on smaller platforms that cannot accommodate the legacy technologies.

ComDart instantaneously detects transmissions across the VHF and UHF spectrum and provides accurate geolocation of RF emitters. It provides tactical forces with instantaneous geolocation of adversary communications using a single aerial platform such as a UAV. “ComDart’s ability to immediately locate enemy communication transmissions from a single platform represents a breakthrough capability,” said Adi Dulberg, Vice-President and General Manager of IAI/ELTA’s Intelligence, Communications and Electronic Warfare (EW) Division.


He adds: “In contrast to traditional COMINT systems, which employ antenna arrays, ComDart is a highly compact system using just a single antenna. As soon as someone presses the push-to-talk button, the system immediately locates them.” He continues, “The ease of deployment and immediate geolocation is the breakthrough. These advances make ComDart the first system with such capabilities and performance to be deployable by tactical forces.”


IAI/ELTA offers an extensive portfolio of high-performance and field-proven payloads on a wide variety of platforms. Platforms range from strategic ISR satellites, multi-mission aircraft, UAVs and ground systems. System solutions cover integrated EW (ESM/ECM), Radar, EO/IR, IMINT, Launch Detection Systems (LDS), SAR/GMTI, SIGINT, and cyber. This expertise in delivering game-changing, high-end technologies such as ComDart’s VSA to customers worldwide is a key factor in IAI/ELTA’s ability to offer class-leading solutions.


Photonic Technology Enables Real-Time Calculation of Radio Signal Correlation, reported in March 2022

Researchers have developed a new analog photonic correlator that can be used to locate an object transmitting a radio signal. Because the new correlator is faster than other methods and works with a wide range of radio frequency signals, it could be useful for locating cell phones, signal jammers or a variety of tracking tags.


“The photonic architecture we developed uses no moving parts and enables real-time signal processing,” said Hugues Guillet de Chatellus from Université Grenoble Alpes-CNRS in France. “Real-time processing helps ensure there isn’t any downtime, which is critical for defense applications, for example.”


The new photonic correlator can be used to compute what is known as a cross-correlation function for two signals emitted from one source and detected by two antennas. This measures the similarity of the signals as a function of the displacement of one signal relative to the other and provides information about their relative delay, which can be used to calculate the location of the signal’s source.

“The photonic architecture we developed enables real-time calculation of the cross-correlation function of two input signals for about 200 values of relative delay simultaneously,” said Guillet de Chatellus. “This is much higher than any photonic technique has been able to accomplish so far.”

The correlator works like a photonic processor by using fiber optic components to turn two radio-frequency signals into optical signals. Once the cross-correlation function is calculated, a detection and processing chain enables it to be converted into a digital format.

The most critical component of the new system is a frequency shifting loop, which can generate and manipulate a large number of time-shifted replicas for an input signal. This simple photonic component has enabled many recent innovations in microwave photonics.

“We’ve been developing frequency shifting loops for some time, and a deep understanding of their architecture led us to apply them to this new application,” said Guillet de Chatellus. “This work shows that photonics can offer efficient alternatives to solutions that are based on digital electronics.”

After testing their new device using high-power simple signals, the researchers tested it with more complex signals and then moved to signals propagating through free space and received by a pair of antennas. The researchers were able to demonstrate localization of a radiofrequency transmitter with a precision close to 10 picoseconds for a 100-millisecond integration time. This means that the system could locate an emitter with a precision of about 3 millimeters.

The researchers are also performing experiments to find out if the new photonic correlator can be used to correlate three signals, which would enable 3D localization of transmitters by triangulation. They also plan further work to miniaturize and fully integrate the correlator.


Communications intelligence (COMINT) market

The global communication intelligence (COMINT) market is expected to generate a revenue of $9,148.1 million by 2027, growing at a CAGR of 6.1% during the forecast period (2020-2027), increasing from $5,779.5 million back in 2019.


Due to an increase in illicit and criminal activities around the world, there is a subsequent reliance on communication intelligence and surveillance in various countries for the protection of the people living in those countries. These factors are expected to boost the growth of the global communication intelligence (COMINT) market.


The Asia-Pacific communication intelligence (COMINT) market is anticipated to generate a revenue of $2,398.2 million, increasing from $1,434.3 million back in 2019. The region is subjected to a high-level application of enhanced technologies, which is expected to drive the growth of communication intelligence (COMINT) market in the region.


Key Players of the Market are: Lockheed Martin Corporation, Raytheon Company,  General Dynamics Corporation, Northrop Grumman Corporation, Thales Group, L3Harris Technologies, Inc., BAE Systems, Elbit Systems Ltd., Rheinmetall AG, HENSOLDT and Avantix SAS


For instance, in September 2020, Rohde & Schwarz, a dominant naval communications intelligence solutions provider, developed a multichannel communication intelligence (COMINT) system that can maximize surveillance abilities.



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