Information Warfare: December 8, 2002

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The U.S. Air Force has a new job for its 16 RC-135 Rivet Joint electronic reconnaissance aircraft. For over three decades, the four engine RC-135s have been used to collect intelligence information by eavesdropping on foreign electronic emissions. This information went back to military intelligence and CIA analysts for examination. But during the Vietnam war, it was noted that RC-135s could catch information that, if acted on immediately, could do great damage to the enemy. This was not done often, but the capability was noted, and remembered. When the 1991 Gulf War came along, RC-135s were used more frequently to pass information to nearby bombers about the presence of enemy units, often units that were moving. Based on that experience, and the explosive growth of computer power and networking in the 1990s, the RC-135s were able to perform both electronic warfare and targeting duties during the Afghanistan war. Most of the new equipment on the RC-135 is kept secret, but it is known to have better satellite communication gear and sensors that can pick up transmissions from most commercial forms of communication (satellite and regular cell phones, short wave radio, Etc.) The efficient satellite links enable RC-135s to instantly share data with headquarters and analysts world wide. But as warplanes, warships and ground combat units get satellite communications gear, they can also plug into whatever the RC-135s are collecting. The new RC-135 is also said to have more effective countermeasures, that can degrade enemy radio and communications, as well as send false information into enemy communications systems. This has turned the Rivet Joint into a combat aircraft, getting close to the fighting and passing targeting information directly to units that can shoot or bomb.

 


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