Not too long ago I ran a short post over at Brushbeater noting a story from the Marine Corps, pairing signals collection guys with Scout Snipers in a somewhat new small unit strategy. Building on the successes SOF units have had for a long time now in recognizing the rapid value of SIGINT in the field, pairing the two elements only makes sense. The idea is to isolate a target where they’re most vulnerable- electronic communications- in order to end the fight quickly with as few casualties on our side as possible. And working from a prepared citizen’s point of view, those same capabilities can and should be reflected in your own training.

It’s not enough to simply have a scanner, however nice it might be, and call yourself good on signals intelligence. Situational awareness, maybe, maybe, but none of it will do you much good without a means to exploit what ever it is you’ve collected.

The purpose of intelligence is exploitation. 

Recording voice traffic with common items makes exploitation easy.

What that means in practical terms is that unless I can do anything with what I’m hearing, its completely useless to me. So what if I hear some traffic on a random frequency. Did I take the time to record it? What did they actually say? What is their level of training or discipline? Who’s the person in charge on the mic?

We can listen to all the traffic we want, but if we have no way of exploiting that, then we’re wasting our time.

Some of the equipment you’ll need for a signals collection package at the small unit level includes a decent scanner capable of decoding P25, a communications receiver, an inexpensive analog radio,  a recording device, a Yagi, and a frequency counter. Most of the higher end scanners on the market have up-gradable firmware that is enabling the decoding of P25 modes in use with public service as well as DMR which is very common today in the US as well as being used in Ukraine and Syria among guerrillas. A communications receiver, while similar to a scanner, will tell us the exact frequency the traffic is on, unlike most digital scanners today. We need to know this in order to have the operating frequency- its not enough to know what they’re saying, but we need to know what frequency they’re on so that if we decide to shut down their communications, we can effectively attack.

Signals collection kit laid out in the Brushbeater Signals Intelligence Course.

Our inexpensive analog radio enables us to not just have additional redundancy in our kit, but it’s also a useful exploitation tool. Depending on what type of gear your opponent has, something like a UV-5R can become our weapon in shutting their communications down. Using a Yagi to first get a bearing on their direction and then focus our signal in their direction, overloading their radios. This is beginning what’s known as isolating the target.

Once we’re in our working environment, we’ve got to come up with a competent plan of action for not just collection but exploitation. The first thing to consider is that the physical presence of the traffic itself may be significant. That begins with knowing what bands have what types of communications. For example, if I intercept something in the 462.000mHz range, I know that’s FRS and likely either motorola talkabouts or Baofeng type radios, and chances are high they’re within a mile or so of me, simply based on the low power output and restricted antennas. If I happen to come across something in the VHF range, maybe MURS, they might be a bit further out and possibly have better equipment or a higher level of training.

Once we build a working list of common use bands, the next step is taking the scanner in our signals collection kit and running a point search. Instead of doing a broad sweep of the spectrum, we target a specific frequency range that the OPFOR will be operating on. Its a technique that cuts down in the lag time in intercepting their traffic. The sooner we can lock on, the more we’ll hear.

An inexpensive Yagi is a powerful Electronic Warfare tool.

But hearing is not enough. We’ve got to be able to exploit our target. The first way to do this is to simply do nothing. Monitor them, don’t alert them to your presence. You’d want to take this route for what we call Patterns of Life missions, where a target is unknowingly under observation. Once they’ve been deemed a threat however, its time to get cranked up. Using our recorder, we can attack by simply re-playing the same conversations back to the target. Even well trained opponents may not realize what’s happening at first, and it’ll at a minimum cause confusion. With their communications cut, fear starts setting in- and from there they’ll start making bad decisions. And from there, an effectively trained fighter, even with this simple package, can isolate and shut down their communications, giving you the tactical edge and winning the fight before it even begins.


Interested in learning more? We’ve got upcoming courses in both communications with the RTO Course and Signals Intelligence, as well as a lot more. There’s only one way to learn these skills and its not just by reading. Expand you and your group’s capabilities and give yourself the edge in the fight. 

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