Measurement and signature intelligence
Measurement and signature intelligence (MASINT) is a technical branch
of intelligence gathering, which serves to detect, track, identify or
describe the signatures (distinctive characteristics) of fixed or
dynamic target sources. This often includes radar intelligence,
acoustic intelligence, nuclear intelligence, and chemical and
MASINT is defined as scientific and technical
intelligence derived from the analysis of data obtained from sensing
instruments for the purpose of identifying any distinctive features
associated with the source, emitter or sender, to facilitate the
latter’s measurement and identification.
MASINT may have aspects of intelligence analysis management, since
certain aspects of MASINT, such as the analysis of electromagnetic
radiation received by signals intelligence, are more of an analysis
technique than a collection method. Some
MASINT techniques require
MASINT was recognized by the
United States Department of Defense
United States Department of Defense as an
intelligence discipline in 1986.
MASINT is technically derived
intelligence that—when collected, processed, and analyzed by
MASINT systems—results in intelligence that detects and
classifies targets, and identifies or describes signatures
(distinctive characteristics) of fixed or dynamic target sources. In
addition to MASINT,
HUMINT can subsequently be used to track
or more precisely classify targets identified through the intelligence
process. While traditional
SIGINT are not considered to be
MASINT efforts, images and signals from other intelligence-gathering
processes can be further examined through the
MASINT discipline, such
as determining the depth of buried assets in imagery gathered through
William K. Moore described the discipline: "
MASINT looks at every
intelligence indicator with new eyes and makes available new
indicators as well. It measures and identifies battlespace entities
via multiple means that are difficult to spoof and it provides
intelligence that confirms the more traditional sources, but is also
robust enough to stand with spectrometry to differentiate between
paint and foliage, or recognizing radar decoys because the signal
lacks unintentional characteristics of the real radar system. At the
same time, it can detect things that other sensors cannot sense, or
sometimes it can be the first sensor to recognize a potentially
It can be difficult to draw a line between tactical sensors and
MASINT sensors. Indeed, the same sensor may be used
tactically or strategically. In a tactical role, a submarine might use
acoustic sensors—active and passive sonar—to close in on a target
or get away from a pursuer. Those same passive sonars may be used by a
submarine, operating stealthily in a foreign harbor, to characterize
the signature of a new submarine type.
MASINT and technical intelligence (TECHINT) can overlap. A good
distinction is that a technical intelligence analyst often has
possession of a piece of enemy equipment, such as an artillery round,
which can be evaluated in a laboratory. MASINT, even
intelligence, has to infer things about an object that it can only
MASINT electro-optical and radar sensors could
determine the muzzle velocity of the shell.
MASINT chemical and
spectroscopic sensors could determine its propellant. The two
disciplines are complementary: consider that the technical
intelligence analyst may not have the artillery piece to fire the
round on a test range, while the
MASINT analyst has multispectral
recordings of it being used in the field.
As with many intelligence disciplines, it can be a challenge to
integrate the technologies into the active services, so they can be
used by warfighters.
1 Understanding "measurement" and "signature"
2 National and multinational
2.5 United Kingdom
2.6 United States
MASINT from clandestinely placed sensors
2.7 Multinational counterproliferation
3 Military uses
3.1 Non-cooperative target recognition
3.2 Unattended ground sensors
3.3 Research programs: Smart Dust and WolfPack
5 Basic interaction of energy sources with targets
5.1 Classes of sensor
5.1.1 Passive sensing
5.1.2 Active sensors
5.2 Quality of sensing
7 External links
Understanding "measurement" and "signature"
In the context of MASINT, "measurement" relates to the finite metric
parameters of targets. "Signature" covers the distinctive features of
phenomena, equipment, or objects as they are sensed by the collection
instrument(s). The signature is used to recognize the phenomenon (the
equipment or object) once its distinctive features are detected.
MASINT measurement searches for differences from known norms, and
characterizes the signatures of new phenomena. For example, the first
time a new rocket fuel exhaust is measured, it would be a deviation
from a norm. When the properties of that exhaust are measured, such as
its thermal energy, spectral analysis of its light (i.e.,
spectrometry), etc., those properties become a new signature in the
MASINT has been described as a "non-literal" discipline. It feeds on a
target's unintended emissive byproducts, or "trails"—the spectral,
chemical or RF emissions an object leaves behind. These trails form
distinctive signatures, which can be exploited as reliable
discriminators to characterize specific events or disclose hidden
While there are specialized
MASINT sensors, much of the MASINT
discipline involves analysis of information from other sensors. For
example, a sensor may provide information on a radar beam, collected
as part of
Electronics intelligence (ELINT) gathering mission.
Incidental characteristics recorded such as the "spillover" of the
main beam (side lobes), or the interference its transmitter produces
would come under MASINT.
MASINT specialists themselves struggle with providing simple
explanations of their field. One attempt calls it the “CSI” of
the intelligence community, in imitation of the television series
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. This emphasizes how
MASINT depends on
a great many sciences to interpret data.
Another possible definition calls it "astronomy except for the
direction of view." The allusion here is to observational astronomy
being a set of techniques that do remote sensing looking away from the
earth (contrasted with how
MASINT employs remote sensing looking
toward the earth). Astronomers make observations in multiple
electromagnetic spectra, ranging through radio waves, infrared,
visible, and ultraviolet light, into the X-ray spectrum and beyond.
They correlate these multispectral observations and create hybrid,
often “false-color” images to give a visual representation of
wavelength and energy, but much of their detailed information is more
likely a graph of such things as intensity and wavelength versus
National and multinational
There has been work on developing standardized
MASINT terminology and
architecture in NATO. Other work addresses the disappointments of
Non-Cooperative Target Recognition. For this function, infrared
beacons (infrared MASINT) proved disappointing, but millimeter-wave
recognition shows more promise. Still, cooperative, network-based
position exchange may be crucial in preventing fratricide. The bottom
line is that
MASINT cannot identify who is inside a tank or aircraft
Numerous countries produce their own antisubmarine warfare sensors,
such as hydrophones, active sonar, magnetic anomaly detectors, and
other hydrographic sensors that are frequently considered too
"ordinary" to be called MASINT.
China is not reported to be pursuing the more specialized MASINT
technologies, although it does produce its antisubmarine sensors.
Following the first successful launch on December 19, 2006, about a
year after the intended launch date, further satellites were launched
at roughly six-month intervals, and the entire system of this
SAR Lupe synthetic aperture radar constellation
achieved full operational readiness on 22 July 2008.
Italy and France are cooperating on the deployment of the dual-use
Orfeo civilian and military satellite system.
Orfeo is a dual-use (civilian and military) earth observation
satellite network developed jointly between France and Italy. Italy is
developing the Cosmo-Skymed X-band polarimetric synthetic aperture
radar, to fly on two of the satellites.
Russia does have nonimaging infrared satellites to detect missile
launches. Russia produces, of course, a wide range of
antisubmarine warfare sensors.
UK developed the first successful acoustic system, sound ranging to
detect hostile artillery and anti-submarine acoustic detection in
World War I. In the 1990s, an improved acoustic system for artillery
location acoustic artillery location system was introduced, which
complements Counter-battery radar.
Within the US Intelligence Community the Directorate of
Technical Collections office of the
Defense Intelligence Agency
Defense Intelligence Agency is the
central agency for MASINT. This was formerly called the Central MASINT
Office. For education and research, there is the Center for MASINT
Studies and Research of the Air Force Institute of Technology.
National Reconnaissance Office
National Reconnaissance Office and National Security
Agency work in collecting MASINT, especially with military components.
Other intelligence community organizations also have a collection role
and possibly an analytic role. In 1962, the Central Intelligence
Agency, Deputy Directorate for Research (now the Deputy Directorate
for Science and Technology), formally took on
ELINT and COMINT
The consolidation of the
ELINT program was one of the major goals of
the reorganization. ... it is responsible for:
Research, development, testing, and production of
ELINT and COMINT
collection equipment for all Agency operations.
Technical operation and maintenance of CIA deployed non-agent ELINT
Training and maintenance of agent
Technical support to the Third Party Agreements.
Data reduction of Agency-collected
ELINT support peculiar to the penetration problems associated with the
Agent's reconnaissance program under NRO.
Maintain a quick reaction capability for
ELINT and COMINT equipment.
CIA's Office of Research and Development was formed to stimulate
research and innovation testing leading to the exploitation of
non-agent intelligence collection methods. ... All non-agent technical
collection systems will be considered by this office and those
appropriate for field deployment will be so deployed. The Agency's
missile detection system, Project [deleted] based on backscatter radar
is an example. This office will also provide integrated systems
analysis of all possible collection methods against the Soviet
antiballistic missile program is an example.
It is not clear where
ELINT would end and
MASINT would begin for some
of these projects, but the role of both is potentially present.
MASINT, in any event, was not formalized as a US-defined intelligence
discipline until 1986.
MASINT from clandestinely placed sensors
CIA took on a more distinct
MASINT responsibility in 1987. The
National Security Archive commented, "In 1987, Deputy Director for
Science and Technology Evan Hineman established ... a new Office for
Special Projects, concerned not with satellites, but with emplaced
sensors—sensors that could be placed in a fixed location to collect
signals intelligence or measurement and signature intelligence
(MASINT) about a specific target. Such sensors had been used to
monitor Chinese missile tests, Soviet laser activity, military
movements, and foreign nuclear programs. The office was established to
bring together scientists from the DS&T’s Office of SIGINT
Operations, who designed such systems, with operators from the
Directorate of Operations, who were responsible for transporting the
devices to their clandestine locations and installing them.
National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency
National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency plays a role in
All nuclear testing, of any level, was forbidden under the
Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) (which has not entered into
force), but there is controversy over whether the preparatory
commission for the
Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty
Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization
(CTBTO) or the Treaty Organization itself will be able to detect
sufficiently small events. It is possible to gain valuable data from a
nuclear test that has an extremely low yield, useless as a weapon but
sufficient to test weapons technology. CTBT does not recognize the
threshold principle and assumes all tests are detectable.
The CTBTO runs an International Monitoring System (IMS) of MASINT
sensors for verification, which include seismic, acoustic, and
radionuclide techniques. See National technical means of verification
for a discussion of the controversies surrounding the ability of the
IMS to detect nuclear tests.
Even though today's
MASINT is often on the edge of technologies, many
of them under high security classification, the techniques have a long
history. Captains of warships, in the age of sail, used his eyes, and
his ears, and sense of touch (a wetted finger raised to the breeze) to
measure the characteristics of wind and wave. He used a mental library
of signatures to decide what tactical course to follow based on
weather. Medieval fortification engineers would put their ear to the
ground to obtain acoustic measurements of possible digging to
undermine their walls.
Acoustic and optical methods for locating hostile artillery go back to
World War I. While these methods were replaced with radar for modern
counter-battery fire, there is a resurgence of interest in acoustic
gunfire locators against snipers and urban terrorists. Several
warfighter application areas are listed below; also see Deeply Buried
Non-cooperative target recognition
MASINT could be of tactical use in "Non-Cooperative Target
Recognition" (NCTR) so that, even with the failure of identification
friend or foe (IFF) systems, friendly fire incidents could be
Unattended ground sensors
Another strong need where
MASINT may help is with unattended ground
sensors (UGS). During the Vietnam War, UGS did not provide the
functionality desired in the
McNamara Line and Operation Igloo White.
They have improved considerably, but are still an additional
capability for humans on the ground, not usually replacing people
In the U.S., much of the Igloo White technology came from Sandia
National Laboratories, which subsequently designed the Mini Intrusion
Detection System (MIDS) family, and the U.S. Marine Corps's AN/GSQ-261
Tactical Remote Sensor System (TRSS). Another major U.S. Army
initiative was the Remotely Monitored Battlefield Sensor System
(REMBASS), which it upgraded to Improved REMBASS (IREMBASS), and now
is considering REMBASS II. The REMBASS generations, for example,
increasingly intertwine interconnections of infrared MASINT, Magnetic
MASINT, seismic MASINT, and acoustic MASINT.
The UK and Australia also are interested in UGS.
Communications, a division of French
Thales and formerly Racal, builds
the Covert Local Area Sensor System for Intruder Classification
(CLASSIC) for use in 35 countries, including 12
Australia adopted the CLASSIC 2000 version, which, in turn, becomes
part of the Australian Ninox system, which also includes Textron
Systems’ Terrain Commander surveillance system. CLASSIC has two
kinds of sensors: Optical Acoustic Satcom Integrated Sensor (OASIS)
and Air Deliverable Acoustic Sensor (ADAS), as well as television
cameras, thermal imagers, and low-light cameras.
ADAS sensors were in a U.S. program, Army Rapid Force Projection
Initiative advanced concept technology demonstration (ACTD), using
OASIS acoustic sensors and central processing, but not the
electro-optical component. ADAS sensors are emplaced in clusters of
three or four, for increased detection capability and for
Textron says that the ADAS acoustic sensors can track
fixed-wing aircraft, helicopters, and UAVs as well as traditional
ACTD added Remote Miniature Weather Station (RMWS), from System
Innovations. These RMWS measure temperature, humidity, wind direction
and speed, visibility and barometric pressure, which can then be sent
over commercial or military satellite links.
Employing UGS is especially challenging in urban areas, where there is
a great deal more background energy and a need to separate important
measurements from them. Acoustic sensors will need to distinguish
vehicles and aircraft from footsteps (unless personnel detection is a
goal), and things such as construction blasting. They will need to
discriminate among simultaneous targets. Infrared imaging, for the
urban environment, will need smaller pixels. If either the targets or
the sensor is moving, micro-electromechanical accelerometers will be
Research programs: Smart Dust and WolfPack
Still more of an UGS research program, under DARPA, is Smart Dust,
which is a program for developing massively parallel networks of
hundreds or thousand "motes," on the order of 1 mm3.
Another DARPA program is WolfPack, a ground-based electronic warfare
system. WolfPack is made up of a "pack" of "wolves." Wolves are
distributed electronic detection nodes with location and
classification capability, which may use radiofrequency MASINT
techniques along with
ELINT methods. The wolves could be hand,
artillery, or airdrop delivered. WolfPack may fit into an Air Force
program for a new subdiscipline of counter-ESM, as well as Distributed
Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses (DSEAD), an enhancement on SEAD. If
the Wolves are colocated with jammers or other ECM, and they are very
close to the target, they will not need much power to mask the
signatures of friendly ground forces, in frequencies used for
communications or local detection. D
SEAD works in a similar way, but
at radar frequencies. It may be interesting to compare this
ELINT discipline with ECCM.
Intelligence cycle management
Intelligence collection management
MASINT is made up of six major disciplines, but the disciplines
overlap and intertwine. They interact with the more traditional
intelligence disciplines of HUMINT, IMINT, and SIGINT. To be more
MASINT is highly technical and is called such,
TECHINT is another discipline, dealing with such things as the
analysis of captured equipment.
An example of the interaction is "imagery-defined
MASINT (IDM)". In
MASINT application would measure the image, pixel by pixel, and
try to identify the physical materials, or types of energy, that are
responsible for pixels or groups of pixels: signatures. When the
signatures are then correlated to precise geography, or details of an
object, the combined information becomes something greater than the
whole of its
As with many branches of MASINT, specific techniques may overlap with
the six major conceptual disciplines of
MASINT defined by the Center
MASINT Studies and Research, which divides
Electro-optical, Nuclear, Geophysical, Radar, Materials, and
A different set of disciplines comes from DIA:
nuclear, chemical, and biological features;
emitted energy (e.g., nuclear, thermal, and electromagnetic);
reflected (re-radiated) energy (e.g., radio frequency, light, and
mechanical sound (e.g., engine, propeller, or machinery noise);
magnetic properties (e.g., magnetic flux and anomalies);
motion (e.g., flight, vibration, or movement); and
The two sets are not mutually exclusive, and it is entirely possible
that as this newly recognized discipline emerges, a new and more
widely accepted set will evolve. For example, the DIA list considers
vibration. In the Center for
MASINT Studies and Research list,
mechanical vibrations, of different sorts, can be measured by
geophysical acoustic, electro-optical laser, or radar sensors.
Basic interaction of energy sources with targets
Remote sensing depends on the interaction of a source of energy with a
target, and energy measured from the target. In the "Remote
Sensing" diagram, Source 1a is an independent natural source such as
the Sun. Source 1b is a source, perhaps manmade, that illuminates the
target, such as a searchlight or ground radar transmitter. Source 1c
is a natural source, such as the heat of the Earth, with which the
Remote sensing—relationships between radiation source, target and
The Target itself may produce emitted radiation, such as the glow of a
red-hot object, which Sensor 2 measures. Alternatively, Sensor 1 might
measure, as reflected radiation, the interaction of the Target with
Source 1a, as in conventional sunlit photography. If the energy comes
from Source 1b, Sensor 1 is doing the equivalent of photography by
Source 3a is under the observer's control, such as a radar
transmitter, and Sensor 3b can be tightly coupled to Source 3. An
example of coupling might be that Sensor 3 will only look for
backscatter radiation after the speed-of-light delay from Source 3a to
the target and back to the position of Sensor 3b. Such waiting for a
signal at a certain time, with radar, would be an example of
electronic counter-countermeasures (ECCM), so that a signal jamming
aircraft closer to Sensor 3b would be ignored.
A bistatic remote sensing system would separate source 3a from sensor
3b; a multistatic system could have multiple pairs of coupled sources
and sensors, or an uneven ratio of sources and sensors as long as all
are correlated. It is well known that bistatic and multistatic radar
are a potential means of defeating low-radar-observability aircraft.
It is also a requirement, from operations personnel concerned with
shallow water operations.
Techniques such as synthetic aperture have source 3a and sensor 3b
colocated, but the source-sensor array takes multiple measurements
over time, giving the effect of physical separation of source and
Any of the illuminations of the target (i.e., Source 1a, 1b, or 3a),
and the returning radiation, can be affected by the atmosphere, or
other natural phenomena such as the ocean, between source and target,
or between target and sensor.
Observe that the atmosphere comes between the radiation source and the
target, and between the target and the sensor. Depending on the type
of radiation and sensor in use, the atmosphere can have little
interfering effect, or have a tremendous effect requiring extensive
engineering to overcome.
First, the atmosphere may absorb part of the energy passing through
it. This is bad enough for sensing if all wavelengths are affected
evenly, but it becomes much more complex when the radiation is of
multiple wavelengths, and the attenuation differs among wavelengths.
Second, the atmosphere may cause an otherwise tightly collimated
energy beam to spread.
Classes of sensor
Sensing systems have five major subcomponents:
Signal collectors, which concentrate the energy, as with a telescope
lens, or a radar antenna that focuses the energy at a detector
Signal detectors, such as charge-coupled devices for light or a radar
Signal processing, which may remove artifacts from single images, or
compute a synthetic image from multiple views
Recording return mechanisms, such as digital telemetry from satellites
or aircraft, ejection systems for recorded media, or physical return
of a sensor carrier with the recordings aboard.
MASINT sensors may be framing or scanning or synthetic. A framing
sensor, such as a conventional camera, records the received radiation
as a single object. Scanning systems use a detector that moves across
the field of radiation to create a raster or more complex object.
Synthetic systems combine multiple objects into a single one.
Sensors may be passive or coupled to an active source (i.e., "active
sensor"). Passive sensors receive radiation from the target, either
from the energy the target emits, or from other sources not
synchronized with the sensor.
MASINT sensors will create digital recordings or transmissions,
but specific cases might use film recording, analog recording or
transmissions, or even more specialized means of capturing
Figure "Remote Sensing Geometry" illustrates several key aspects of a
Remote sensing geometry—relationships between scanning sensor and
The instantaneous field of view (IFOV) is the area from which
radiation currently impinges on the detector. The swath width is the
distance, centered on the sensor path, from which signal will be
captured in a single scan. Swath width is a function of the angular
field of view (AFOV) of the scanning system. Most scanning sensors
have an array of detectors such that the IFOV is the angle subtended
by each detector and the AFOV is the total angle subtended by the
Push broom sensors either have a sufficiently large IFOV, or the scan
moves fast enough with respect to the forward speed of the sensor
platform, that an entire swath width is recorded without movement
artifacts. These sensors are also known as survey or wide field
devices, comparable to wide angle lenses on conventional cameras.
Whisk broom or spotlight sensors have the effect of stopping the scan,
and focusing the detector on one part of the swath, typically
capturing greater detail in that area. This is also called a close
look scanner, comparable to a telephoto lens on a camera.
Passive sensors can capture information for which there is no way to
generate man-made radiation, such as gravity. Geodetic passive sensors
can provide detailed information on the geology or hydrology of the
Active sensors are conceptually of two types, imaging and non-imaging.
Especially when combining classes of sensor, such as
MASINT and IMINT,
it can be hard to define if a given
MASINT sensor is imaging or not.
In general, however,
MASINT measurements are mapped to pixels of a
clearly imaging system, or to geospatial coordinates known precisely
MASINT sensor-carrying platform.
In MASINT, the active signal source can be anywhere in the
electromagnetic spectrum, from radio waves to X-rays, limited only by
the propagation of the signal from the source. X-ray sources, for
example, must be in very close proximity to the target, while lasers
can illuminate a target from a high satellite orbit. While this
discussion has emphasized the electromagnetic spectrum, there are also
both active (e.g., sonar) and passive (e.g., hydrophone and
microbarograph) acoustic sensors.
Quality of sensing
Several factors make up the quality of a given sensor's information
acquisition, but assessing quality can become quite complex when the
end product combines the data from multiple sensors. Several factors,
however, are commonly used to characterize the basic quality of a
single sensing system.
Spatial resolution defines the correspondence between each recorded
pixel and the square real-world area that the pixel covers.
Spectral resolution is the number of discrete frequency (or
equivalent) bands recorded in an individual pixel. Remember that
relatively coarse spectral resolution from one sensor, such as the
spectroscopic analyzer that reveals a "bush" is painted plaster, may
greatly enhance the ultimate value of a different sensor with finer
Radiometric resolution is the number of levels of energy recorded, per
pixel, in each spectral band.
Temporal resolution describes the intervals at which the target is
sensed. This is meaningful only in synthetic imaging, comparison over
a longer time base, or in producing full-motion imagery.
Geospatial resolution is the quality of mapping pixels, especially in
multiple passes, to known geographic or other stable references.
Cross-cueing is the passing of detection, geolocation and targeting
information to another sensor without human intervention. In a
system of sensors, each sensor must understand which other sensors
complement it. Typically, some sensors are sensitive (i.e., with a low
incidence of false negatives) while others have a low incidence of
false positives. A fast sensitive sensor that covers a large area,
SIGINT or acoustic, can pass coordinates of a target of
interest to a sensitive narrowband RF spectrum analyzer for
ELINT or a
hyperspectral electro-optical sensor. Putting sensitive and selective,
or otherwise complementary sensors, into the same reconnaissance or
surveillance system enhances the capabilities of the entire system, as
in the Rocket Launch Spotter.
When combining sensors, however, even a quite coarse sensor of one
type can cause a huge increase in the value of another, more
fine-grained sensor. For example, a highly precise visible-light
camera can create an accurate representation of a tree and its
foliage. A coarse spectral analyzer in the visible light spectrum,
however, can reveal that the green leaves are painted plastic, and the
"tree" is camouflaging something else. Once the fact of camouflage is
determined, a next step might be to use imaging radar or some other
sensing system that will not be confused by the paint.
Cueing, however, is a step before automatic target recognition, which
requires both extensive signature libraries and reliable matching to
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ATIA—Advanced Technical Intelligence Association (formerly MASINT
ATIC—Advanced Technical Intelligence Center for Human Capital
MASINT Studies and Research
NCMR—National Consortium for
The Intelligence Community in the 21st Century
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