Army signallers listen in on Taliban

Armed with receivers, satel­lite com­mu­ni­ca­tions and oth­er sys­tems, 14 Sig­nal Reg­i­ment serve as the fine­ly-tuned ears of the British Army.

A sig­naller erects a com­mu­ni­ca­tions aer­i­al [Pic­ture: Graeme Main, Crown Copyright/MOD 2012]
Source: Min­istry of Defence, UK
Click to enlarge

Faced with an ene­my that works in the shad­ows of Afghanistan’s inno­cent pop­u­la­tion, it is essen­tial for the British Army to pre-empt lethal attacks. 

While var­ied intel­li­gence-gath­er­ing is noth­ing new to Hel­mand province, evolv­ing tech­no­log­i­cal capa­bil­i­ties on both sides of the fight mean that ‘elec­tron­ic war­fare’ is becom­ing an increas­ing­ly sig­nif­i­cant term. 

By lis­ten­ing in on insur­gents, the Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force gath­ers infor­ma­tion on when, why and how the Tal­iban plans to make its moves. 

Cor­po­ral Dar­ren Fowler, who works as a com­mu­ni­ca­tions sys­tems oper­a­tor with 223 Sig­nal Squadron, part of 14 Sig­nal Reg­i­ment, said: 

“Our role is to col­lect intel­li­gence with­in the­atre. With our state-of-the-art equip­ment we can mon­i­tor mes­sages to find insur­gents’ tac­ti­cal procedures.” 

Cor­po­ral Fowler will form part of the Op HERRICK 16 con­tin­gent run­ning new spe­cial­ist ‘man­packs’ which enable oper­a­tors to tap into com­mu­ni­ca­tions in real time. 

Details of this tech­nol­o­gy are clas­si­fied but such vital work has seen 14 Sig­nal Reg­i­ment rep­re­sent­ed on each UK mis­sion since the Falk­lands War. 

Out on the bat­tle­field, unit mem­bers are split into light elec­tron­ic war­fare teams of up to four mem­bers. Sys­tems oper­a­tor Cor­po­ral Mor­gan Scott said: 

“The groups are out and about in the area of oper­a­tions, direct­ed by the brigade com­man­der in accor­dance with his or her pri­or­i­ties. We can col­lect intel­li­gence that helps us under­stand what is hap­pen­ing in a cer­tain location.” 

Cor­po­ral Fowler added: 

“When we first go in, infantry guys are not too sure about hav­ing us with them, but after giv­ing threat warn­ings and pro­vid­ing the good news, they begin to love us. We basi­cal­ly become part of the infantry — we live in the base and are mem­bers of the team.” 

Each clus­ter of the spe­cial­ists includes a sys­tems oper­a­tor, an Intel­li­gence Corps ana­lyst and a com­mu­ni­ca­tions expert. All mem­bers can work in each other’s role and, thanks to evolv­ing tech­nol­o­gy, their analy­ses are prov­ing more pre­cise than ever before: 

“Equip­ment is increas­ing­ly com­put­er-based with new soft­ware that has made us more accu­rate and use­ful for the com­man­ders on the ground,” Cor­po­ral Fowler said. 

“If we can get the grid quick­ly it means insur­gents have much less of a chance to move on.” 

While train­ing on Exer­cise Dragon’s Talon, Lance Cor­po­ral Tom Scales, 237 Sig­nal Squadron (Elec­tron­ic War­fare), out­lined the kind of infor­ma­tion his unit can obtain: 

“We find out as much about the ene­my as pos­si­ble — where they work, who they work for and where the areas of resup­ply are,” the ser­vice­man explained. 

By tap­ping into the insur­gents’ com­mu­ni­ca­tions net­work and using lin­guis­tics experts from the Intel­li­gence Corps, light elec­tron­ic war­fare teams can work out why vil­lagers might be sup­port­ing the Taliban. 

Using equip­ment acquired as an urgent oper­a­tional require­ment, the sig­nallers are braced to inform their infantry coun­ter­parts of poten­tial attacks. At a time when the Army is reduc­ing in size, 14 Sig­nal Reg­i­ment is one of the few units set to expand in the wake of the Strate­gic Defence and Secu­ri­ty Review. 

Between now and 2013 it will grow by eight per cent to around 750 per­son­nel. Major Paul Buck, Sec­ond-in-Com­mand of 14 Sig­nal Reg­i­ment, said: 

“In this tough cli­mate, if you are a bright bloke with a bit about you then this is the place to suc­ceed. Those with an inquir­ing mind and keen for a chal­lenge are the sort of peo­ple we are look­ing for.” 

Per­son­nel in this unit will pro­vide key intel­li­gence to the Army until the end of com­bat oper­a­tions in Afghanistan and the union of their sharp intel­lect and tech­nol­o­gy is set to give them the edge over the ene­my at every stage of that elec­tron­ic journey. 

This arti­cle by Joe Clap­son is tak­en from the March 2012 edi­tion of SOLDIER — Mag­a­zine of the British Army. 

Press release
Min­istry of Defence, UK 

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