October 17, 2011

Processing SIGINT with game graphics

News Report

An intriguing piece appeared recently on Defense News, reporting that the same kinds of computer processors that project movie-quality video game graphics will soon sift signals intelligence collections for Armed Forces, in particular on board of SIGINT (Signals Intelligence) airborne systems.

Signals intelligence is defined as the operation of intelligence-gathering by interception of signals, whether between people communicating devices (COMINT, communications intelligence), whether involving electronic signals not directly used in communication (ELINT, electronic intelligence).

With the airwaves expected to get even more crowded, Curtiss-Wright and its main competitor, Mercury Computing Systems, are repurposing graphics processing units as the next step in the evolution of SIGINT computing. Adding general-purpose graphics processing units (GPGPUs) to embedded computers would help the military classify signals faster and with more fidelity, experts from both companies said. Some signals need to be jammed for electronic warfare applications; others must be demodulated and turned into audio eavesdropping feeds; others will be used to map enemy air defenses or to peg the geographic location of the person who is doing the transmitting. All these tasks must be done without interfering with the military's own signals or bringing civilian communications to a halt.

GPU-equipped computers are not yet processing SIGINT in the field, but the devices are moving rapidly toward deployment. Manufacturers know GPGPUs well, however, because they are already being used in the imagery intelligence camp.

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