French Military Flies Experimental SIGINT Aerostat

CERBERE (Experimental SIGINT Capability for Balloons and Light Aerostats), an airborne demonstrator measuring the electromagnetic environment, has been tested by the Directorate General of Armament (DGA) near Lorient (Morbihan).
The collection of electromagnetic intelligence is essential to control the information and the knowledge of the adversary. On foreign theaters of operations, the armed forces are confronted with an increased density of electromagnetic emissions, due in particular to the development of telecommunications. They must, therefore, have optimized and innovative means of detection and localization.

In this perspective, fitting a SIGINT system on a light balloon offers two advantages. Placed at altitude, electromagnetic sensors are less constrained by the effects of terrain- masking (trees, buildings and the roundness of the Earth). They thus gain in detection capabilities. A balloon also offers a very long endurance at altitude, at a lower cost than a fleet of aircraft or drones.

Proving the feasibility of such a system is the challenge of the CERBERE experimental study. After a development phase, an essential step was taken in the summer of 2019 with the flight of the CERBERE demonstrator in the skies of Brittany. These tests were made possible thanks to the help of the Navy.

The test campaign was conducted by engineers and technicians from DGA’s Center of Expertise and Testing, with the industrial support of Ineo Défense and ONERA. The flights took place over two weeks over a training site near the ocean, and were conducted by naval and army personnel.

The objective of the tests was to evaluate the demonstrator’s performance by playing scenarios representative of the operational reality, whether the environment is maritime or terrestrial. Different simulated targets specifically implemented for the experiment were detected, located and identified.

The results of the CERBERE study will be taken into account to guide the future intelligence and electronic warfare programs run by the DGA for the benefit of the armed forces.

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