The ACE’s Role in Communications Monitoring – Forward Observer Shop

The ACE’s Role in Communications Monitoring

On Tuesday, we had “Sparks” (Signal Corps Blog) on the FO Podcast.  Sparks took us through the steps of monitoring local communications through a radio or scanner, and why it’s important.  This type of collection is called Communications Intelligence (COMINT).  I wanted to take this opportunity to explain the relationship between COMINT collection and Intelligence Analysis.

First, all collection is based off Intelligence Requirements.  These are the things we need to know in order to complete the mission, whether that’s home/base defense, clearing and holding an objective, or an invasion.  These Intelligence Requirements as based off intelligence gaps.  For example, your first Intelligence gaps might be that you don’t know what frequencies police, fire fighter, and other emergency services use.  So we take that gap and turn it into a requirement, which is simply a question or a statement.  It doesn’t really matter which one you use.

What are the radio frequencies that emergency services use to communicate?

Identify the radio frequencies that emergency services use to communicate.

Another good example would be, what call-sign is Bravo31.  To whom does it belong; who is transmitting using that name?  We’ve identified another intelligence gap, so our requirement could be: “Which entity uses the call-sign Bravo31?”.  We use intelligence requirements to direct collection, otherwise, we run the risk of collection useless information.  All collection is based on these requirements, so it’s imperative that these requirements are specific and asking the questions you want answered.

And who generates the Intelligence Requirements?  The Analysis & Control Element (ACE)!  Missions are handed down from the commanders, and then the ACE really is in the driver’s seat.  Intelligence drives the fight, as they say, and it’s absolutely true.  The ACE plays a critical mission for the organization.  Missions simply wouldn’t be effective without them.  It’s the brain of the organization, so to speak.

Once the ACE publishes these requirements, they’re pushed out to Intelligence collectors; in this case, to the Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) or COMINT collectors.  They monitor the communications in the Area of Operations (AO), constantly scanning and listening for any information that could answer one of the requirements they’ve been given.

Once that information has been collected, it’s reported back to the ACE where it’s compiled into intelligence.  This intelligence information is the lifeblood of the ACE.  No intelligence information, no intelligence.


I’d like to thank Sparks again for coming on the FO Podcast.  In the meantime, if you have any other questions for him regarding COMINT/SIGINT or communications, please forward them to podcast (at)  We’ll ask Sparks your questions the next time he comes on the show.

Mike Shelby is a former military intelligence NCO and contract intelligence analyst. He spent three years in Iraq and Afghanistan and is now the intelligence and warfare researcher at Forward Observer.

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