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New Iranian space signals facility targets satellites

05 June 2018 Jane's Editorial Staff

This is an extract from an article from Jane's Intelligence Review.

Jane's has identified an Iranian signals intelligence facility targeting satellites in synchronous orbits. Nick Hansen writing for Jane's examines the facility and assesses its intelligence-collection targets and potential product.

Key Points

  • A space SIGINT and optical tracking site is located to the west of Tehran, in an area that is home to multiple facilities related to solid-propellant rocket motor or explosives development.
  • An analysis of the position of the site and the configuration of its antennae suggests that the site is targeting communications satellites in synchronous orbits, including those of Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the US.
  • Working patterns at the facility and its relatively recent construction suggest that it is not an operational station and instead may be a test site in a programme that could be upgraded in the future

Jane's has identified an Iranian space signals intelligence (SIGINT) and optical tracking site on the western side of Tehran, approximately 50 km from the centre of the city. The closest notable feature is the village of Bid Kaneh.

The site was identified through a survey of commercially available satellite imagery

The determination of the site's likely SIGINT function is based on two factors - its location, and the observed activity of its antennae. The site is in the centre of a fenced solid-fuel missile motor production and storage facility that also contains what appear to be two 'coffin'-type surface-to-surface missile launchers, with security fences and guard towers visible in the imagery that suggest a military purpose.

Each antenna is visible pointed at a range of azimuths on many dates

This would be expected of the antennae at a SIGINT site, but not at a satellite communications (SATCOM) station. In contrast, a 4-m dish antenna is present at a large research and development and production facility to the south; the dish's azimuth is fixed at 135 degrees and has not been observed to change, suggesting that it is a SATCOM antenna.

Iran has a strong interest in the development of a space SIGINT facility

Tehran is aware that countries such as Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the US, among others, use satellites extensively for military communications. The ability to intercept these communications and to disrupt them in crisis situations is therefore a capability that Iran is likely to seek to develop.

At least one of the site's products is likely to be intelligence on the traffic that the target satellites are carrying. The site may also be collecting intelligence relevant to the development of jamming capabilities. The presence of cameras at the site raises the possibility that the site has additional missions, such as laser blinding of low-orbit imaging satellites.

This is an extract from an article that appeared in Jane's Intelligence Review. Learn more

Nick Hansen is an affiliate of the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University. Review and additional analysis by Sean O'Connor, Principal Research Analyst for Jane's Satellite Imagery Analysis (JSIA).

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