Background

According to the Executive Summary of the document:

A U.S. Navy ELINT satellite system became operational in July 1960 and was operated until August 1962. The mission was to obtain information on Soviet air defense radars that could not be observed by Air Force and Navy ferret aircraft flying ELINT missions along accessible borders in Europe and the western Pacific. 

The system was proposed by the Naval Research Laboratory in the spring of 1958. In parallel with exploratory development by the NRL, the Office of Naval Intelligence obtained endorsements of Project Tattletale from elements of the executive and legislative branches. With positive recommendations from State, Defense, and CIA, President Eisenhower approved full development on 24 August 1959. By then, the project had been placed under a limited distribution security control system (Canes) with access limited to fewer than two hundred people in the Washington D.C. area . Development and interagency coordination proceeded as the GRAB (Galactic Radiation and Background) experiment .

After NRL completed development of the GRAB satellite and a network of overseas ground collection sites, a first launch was approved by Eisenhower on 5 May 1960, just four days after a CIA U- 2 aircraft was lost on a reconnaissance mission over Soviet territory . The GRAB satellite got a free ride into space on 22 June 1960 with Navy’s third Transit navigation satellite . GRAB carried two electronic payloads, the classified ELINT package and instrumentation to measure solar radiation. The SolRad experiment was publicly disclosed in DoD press releases on this and subsequent launches . The cost to achieve an initial operating capability was $ 1.1M, about the price of a single U-2 aircraft. Four more launches were attempted , one of them successfully on 29 June 1961. Total cost of the program was $7.6M.

The Director of Naval Intelligence exercised overall control. Field sites were operated by elements of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and CIA. Data recorded on magnetic tape was couriered back to the NRL. Tapes were evaluated , duplicated , and forwarded to the NSA at Army Fort Meade, Maryland, and the Strategic Air Command at Offut Air Force Base Omaha, Nebraska, for analysis and processing. In searching the tapes for new and unusual signals, NSA found that the Soviets were already operating a radar that supported a capability to destroy ballistic missiles. SAC’s processing was aimed at building the SIOP (single integrated operations plan ), a responsibility of the Joint Strategic Targeting Staff at Offutt AFB.

Shortly after the NRO was officially established as an operating agency of the DoD, the Navy ELINT satellite project and its multi-agency infrastructure were assimilated in the NRP as Program C (Navy) in July 1962. The GRAB successor, two-ball POPPY 1 / Mission 7101 , was launched five months later and was followed , in the next nine years, by six more launches of three or four POPPY satellites at a time. Starting as an ELINT general search system, the POPPY mission gradually expanded , as capabilities improved, to encompass: general search, ABM search, technical intelligence, EOB production, and ocean surveillance .

Growing concern in the U.S. defense establishment about demonstrated abilities of Soviet fleets to project military power across seas and oceans, was registered in 1970 by the USIB’s designation of ocean surveillance as a national intelligence objective. Pursuant to a study conducted by the Defense Science Board, POPPY was upgraded by NRO and Navy to become an interim ocean surveillance system . Meanwhile, NRO, Navy, and NSA conducted broader studies to determine an optimum system and concluded in 1972 that the POPPY technology infrastructure, and operational concept should evolve…

Document Archive

U.S. Navy/NRO Program C Electronic Intelligence Satellites (1958-1977) [255 Pages, 100MB]

 

 

 

 


 

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