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Electronic intelligence (ELINT) is

intelligence-gathering by use of electronic sensors. Its primary focus lies on non-communications signals intelligence.
[t]echnical and geolocation intelligence derived from foreign noncommunications electromagnetic radiations emanating from other than nuclear detonations or radioactive sources.[1]
[i]ntelligence derived from electromagnetic non-communications transmissions by other than intended recipients or users.[2]
[t]echnical material and intelligence information derived from electromagnetic non-communications transmission (eg RADAR, navigational aids, jamming transmissions) by other than intended recipients.[3]
information derived primarily from electronic signals that do not contain speech or text (which are considered to be COMINT). The most common sources of ELINT are radar signals.[4]


Signal identification is performed by analyzing the collected parameters of a specific signal, and either matching it to known criteria, or recording it as a possible new emitter. ELINT data is usually highly classified information, and is protected as such.

The data gathered is typically pertinent to the electronics of an opponent's defense network, especially the electronic parts such as radars, surface-to-air missile systems, aircraft, etc. ELINT can be used to detect ships and aircraft by their radar and other electromagnetic radiation; commanders have to make choices between not using radar (EMCON), intermittently using it, or using it and expecting to avoid defenses. ELINT can be collected from ground stations near the opponent's territory, ships off their coast, aircraft near or in their airspace, or by satellite.

ELINT consists of two subcategories:

  • Operational ELINT is concerned with operationally relevant information such as the location, movement, employment, tactics, and activity of foreign non-communications emitters and their associated weapon systems.
  • Technical ELINT is concerned with the technical aspects of foreign non-communications emitters such as signal characteristics, modes, functions, associations, capabilities, limitations, vulnerabilities, and technology levels.


  1. U.S. Department of Defense, Joint Pub. 1–02: DOD Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms (Nov. 8, 2010, as amended through May 15, 2011) (full-text).
  2. NATO Standardization Agency, NATO Glossary of Terms and Definitions 2-E-2 (2008) (full-text).
  3. Glossary of Communications-Electronics Terms, at 2-62.
  4. U.S. National Intelligence: An Overview 2011, at 55-56.