Measurement and signature intelligence (MASINT) helps in the provision of technically derived intelligence to detect, track, identify, and describe features of targets. MASINT is a process that helps in building a library of target signatures to facilitate feeding of information to Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition, and Reconnaissance (ISTAR), and other targeting systems for identification purposes. MASINT tremendously helps in countering deception. It enables the correlation of multiple signatures with known target signatures using various signature measurement techniques (Deakin 119). One of the distinct differences between MASINT and other intelligence tools is that MASINT is akin to touch, smell, and taste. On the hand, SIGINT relates to hearing and IMINT to sight (George and Kline 169). Electro-optical, infrared, spectroscopic, nuclear, geophysical, radar, materials, and radiofrequency MASINT are some subsets of MASINT. These subsets use different sensors to detect the military activities and capabilities of target nations.

Measurement and Signature Intelligence

MASINT uses air and ground detectors to detect weapons tests and other military activities that various countries want to conceal from the United States. Defense Intelligence Agency, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and other intelligence agencies use MASINT extensively (Shorrock 143). MASINT identifies a target using various electromagnetic characteristics. The electromagnetic features that MASINT uses to identify signatures include:

  • Chemical, radiological, biological, and nuclear events associated with the signatures.
  • Emitted energy of the signatures
  • Radiated, or reflected energy
  • Mechanical sound of the signatures (Deakin 119)

MASINT uses the above signatures to detect military activities and capabilities using various MASINT subsets. The subsets include electro-optical, infrared, spectroscopic, nuclear, geophysical, radar, materials, and radiofrequency MASINT

Electro-optical MASINT

Military equipment has various optical signatures that intelligence agencies should analyze. Electro-optical MASINT undertakes an analysis of these signatures. Electro-optical MASINT is different from Imagery Intelligence (IMINT) in that it gives a more detailed interpretation of pictures enabling intelligence agencies to differentiate between real targets and decoys (Deakin 120). Electro-optical MASINT helps intelligence agencies interpret various images. It can be extremely useful in determining the missile capabilities of various countries. This would tremendously help politicians to device policies that would help in decimating the capabilities of the enemy. In addition, knowledge of the information would help military commanders determine the military capabilities of the enemy. This knowledge would help in devising strategies that would make them defeat the enemy if they are in combat situations.

Infrared MASINT

There various sensors – both ground and space based – that military intelligence use to detect heat signatures that have a close association with military or industrial activities. The sensors detect intense heat due to nuclear explosions or industrial activity. The sensors do not provide images but suggest the presence of activities that would require further investigation (Deakin 122). The sensors immensely aid in early detection of military activities of other countries. This would help politician and military commanders either imitate the weapons or develop weapons that are more sophisticated that those of the enemy countries.

Spectroscopic MASINT

From time to time, intelligence agencies undertake an analysis of radiated energy from certain targets. Intelligence agencies use spectroscopy to determine energy that various targets are emitting. In addition, intelligence agencies may trigger the target to emit energy by illuminating it with a laser. The intelligence agencies would then be able to determine the material characteristics of the targets. Spectroscopy does not give images of the target but is extremely beneficial in the formulation of a synthetic picture of the target (Deakin 122). Spectroscopy would tremendously help in detection of long range of ballistic missiles. This would help field commanders in countering the ballistic missiles prior to impact.

Nuclear MASINT

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Nuclear warfare poses the greatest threat to the existence of humanity. Outbreak of nuclear war would lead to insurmountable loss of life and destruction of the environment. The threat poses by nuclear warfare has necessitated the formation of various regulatory authorities to ensure that nuclear energy is for peaceful purposes. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is the main regulatory body that ensures that the nuclear energy is for peaceful purposes – mainly in generating electricity. Intelligence agencies use nuclear MASINT to detect nuclear energy and analyze the effects of nuclear radiation on people and the environment. Nuclear MASINT sensors may be space-based or on-site in the nuclear facilities (Deakin 125). Nuclear MASINT may be of significant help in determining the capability of enemy countries in making nuclear bombs. Nuclear MASINT should monitor the enrichment process of uranium in the countries to determine whether it is for peaceful purposes or for making nuclear bombs. This would help intelligence agencies in collaboration with IAEA impose measures to the countries that would ensure that it does not make nuclear bombs.

Geophysical MASINT

Various enemy activities result in changes in geography, and environment of the targets. Activities such as tunneling and road construction lead to changes in the geography of the location. Geophysical MASINT analyses the physical environment to determine changes in the environment that may have military implications. For geographical MASINT to be effective there must be continuous analysis of the environment to determine changes (Deakin 126). Geophysical MASINT would help in early detection of potential threats by targets. This would help field commanders and politicians device strategies that would avert the risks.


There are several radars that MASINT obtains information on enemy capabilities. The distinct difference between MASINT and Signal Intelligence (SIGINT) is that SIGINT uses communication equipment to source information on enemy capabilities. However, MASINT uses radar to determine enemy capabilities. Radar MASINT incorporates several techniques to measure radar characteristics of enemies. Thus, radar MASINT may measure radar characteristics of targets at different angles and conditions to build a reference library. Radar MASINT may help in determining the platform of the targets. This is because radar has a unique emission pattern. The emission patterns vary depending on the mode of operation of the radar (Deakin 127). Radar MASINT can detect radars that have locked on while preparing to launch a missile. Radar MASINT would tremendously help military commanders and politicians act swiftly to an impending airstrike by an enemy nation.

Materials MASINT

Analysis of several materials within the target’s location may help in determining the military capabilities of the target. An analysis solid liquid or gas samples for various compounds helps military intelligence determine the military capabilities of targets. Detection of these environmental samples would help in determining chemical, nuclear, radiological, or biological threats posed by enemy nations. Military intelligence agencies usually analyze the environmental samples in both military and civilian environments (Deakin 128). Materials MASINT would enormously help military commanders in combat situations. It would help in determining potential threats posed by enemy countries. This would help the field commanders formulate strategies that would prevent their armies from incurring serious casualties. Materials MASINT would help politicians determine whether the enemy nations are using prohibited means to inflict casualties on other armies. This would facilitate implementation of several measures or sanctions on the nation.

Radio Frequency MASINT

Countries have various military installations that continuously emit RF emissions. The emissions may be intentional or unintentional. RF MASINT measures the intentional and unintentional RF emissions to determine platforms of targets that have many RF transmission systems. RF MASINT also analyses electromagnetic radiations that come from nuclear explosions or electrical power generation systems (Deakin 131). Analysis of this information helps intelligence agencies determine the technological capabilities of targets. This would help them develop equipment that would be able to intercept information from the RF emissions.

MASINT differs from other intelligence tools in that it mainly concerns smell, taste, and touch. Various subsets of MASINT would tremendously help in countering military threats in the future. MASINT relies on technology heavily. Therefore, to ensure efficiency of MASINT in the future, it is critical that various intelligence agencies ensure that they have the most advanced technologies. Lack of modern technology would lead to ultimate failure of MASINT.


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