Usually, within my articles and blog posts, I tend to publish the most beautiful pictures of a particular photo-session. These, most of times, depict the aircraft with as less distubing objects (canopy mounts, wing tips, etc.). However, in some cases, pictures that don’t make the news and that are not published, are interesting as well, as they provide a different point of view and give “a taste” of what, flying an airplane looks like. The following “flight-oriented” pictures were taken by both me and Giovanni Maduli (flying in the 70-24 bird) during King flight on June 4, 2009. The article about the 70° Stormo SF-260EAs was published on Rivista Aeronautica 06/2009.
A series of interesting articles, dealing with the interception of live video feeds broadcasted by the Predator UAVs (Unmanned Air Vehicles) operating in Iraq and Afghanistan by the local insurgents, was published today on worldwide newspapers.
Evidence of the hack was found in the insurgent’s laptops that contained video files intercepted by the aircraft’s unencrypted downlink to the ground stations. Obviously, being a live video feed from the aircraft’s on-board camera, the insurgents could only “eavesdrop” the communication between the Predator and the ground station and could not take control of the drones or interfere in some way with their flight.
Nevertheless, being able to intercept the images gave the insurgents the advantage of determining which building, roads, tents etc were under surveillance before either the aircraft or the ground troops could intervene. One might think the hack was done using sophisticated tools but according to the information released so far, the insurgents used a commercial software, SkyGrabber, from Russian company SkySoftware, that can be purchased for as little as $25.95 on the Internet. The stolen video files show once again how the most advanced military technologies can lose their effectiveness because of very well known vulnerabilities, exploited with cheap off-the-shelf code.
Lt. Gen. David Deptula, who oversees the Air Force’s unmanned aviation program, told the Wall Street Journal that some of the drones would employ a sophisticated new camera system called “Gorgon Stare,” which allows a single aerial vehicle to transmit back at least 10 separate video feeds simultaneously. But since the UAVs need to send their feeds over great distances they are subject to listening and exploitation: in other words, as we have already explained many times on this blog, Confidentiality (the attribute of Information representing the assurance that information is shared only among authorised persons) was compromised.
Since the U.S. government has known about the vulnerability since the U.S. campaign in Bosnia in the 1990s, it is clear that the Pentagon assumed the risk of data being intercepted by local insurgents or enemies, unimportant. An effective countermeasure that could prevent anybody from intercepting the video feeds is obviously encryption. Someone wondered why there are plenty of systems to encrypt radio transmissions while there’s almost nothing to encrypt video feeds. Simple: because encrypting a hi-definition video streaming is much more demanding (in terms of computational needs, hence hardware equipments) than encrypting audio.
Therefore, fixing the security hole would have caused additional costs and delays (because of the time needed for procurement, testing, implementation etc). Even the MQ-9 Reaper (whose version order by the Italian Air Force is known as Predator B), whose cost is around 10 million USD each, despite being faster, better armed and more capable than the Predator, will be subject to the same problem…an issue that will have to be fixed as soon as possible since the aircraft is already operating in Afghanistan, Iraq and it is also involved in anti-piracy combat patrols in the Indian Ocean.
I’ve recently read with much interest a Reuters news dealing with the software code that the controls the F-35. According to the article, a senior Pentagon program official has affirmed that no foreign partner will be granted access to the source code of the Joint Strike Fighter. Even if it is not clear which computer hosts such an important code, the 8 million lines software code (!) will not be made available to any of the 8 partners that have co-financed the F-35 development (Italy comprised) told Reuters Jon Schreiber, who heads the program’s international affairs. Instead, the US will set up a reprogramming facility, most probably at Eglin AFB in Florida, where F-35 software will be developed in order to provide the required upgrades.
New aircraft largely depend on software. The Italian Eurofighters are among them. The Italian Typhoon fleet is made by single seaters F-2000As and two seaters F-2000Bs in many different configurations: Block 1, 1B, 2, 2B, 5, 8 and 8B. Aircraft of different Blocks are much similar one another externally, as the main differences deal with the software releases. Functionalities evolve in terms of production software packages (PSPs): the manner in which the aircraft fight, employ the weapons, communicate and exchange data with other assets, largely depend on the PSP software version. However, “new” is not “better”: some of the aircraft hosting the old version of the software are more efficient and capable of the new aircraft coming with the “beta releases”, as the old software has been completely developed while the new one is in the early development stages. That’s why Italian Tranche 1 Typhoons are currently more mission capable of the recently delivered Tranche 2 examples.
A few days ago I wrote a post about the F-35 Lightning II is a fifth-generation, single-seat, single-engine, stealth multirole fighter, that will also equip the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force, ItAF) and the Marina Militare, that will use the F-35B from the new Cavour STOVL aircraft carrier. In spite of a carrier variant designated F-35C, the RAF and Royal Navy will use the B variant from aircraft carriers and the U.S. Marines Corps are investigating the use of the Ship-borne Rolling and Vertical Landing (SRVL) method to operate F-35Bs from the aircraft carrier without disrupting carrier operations as the landing method uses the same pattern of approach as wire arrested landings. The F-35C carrier (whose only user will be the US Navy to replace the “legacy Hornets” and complement the Super Hornets) variant will be much similar to the A and B versions, but will have larger, folding wings and larger control surfaces for improved low-speed control. The aircraft will also be equipped with a stronger landing gear and hook for the stresses of carrier trap landings.
The following front, side and top views of the three variants will give an idea of the main differences among the F-35A, B and C.
On Nov. 23, 2009, around 14.10 LT, a C-130J belonging to the 46^ Brigata Aerea, crashed in Pisa, next to the active runway (more or less here) causing the death of the 5 POB (People On Board). According to the eye witnesses that saw the aircraft crashing into the ground, the aircraft had just taken off from RWY 22L (even if some sources reported that the aircraft had just performed a Touch & Go) and was performing a left turn (for a right downwind?) when it lost altitude, hit the cables next to the nearby railway line and hit the ground. The reasons of the incident are obviously unknown. The two “black boxes” were immediately recovered and will be analysed to determine the root cause of the crash. The aircraft was performing a training sortie that foresaw a certain number of touch and go) and nothing can be excluded so far: for sure, with such a large aircraft, a human mistake (a stall) or a catastrophic failure (loss of hydraulic pressure, structural failure) during a low level close pattern could have a disastrous effect. I tend to exclude an engine failure since the C-130J is a 4 engine aircraft; a dual engine loss is extremely unlikely.
The aircraft involved was MM62176 “46-41″ depicted in the picture below (that I took on May 23, 2008, at Pratica di Mare airport); it was a KC-130J, a tanker capable of performing air-to-air refueling of various types of receivers.