Author Archives: David Cenciotti

Sweden Protests As Russian Fighter Buzzes Swedish Spyplane Over The Baltic Sea

A Russian fighter flies within 2 meters a Swedish Air Force spyplane, causing the Swedish minister of defence to condemn the behaviour as “unacceptable”.

In what is just the latest in a long series of close encounters over the Baltic Sea on Jun. 19, a Russian Su-27 Flanker flew dangerously close to a Swedish Air Force S102B flying an intelligence gathering mission over the Baltic Sea.

Most of times such intercepts, that have occurred in international airspace for decades, are just routine stuff: the fighter in QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) is launched to perform a VID (Visual IDentification) run on the spyplane; the interceptor reaches the ELINT (Electronic Intelligence) plane and follows it for a few minutes before returning to base.

However, according to the reports, the behaviour of the Russian Su-27 Flankers scrambled to intercept the Swedish or US spyplanes over the Baltic Sea off Kaliningrad Oblast is often a bit too aggressive and not compliant with the international procedures that would recommend the interceptor to keep a safe distance from the “zombie”: usually, 50 to 150 meters.

Indeed, according to the Swedish MoD, during the intercept on Jun. 19, the Russian Flanker allegedly flew within 2 meters (!) of the spyplane. Provided that was the distance between the two jets, the risk of collision was pretty high.

The Swedish Air Force operates a pair of Gulfstream IVSP aircraft, known in Swedish service as S102B Korpen, used for ELINT (Electronic Intelligence) purposes. The aircraft, based on the American Gulfstream business jet but equipped with eavesdropping sensors, routinely conduct surveillance missions in the Baltic Sea.

One of the Swedish Air Force S102B Korpen aircraft (credit: Johan Lundgren/Försvarsmakten)

According to Swedish Air Force officials, during those sorties, the Korpens fly in international airspace, with their transponders turned on, and regularly transmit their position to the relevant civilian air traffic control agency, both domestic and, if needed, foreign ones.

Reports of barrel rolls, aggressive maneuvers, etc. involving Russian interceptors and NATO/allied aircraft (or viceversa) have become a bit too frequent: there is a significant risk these close encounters may one day end with a midair collision, with the consequences that everyone can imagine.

Top image: file photo of a Su-27 over the Baltic Sea as seen from a Portuguese P-3 Orion

H/T Erik Arnberg for the heads up!

 

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New Video Shows Close Encounter Between NATO F-16 And Su-27 Flanker Escorting Russian Defense Minister Plane Over The Baltic

Exciting moments over the Baltic Sea as a Polish F-16 shadows a Russian VIP plane sparking the reaction by an escorting Su-27 Flanker.

Zvezda has just released some interesting footage allegedly showing a NATO F-16 approaching Russian Defense Ministry Sergei Shoigu’s plane while flying over the Baltic Sea.

According to the first reports and analysis of the footage, the F-16 (most probably a Polish Air Force Block 52+ aircraft supporting the NATO Baltic Air Policing mission from Lithuania – hence, armed) shadowed the Tu-154 aircraft (most probably the aircraft with registration RA-85686) carrying the defense minister en route to the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad when one armed Russian Su-27 Flanker escorting Shoigu’s plane maneuvered towards the NATO aircraft, forcing it to move farther.

Some minutes later, the F-16 left the area, according to the reports.

Similar close encounters occur quite frequently in the Baltic region.

We have published many articles in the past about Russian aircraft coming quite close to both NATO fighters in QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) duty and U.S. spyplanes: indeed, the latest incident comes a day after the Russian defense ministry said an RC-135 U.S. reconnaissance plane had aggressively and dangerously maneuvered in the proximity of a Russian fighter jet over the Baltic. The ministry said at the same time that another RC-135 had been intercepted by a Russian jet in the same area.

Business as usual….

H/T Lasse Holm for sending this over to us.

 

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Cybersecurity In The Sky: Internet of Things Capabilities Making Aircraft More Exposed To Cyber Threats Than Ever Before

The rise of IoT (Internet Of Things) could become a security nightmare for aviation. We spoke with an expert about the dangers associated with bringing military and civil aircraft “online”.

The Internet of things (IoT) is the inter-networking of physical devices equipped with electronics, software, sensors, actuators, and network connectivity which enable these objects (referred to as “connected things”) to collect and exchange data.

Almost every device that is able to connect to the Internet can be considered as a “connected thing”: smartphones,  wearables, personal computers, refrigerators, smart meters, cars, buildings and, why not, aircraft can be considered IoT devices that communicate with one another. Smart homes are enabled by IoT devices. Just think to this scenario: a user arrives home and his car autonomously communicates with the garage to open the door. The thermostat is already adjusted to his preferred temperature, due to sensing his proximity. He walks through his door as it unlocks in response to his smart phone or RFID implant. The home’s lighting is adjusted to lower intensity and his chosen color for relaxing, as his pacemaker data indicates that it’s been a stressful day.

Based on some recent estimates, there will be about 30 Billion devices connected to the IoT by 2020.

What is somehow worrisome about the proliferation of IoT devices is the fact that most of these are poorly protected and hackable. Between September and October 2016, a botnet made of hundreds thousands under-secured IoT devices (mainly CCTV cameras) was used to perform one of the largest distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks ever: a malware dubbed “Mirai” identified vulnerable IoT devices and turned these networked devices into remotely controlled “bots” that could be used as part of a botnet in large-scale network attacks. On Oct. 21, the so-called “Mirai IoT botnet” remotely instructed 100,000 devices to target the DNS services of DNS service provider Dyn. As a result much of America’s internet was brought down by the cyber-attack, because it prevent the accessibility of several high-profile websites.

Now, imagine for a moment, that these attacks involved or were aimed at connected airplanes.

“Soon, thousands of sensors will be embedded in each aircraft, allowing data to be streamed down to the ground in real-time. And who knows, in time, this could drive the ubiquitous black box to become simply a backup device!” said Aviation Week in an article last year.

Indeed, an aircraft can leverage IoT capabilities to proactively identify maintenance issues and place orders for replacement parts and ground maintenance crew while cruising, so that, when it lands, everything is already in place and ready to be fixed, without affecting the optempo. This is, for instance, what the F-35’s ALIS (Autonomic Logistics Information System) does: ALIS (pronounced “Alice”) uses sensors embedded throughout the aircraft to detect performance, compare to parameters, use sophisticated analytics to predict maintenance needs, and then communicate with maintenance staff so that the right parts are ready when needed. ALIS serves as the information infrastructure for the F-35, transmitting aircraft health and maintenance action information to the appropriate users on a globally-distributed network to technicians worldwide. In this respect the F-35 is said to be on the IoT’s cutting edge.

Maintenance information aside, the F-35 is surely the largest data collection and sharing platform ever produced, or the Number #1 IoT Device that can collect intelligence and battlefield data from several sensors and share it in real time with other assets as well as commanders.

The F-35 is an example of the extent of interconnection 5th Gen. warplanes feature. To complete missions in denied airspace, pilots need a way to share information securely, without revealing their location to enemy forces. The F-35 has incorporated Northrop Grumman’s MADL into its missions systems to provide pilots with the ability to connect with other planes and automatically share situational awareness data between fighter aircraft. The MADL is a high-data-rate, directional communications link that allows for the secure transmission of coordinated tactics and engagement for 5th Generation aircraft operating in high-threat environments. The MADL is one of 27 different waveforms in the F-35’s communication, navigation and identification (CNI) suite.

With IoT capabilities becoming pivotal to the world of military and civil aviation, connected aircraft could soon become the next target for cyber criminals or cyber enemies.

We have asked a couple of questions about the risk the IoT poses to aviation to Tom Hardin, research lead at G2 Crowd, a peer-to-peer, business software review platform.

Q) What’s the relation between IoT and Aviation?

A) The combination of IoT and aviation is intriguing on a variety of levels. As ‘things’ have become more connected, from wearables to self-driving cars, we now have access to massive amounts of new data points. All of this data can not only help us understand consumers better, but can potentially provide actionable intelligence on the business operations side. An example is tracking the movement of a product throughout a particular supply chain, storing data on production, delivery, and maintenance, that ultimately leads to more predictive and intelligent workflows.

Connecting IoT to commercial aviation, the concept of massive data storage capabilities leading to better analytics, maintenance, and the operation of aircraft could potentially offer significant benefits. Having real-time access to all data points during a flight, such as engine performance, weather analysis, pilot monitoring, etc., could help mechanical engineers create more efficient engines, allow operators to provide more accurate weather forecasts, and aid pilots’ health (and the safety of passengers).

In terms of military aviation, IoT would provide the same potential benefits experienced by commercial airlines, but applied more directly to combat strategies and tactical support. With all of the data gathered through an IoT-connected military aircraft, weapons system, or ground vehicle, missions could be planned with a greater level of intelligence and more effective strategy. Machine learning also plays a role here, as a system can be trained to make real-time decisions, helping collect intelligence faster and identify key threats quicker. For example, sensors on a military aircraft could potentially pick-up a mission-critical piece of information, and instead on that data point being missed or slowly relayed to troops on the ground, it is analyzed and communicated in real-time, allowing for a tactical shift that could increase the mission’s odds of success (and save more lives).

Q) What kind of risks do the above scenarios imply? Are there signs an aircraft or an airport will soon become a battlefield for cyberterrorism or cyberwar?

A) Although there are clear benefits to using IoT for military purposes, there are also serious dangers. Possibly the biggest threat of all is dealing with cyber criminals and hacking. With IoT connected military planes compiling sensitive data, hackers could potentially gain access to strategic information such as the location of troops or detailed mission plans. Even more frightening is the prospect that a hacker could gain access to an aircraft’s control system and weaponry, similar to drone hacks, and use it against the enemy. This type of breach could lead to acts of remote terrorism, which is truly a terrifying thought.

In terms of establishing a timeline on when all of this would be possible, it’s difficult to speculate. My feeling is that it is closer than most of us think. And with DDoS attacks continuing to be an issue, IoT security across industries needs to address the potential for massive data breaches or hostile takeovers.

With all of the potential benefits and security issues with IoT, aviation is something we need to keep an eye on. With the amount of terrorist attacks involving airplanes and airports in recent memory, the threat of a cyberterrorist attack involving a connected aircraft, especially if it is equipped with military-grade weaponry, could be catastrophic. And though hacking into the control system of a plane is likely incredibly complex, security concerns over IoT remain, leaving us to ponder the state if our increasingly connected world.

Hackers have already been targeting modern aircraft made of millions lines of code (with the F-35, the world’s most advanced, “software-based” aircraft at the top of the target list), for years now. IoT capabilities will simply expand the attack surface making next generation aircraft possibly more exposed to hacking than ever before.

Disclaimer: the F-35 is extensively mentioned in this article just because it is most interconnected combat aircraft to date and its Condition-Based Maintenance is considered a clear example of IoT Application in the military.

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Gripen E Next Generation Smart Fighter Makes Successful First Flight

First flight success for Gripen E

On Thursday June 15, at 10:32LT, the Gripen E aircraft (designation 39-8) took off on its maiden flight from Saab’s airfield in Linköping, Sweden.

Flown by a Saab test pilot, the aircraft flew over the eastern parts of Östergötland for 40 minutes and along with retracting and extending the landing gear, carried out a number of basic maneuvers.

“The flight was just as expected, with the aircraft performance matching the experience in our simulations. Its acceleration performance is impressive with smooth handling. Needless to say I’m very happy to have piloted this maiden flight,” says Marcus Wandt, Experimental Test Pilot, Saab, in a statement.

The aircraft, a new multirole variant of the Gripen fighter, based on the proven C/D platforms tailored for the future Network Centric Warfare (NCW) environment, was officially unveiled at the company base in Likoping, Sweden, on May 18, 2016.

The aircraft is much similar to its predecessor: an IRST (Infra Red Search and Track) bump in front of the cockpit in the nose section as well as the missile warning system on the air intakes are the main external differentiators.

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According to Saab, Gripen E offers operational dominance and flexibility with superior mission survivability. Air-to-air superiority is guaranteed with METEOR, AMRAAM, IRIS-T, AIM-9 missile capability and supercruise.

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Air-to-surface capability is assured through the use of the latest generation precision weapons and targeting sensors. Gripen E’s superior situation awareness is ensured through an AESA radar, IRST passive sensor, HMD (Helmet Mounted Display), cutting-edge avionics, next generation data processing and a state-of-the-art cockpit.

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Furthermore, its Network Centric Warfare capabilities include advanced data communications, dual data links, satellite communications and video links. On-board sensors, in combination with HMD/NVG, deliver the ability to detect and destroy a wide variety of targets, even at night or in poor weather conditions.

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“This is an important milestone in the development programme of Gripen E, of which first deliveries to Sweden and Brazil are expected by 2019. Gripen E has been designed with the future in mind, incorporating the most advanced technology and providing excellent tactical flexibility. As a truly multi-role fighter, fully NATO-interoperable, we are very confident that Gripen E meets the demanding operational requirements expressed by the Belgian Air Force as it seeks to replace its current fleet of fighter aircraft,” Per Alriksson, Campaign Director for Gripen in Belgium, said.

“Gripen E differs also from any other fighter aircraft with unrivalled cost efficiency in combination with advanced technology and operational effectiveness.”

The Gripen single-engine multirole fighter aircraft has already had some important export successes: the baseline JAS-39C currently serves with the Swedish, South African, Czech, Hungarian and Royal Thai Air Force, and there are orders in place in Brazil and Sweden, and some good chances to win other interesting bids, including Switzerland.

H/T Henry Blom for the heads-up

 

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The Finnish Air Force Has Just Released Some Really Cool Photos Of Russian Combat Aircraft Intercepted Over The Baltic

Beriev A-50, Ilyushin Il-22, Sukhoi Su-24, Sukhoi Su-27, Sukhoi Su-34 and Tupolev Tu-160 aircraft, were photographed by the Finnish Hornets. First appearance of a Blackjack over the Baltic.

The Finnish Air Force has been quite busy lately intercepting and escorting Russian military aircraft flying in international airspace, over the Gulf of Finland and the Baltic Sea, in the vicinity of Finland’s airspace.

For instance, on June 14 and 15, several air assets, including Beriev A-50, Ilyushin Il-22, Sukhoi Su-24, Sukhoi Su-27, Sukhoi Su-34 and Tupolev Tu-160 aircraft, flew close to the Finnish airspace, forcing the Finnish Air Force to scramble its F/A-18 Hornet on QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) in order to intercept the Russian aircraft.

The photographs in this post were taken by the Finnish F/A-18 pilots during such intercept missions.

Beriev A-50 (Finnish Air Force)

An Il-22 escorted by a Su-27 Flanker (Finnish Air Force)

A pair of Fencers shadowed by a Finnish F/A-18 Hornet (Finnish Air Force)

A two-seater Flanker (Finnish Air Force)

A Su-34 Fullback (Finnish Air Force)

 

 

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