Category Archives: Information Security

U.S. Air Force Issues “Gag” Order on Public Affairs Reporting: Is Something Up?

Order for Retraining of Public Affairs Officers Signals Tighter Control on Reporting.

The U.S. Air Force has issued new, more controlled directives for its interaction with media reporters. The new directives may significantly limit the access journalists have to reporting on some stories about the U.S. Air Force. Officials within the U.S. Defense Department and U.S. Air Force handed down a memo on March 1, 2018 titled, “OPSEC and Public Engagement Reset” announcing new, more controlled restrictions on media reporting.

Included in the March 1 USAF Public Engagement Reset directive is the specification that, “Media embeds, media base visits and interviews are suspended until further notice.” The statement goes on to read, “Limited exceptions may be provided by SAF/PA.” (Secretary of the Air Force/Public Affairs).

The increasingly evolving defense and aerospace media relies heavily on access to military facilities and personnel to generate a wide variety of stories. Storylines, like the ones you read here on The Aviationist.com, range from public interest stories that inspire young people to pursue a military career to military technology, reporting on news about training and operations and stories about historical topics.

The U.S. Air Force and other military services work in cooperation with media outlets to provide access to bases, training areas and personnel for the purpose of generating news stories in promotion of military doctrine and in compliance with the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment that guarantees freedom of the press.

Journalists who report on U.S. Air Force subjects have, in general, voluntarily maintained a balanced relationship between maintaining operational security in the interest of overall national security and bringing news stories to the public audience. Reporters know that if they intentionally or inadvertently report on a topic that violates or presses the limits of maintaining operational security (OPSEC) their access will be revoked and they may create a potentially dangerous circumstance putting U.S. service members and defense initiatives at risk. For all defense journalists, maintaining the balance between operational security and freedom of speech in reporting is a significant responsibility and delicate balancing act.

Dr. Heather Wilson, Secretary of the Air Force, conducts a media interview at Holloman AFB in 2017 during a media event. Media specific events grant exclusive access to multiple news outlets providing a broad spectrum of perspectives and analysis on Air Force news. (Photo: TheAviationist.com)

The reasons for this March 1, 2018 change in media directives for the U.S. Air Force could be multi-fold.

During the last decade defense media has evolved and expanded significantly to include vastly greater numbers of media outlets. The quality and credibility of the outlets range from casual social media to major international network news media. Since the onset of media proliferation most of the military services at the national level have done little to adapt their media services to work safely and effectively with the greater number and scale of media outlets. As a result, some public affairs operations have had greatly increased workloads with little strategic direction set against the backdrop of the evolution in media. For the most part, the system has worked well, but the two entities occasionally must moderate the sometimes-conflicting motives of the media to release compelling stories and the Air Force to maintain security. One example was the September, 2017 fatal accident of U.S. Air Force pilot Lt. Col. Eric Schultz.

Lt. Col. Schultz’s remarkable career eventually led to his involvement in classified operations over the vast Nellis Ranges in Nevada. When he died in an accident on September 5, 2017 popular aviation media was rife with speculation about what Lt. Col. Schultz’s mission may have been at the time. Some outlets questioned if Lt. Col. Schultz’s death was being kept classified to protect specific air force programs from criticism. The Air Force was quick to issue media statements from the command level dispelling those theories.

Another reason for changes in Air Force public relations may be more sensational. Several new key technologies may be reaching a level of maturity that mandates a reset of security to protect them from being compromised. The Air Force and aerospace contractors have been selectively public in their disclosures about major programs like the new Long Range Strike-Bomber (LRS-B). But as more media outlets across the entire spectrum press harder and harder for a “scoop” the necessary operational security surrounding these programs becomes more difficult to maintain.

Finally, another contributing factor to the change in Air Force media policy may be that the current internal system is simply overloaded. Given the increase in media outlets and growth in public interest and new story lines the current Air Force public affairs system is trying to sip water from a fire hose. There are simply too many media outlets, reporters asking for access and stories and too few Air Force public affairs personnel to moderate the exploding demand for media against the very real need to maintain operational security while ensuring the media outlets are producing quality media.

This new media restriction couldn’t come at a worse time for the Air Force from a recruiting perspective. A central problem facing the U.S. Air Force is a critical pilot shortage. While there may be no quick fix for producing proficient new Air Force pilots a reduction in the volume of inspiring media about Air Force careers will not help drive new officers and airmen to join the Air Force.

Brigadier General Brook Leonard, Commander of the 56th Fighter Wing, speaks to reporters during a media briefing at an F-16 training facility. (Photo: TheAviationist.com)

An embarrassing incident on social media from January, 2018 at Nellis AFB in Nevada was also highlighted in the news earlier this year. USAF Tech. Sgt. Geraldine Lovely of the 99th Force Support Squadron at Nellis posted derogatory comments about subordinates on a social media platform. Here angry remarks, that included profanity and racial slurs, were viewed by over 1 million people and shared over 8,000 times. Tech. Sgt. Lovely was subsequently disciplined and in-service training for the use of social media by Air Force personnel was initiated in response to the incident.

If there is a singular theme to this story it is that media and stories have expanded and changed faster than Air Force public relations capabilities. This, set against a backdrop of what may be some emerging (and exciting) new technologies for the Air Force has caused the story faucet to be turned off. Now it is up to reporters to figure out innovative ways to quench readers’ thirst for Air Force news in this new information draught.

Top image: News reporters interview Maj. Henry Schantz, commander of the U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor Demonstration Team, at the Kentucky Air National Guard Base in Louisville, Ky., on April 18, 2012. Schantz, who is based at Langley Air Force Base, Va., will be piloting the F-22 in Louisville’s 22nd annual Thunder Over Louisville air show, to be held along the banks of the Ohio River on April 21. The Raptor is the U.S. military’s premier fighter aircraft, with capabilities that are unmatched by any other plane. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Maj. Dale Greer)

Vulnerable To Cyber Attacks, ADS-B May Expose F-22s To Web Based Tracking GAO Warns

A new report highlights the risks of ADS-B transponders. But it focuses on technology rather than operation security.

We have been writing about this topic since 2011. As most of our readers already know by now, Flightradar24 and PlaneFinder are two famous Web-based services that let anyone who has an Internet access on their computer, laptop or smartphone, track flights in real-time.

Aviation enthusiasts and geeks, journalists but also curious people use these portals to get details about civil and military flights all around the world.

The ADS-B system uses a special transponder that autonomously broadcasts data from the aircraft’s on-board navigation systems about its GPS-calculated position, altitude and flight path. This information is transmitted on 1090 MHz frequency: ground stations, other nearby aircraft as well as commercial off-the-shelf receivers available on the market as well as home-built ones, tuned on the same frequency, can receive and process this data.

Flightradar24 and PlaneFinder rely on a network of several hundred (if not thousand) feeders who receive and share Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) transponders data and contribute growing the network and cover most of the planet.

Obviously, only ADS-B equipped aircraft flying within the coverage area of the network are visible.

Actually, in those areas where coverage is provided by several different ground stations, the position can be calculated also for those planes that do not broadcast their ADS-B data by means of Multilateration (MLAT). MLAT uses Time Difference of Arrival (TDOA): by measuring the difference in time to receive the signal from four different receivers, the aircraft can be geolocated and tracked even if it does not transmit ADS-B data.

Although the majority of the aircraft you’ll be able to track using a browser (or smartphone’s app) using the above mentioned Web-based tracking services are civil airliners and business jets, military aircraft are also equipped with Mode-S ADS-B-capable transponders: a 2010 Federal Aviation Administration rule requires all military aircraft to be equipped with ADS-B transponders by Jan. 1, 2020, as part of its program to modernize the air transportation system.

RQ-4 Global Hawk tracked during its mission near Crimea and over Ukraine on Jul. 20, 2017. The U.S. Air Force Global Hawk UAS are among the assets that can be regularly tracked online. (Screenshot from Flightradar24.com)

But, these are *usually* turned off during real war ops. Usually, not always.

In fact, during opening stages of the Libya Air War in 2011 some of the combat aircraft involved in the air campaign forgot/failed to switch off their mode-S or ADS-B transponder, and were clearly trackable on FR.24 or PF.net. And despite pilots all around the world know the above mentioned flight tracking websites very well, transponders remain turned on during real operations, making their aircraft clearly visible to anyone with a browser and an Internet connection. As a consequence, we have been highlighting the the risk of Internet-based flight tracking of aircraft flying war missions for years. In 2014 we discovered that a U.S. plane possibly supporting ground troops in Afghanistan acting as an advanced communication relay can be regularly tracked as it circled over the Ghazni Province. Back then we explained that the only presence of the aircraft over a sensitive target could expose an imminent air strike, jeopardizing an entire operations. US Air Force C-32Bs (a military version of the Boeing 757 operated by the Department of Homeland Security and US Foreign Emergency Support Team to deploy US teams and special forces in response to terrorist attacks), American and Russian “doomsday planes”, tanker aircraft and even the Air Force One, along with several other combat planes can be tracked every now and then on both FR24.com and PF.net.

A U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor departs after receiving fuel from a KC-135 Stratotanker, assigned to the 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron, during a mission in support of Operation Inherent Resolve Aug. 22, 2017. According to GAO, ADS-B poses a threat to the Raptor stealthiness as it may expose the aircraft presence. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Michael Battles)

Today, military planes belonging to different air forces as well as contractor and special operations planes can be regularly tracked while flying over Iraq, Afghanistan, Tunia, Egypt and many other “hot spots”.

A Government Accountability Office report released last month highlighted the risks of ADS-B. According to the watchdog agency neither the Department of Defense nor the FAA have taken significant steps to mitigate security risks associated with openly transmitting flight data from military aircraft (highlight mine):

Information broadcasted from ADS-B transponders poses an operations security risk for military aircraft. For example, a 2015 assessment that RAND conducted on behalf of the U.S. Air Force stated that the broadcasting of detailed and unencrypted position data for fighter aircraft, in particular for a stealth aircraft such as the F-22, may present an operations security risk. The report noted that information about the F-22’s precise position is classified Secret, which means that unauthorized disclosure of this information could reasonably be expected to cause serious damage to the national security.

Such risks have been highlighted since 2008 according to GAO:

In DOD’s 2008 comments about FAA’s draft rule requiring ADS-B Out technology, the department informed FAA that DOD aircraft could be identified conducting special flights for sensitive missions in the United States and potentially compromised due to ADS-B technology. Such sensitive missions could
include low-observable surveillance, combat air patrol, counter-drug, counter-terrorism, and key personnel transport. While some military aircraft are currently equipped with Mode S transponders that provide individuals who have tracking technology the altitude of the aircraft, ADS-B poses an increased risk.

Moreover, there are concerns since the ADS-B technology is vulnerable to jamming and cyber attacks. GAO:

For example, a 2015 Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers article about ADS-B stated that ADS-B is vulnerable to an electronic-warfare attack — such as a jamming attack — whereby an adversary can effectively disable the sending and receiving of messages between an ADS-B transmitter and receiver by transmitting a higher power signal on the ADS-B frequencies. The article notes that while jamming is a problem common to all wireless communication, the effect is severe in aviation due to the system’s inherently wide-open spaces, which are impossible to control, as well as to the importance and criticality of the transmitted data. As a stand-alone method, jamming could create problems within the national airspace. Jamming can also be used to initiate a cyber-attack on aircraft or ADS-B systems. According to the article in the 2015 Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers publication, adversaries could use a cyber-attack to inject false ADS-B messages (that is, create “ghost” aircraft on the ground or air); delete ADS-B messages (that is,make an aircraft disappear from the air traffic controller screens); and modify messages (that is, change the reported path of the aircraft). The article states that jamming attacks against ADS-B systems would be simple, and that ADS-B data do not include verification measures to filter out false messages, such as those used in spoofing attacks.

Lack of solutions:

Although DOD, FAA, and other organizations have identified risks to military security and missions since 2008, DOD and FAA have not approved any solutions to address these risks. This is because DOD and FAA have focused on equipping military aircraft with ADS-B technology and have not focused on solving or mitigating security risks from ADS-B. The approach being taken by FAA and DOD will not address key security risks that have been identified, and delays in producing an interagency agreement have significantly reduced the time available to implement any agreed-upon solutions before January 1, 2020, when the full deployment of ADS-B Out is required.

So, GAO urges DoD and FAA to approve solutions that can address operations, physical, cyber-attack, and electronic warfare security risks; and risks associated with divesting secondary-surveillance radars (since the idea is to divest legacy radars and replace them with ADS-B only). However, based on our experience, proper procedures should be adopted (provided they are not there yet) in order to prevent big OPSEC failures. Indeed, whilst securing ADS-B is a must, it’s probably more important to turn off the Mode-S and ADS-B transponders when conducting missions that need to remain invisible (at least to public flight tracking websites and commercial off the shelf receivers). Unless the transponder is turned on for a specific purpose: to let the world know they are there. In fact, as reported several times here, it’s difficult to say whether some aircraft that can be tracked online broadcast their position for everyone to see by accident or on purpose: increasingly, RC-135s and other strategic ISR platforms, including the Global Hawks, operate over highly sensitive regions, such as Ukraine or the Korean Peninsula, with the ADS-B and Mode-S turned on, so that even commercial off the shelf receivers (or public tracking websites) can monitor them. Is it a way to show the flag? Maybe.

Summing up, FR24.com, PF.net, home-made kits etc. are extremely interesting and powerful tools to investigate and study civil and military aviation; until ADS-B is made more resilient and secure, air forces around the world have only to consider the risk of public flight tracking when executing combat missions in the same way other details, such as radio communications policies and EMCON (Emission Control) restrictions, are already taken into account.

Many thanks to @CivMilAir for helping preparing this article.

See How USAF Aggressors Jam Civilian GPS Signals in Training at Nellis Air Force Base

GPS Jamming is a New Story from Red Flag 18-1, But We Videotaped It at Nellis Last Year.

Despite the Jan. 27, 2018 accident with a Royal Australian Air Force EA-18G Growler, the massive tactical air training exercise Red Flag 18-1 continues from Nellis AFB outside Las Vegas, Nevada. The training exercise extends throughout the sprawling 7,700 square mile Nellis Military Operating Area (MOA) ranges.

Aviation authority and journalist Tyler Rogoway broke the story of the U.S. Air Force jamming GPS signals on a large scale for training purposes during Red Flag 18-1 in an article for The War Zone last week. But earlier in 2017 we went inside Nellis AFB to get a firsthand demonstration of how easy and how quickly the U.S. Air Force can jam GPS signals for training purposes.

In our demonstration, members of the 527th Space Aggressor Squadron (527th SAS) at Nellis AFB showed us how they can use off-the-shelf equipment to conduct tactical short-range jamming of the GPS signal on a local level. The 527th Space Aggressor Squadron was at Nellis AFB for the 2017 Aviation Nation Air and Space Expo. Our reporters got a firsthand look at GPS jamming on media day. In only a few seconds members of the 527th SAS used off-the-shelf equipment available to the public to jam local GPS reception. As you can see in the video, the signal bars on our test receiver, a typical consumer GPS, disappeared entirely as thought GPS simply didn’t exist anymore.

The 527th Space Aggressor Squadron’s mission is not active combat jamming of GPS, but to provide these and other electronic warfare capabilities for training purposes in exercises like Red Flag 18-1. The unit is based at Schriever AFB in Colorado but is attached to the 57th Wing at Nellis. According to the U.S. Air Force, the 57th Wing, “is the most diverse wing in the Air Force and provides advanced, realistic and multi-domain training focused on ensuring dominance through air, space and cyberspace.”

The 527th Space Aggressor Squadron personnel showed enthusiasm for their mission and reminded us that cyber and electronic warfare is the most dynamic and fastest growing battlespace in modern combat.

The unique insignia worn by members of the elite 527th Space Aggressor Squadron. Notice one version worn by the unit is in Russian. (Photo: TheAviationist.com)

In an operational environment jamming GPS signals represents both a threat and an important capability. In addition to serving an important purpose in navigation on land, sea and in the air GPS also provides targeting capability for precision weapons along with many other tactical and strategic purposes.

For instance, among the various theories surrouding the capture of the U.S. RQ-170 Sentinel drone by Iran in 2011, one mentioned a GPS hack. This is what The Aviationist’s David Cenciotti wrote back then:

Eventually there is an explanation for the mysterious capture of the U.S. stealth drone by Iran. In an exclusive interview to the Christian Science Monitor, an  Iranian engineer (on condition of anonymity) working to reverse engineer the RQ-170 Sentinel hacked while it was flying over the northeastern Iranian city of Kashmar, some 225 kilometers (140 miles) away from the Afghan border, says they were able to exploit a known vulnerability of the GPS.

In simple words, in a scenario that I had more or less described in my last post which described also the known threats to the drone’s Position, Navigation and Guidance system, the Iranain electronic warfare specialist disrupted the satellite link of the American robot and then reconfigured the drone’s GPS setting the coordinates to make it land in Iran at what the Sentinel thought it was its home base in Afghanistan.

They jammed the SATCOM link and then forced the drone into autopilot reconfiguring the waypoint of the lost-link procedure to make it land where they wanted.

Such techniques were tuned by studying previously downed smaller drone, like the 4 U.S. and 3 Israeli that could be exhibited in Iran in the next future.

Although we don’t know what really happened to the Sentinel drone during its clandestine mission (in the above article our own Cenciotti was skeptical about the version mentioned by the anonymous Iranian engineer), it’s pretty obvious that dominating the GPS “domain” is crucial to win. That’s why during Red Flag 18-1 the widespread jamming of GPS for training purposes enables warfighters to operate in an environment where electronic and cyber-attacks may disable GPS capability. This compels the players to develop new tactics for fighting “GPS blind” and to revisit existing capabilities perfected in the era prior to widespread use of GPS in a warfighting role.

The 527th SAS displayed press clippings about GPS jamming incidents around the world at Nellis AFB. (Photo: TheAviationist.com)

The U.S. Air Force Has Deployed One Of Its EC-130H Compass Call Electronic Warfare Aircraft To South Korea

One of the few EC-130H Compass Call aircraft, capable to find and hit the enemy forces with denial of service (and possibly cyber) attacks on their communication networks, has been deployed to Osan Air Base, South Korea.

The EC-130H Compass Call is a modified Hercules tasked with various types of signals surveillance, interdiction and disruption. According to the U.S. Air Force official fact sheets: “The Compass Call system employs offensive counter-information and electronic attack (or EA) capabilities in support of U.S. and Coalition tactical air, surface, and special operations forces.”

The USAF EC-130H overall force is quite small, consisting of only 14 aircraft, based at Davis-Monthan AFB (DMAFB), in Tucson, Arizona and belonging to the 55th Electronic Combat Group (ECG) and its two squadrons: the 41st and 43rd Electronic Combat Squadrons (ECS). Also based at DMAFB and serving as the type training unit is the 42nd ECS that operates a lone TC-130H trainer along with some available EC-130Hs made available by the other front-line squadrons.

An EC-130H Compass Call travels along the taxiway at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia, June 27, 2017. Compass Call is an airborne tactical weapon system that uses noise jamming to disrupt enemy command and control communications and deny time-critical adversary coordination essential for enemy force management. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Jonathan Hehnly)

The role of the Compass Call is to disrupt the enemy’s ability to command and control their forces by finding, prioritizing and targeting the enemy communications. This means that the aircraft is able to detect the signals emitted by the enemy’s communication and control gear and jam them so that the communication is denied. The original mission of the EC-130H was SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses): the Compass Call were to jam the enemy’s IADS (Integrated Air Defense Systems) and to prevent interceptors from talking with the radar controllers on the ground (or aboard an Airborne Early Warning aircraft). Throughout the years, the role has evolved, making the aircraft a platform capable of targeting also the signals between UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) and their control stations.

According to the official data:

The EC-130H fleet is composed of a mix of Baseline 1 and 2 aircraft. The 55th ECG recently eclipsed 10,900 combat sorties and 66,500 flight hours as they provided U.S. and Coalition forces and Joint Commanders a flexible advantage across the spectrum of conflict. COMPASS CALL’s adaptability is directly attributed to its spiral upgrade acquisition strategy guided by the Big Safari Program office and Air Force Material Command’s 661st Aeronautical Systems Squadron based in Waco, Texas. Combined efforts between these agencies ensure the EC-130H can counter new, emergent communication technology.

The Block 35 Baseline 1 EC-130H provides the Air Force with additional capabilities to jam communication, Early Warning/Acquisition radar and navigation systems through higher effective radiated power, extended frequency range and insertion of digital signal processing versus earlier EC-130Hs. Baseline 1 aircraft have the flexibility to keep pace with adversary use of emerging technology. It is highly reconfigurable and permits incorporation of clip-ins with less crew impact. It promotes enhanced crew proficiency, maintenance and sustainment with a common fleet configuration, new operator interface, increased reliability and better fault detection.

Baseline 2 has a number of upgrades to ease operator workload and improve effectiveness. Clip-in capabilities are now integrated into the operating system and, utilizing automated resource management, are able to be employed seamlessly with legacy capabilities. Improved external communications allow Compass Call crews to maintain situational awareness and connectivity in dynamic operational and tactical environments.
Delivery of Baseline-2 provides the DoD with the equivalent of a “fifth generation electronic attack capability.” A majority of the improvements found in the EC-130H Compass Call Baseline-2 are classified modifications to the mission system that enhance precision and increase attack capacity. Additionally, the system was re-designed to expand the “plug-and-play” quick reaction capability aspect, which has historically allowed the program to counter unique “one-off” high profile threats. Aircraft communication capabilities are improved with expansion of satellite communications connectivity compatible with emerging DoD architectures, increased multi-asset coordination nets and upgraded data-link terminals. Furthermore, modifications to the airframe in Baseline-2 provide improved aircraft performance and survivability.

Although it’s not clear whether this ability has already been translated into an operational capability, in 2015, a USAF EC-130H Compass Call aircraft has also been involved in demos where it attacked networks from the air: a kind of in-flight hacking capability that could be particularly useful to conduct cyberwarfare missions where the Electronic Attack aircraft injects malware by air-gapping closed networks.

With about one-third of the fleet operating in support of Operation Inherent Resolve (indeed, four EC-130Hs, teaming up with the RC-135 Rivet Joint and other EA assets, are operating over Iraq and Syria to deny the Islamic State the ability to communicate), the fact that a single EC-130H (73-1590 “Axis 43”) was recently deployed from Davis Monthan AFB to Osan Air Base, South Korea, where it arrived via Yokota, on Jan. 4, 2018, it’s pretty intriguing.

Obviously, we can’t speculate about the reason behind the deployment of the Electronic Warfare with alleged Cyber-Attack capabilities (that could be particularly useful against certain threats these days….) aircraft south of the DMZ: however, the presence of such a specialized and somehow rare aircraft in the Korean peninsula, that joins several other intelligence gathering aircraft operating over South Korea amid raising tensions for quite some time, is at least worth of note.

Update: some of our sources have suggested that the aircraft was deployed to perform anti-IED (Improvised Electronic Device) tasks during the Winter Olympics, kicking off on Feb. 9, 2018 in PyeongChang County, South Korea.

What Do New Technologies And Digital Transformation Mean To The Military?

New Technologies, IoT And Cyber Threats Are Changing The Way War Is Fought In The Battlefield

Wearables used to monitor activity level and individuals health state. Collaboration softwares used to create virtual conference rooms and messaging tools connecting people through dynamic software-defined wide area networks. Data increasingly moving from on-premise to Cloud hosting environments. Software and applications provisioned on-the-fly and made available through virtualized remote sessions regardless of connecting device’s originating network and OS (Operating System). Drones feeding real-time videos to their remote operators and aircraft engines streaming TB (Terabyte) of data to remote maintenance systems.

Those mentioned above are just a few examples of how technology influences everyday business and personal life. The impact of “pervasive technologies” on today’s society is often referred to as “Digital Transformation,” part of the so-called “Revolution 4.0,” where fusion of technologies is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres.

Whilst a large mix of digital technologies is making the world fully connected to improve collaboration, learning, information sharing and decision-making, militaries around the world continue to invest in research and development and seek new technologies that can give them an advantage on the battlefield. More or less what their old and new enemies are doing at the same speed, or faster.

Today’s joint operations on the battlefield require reliable information gathered through a wide variety of sensors aboard drones, spyplanes or provided by troops operating in the field around the world to decision makers oceans apart. The digitized information is collected at the tactical edge and delivered via the secure network connections to the data center where it can be “transformed” through analytics and machine learning to generate critical insight. Such insights can be then shared back to the deployed soldiers at the edge in real-time.

Whilst not simple to achieve, the transformation of images and signals to data, data to knowledge, and knowledge to decision, heavily relies on technology and end-to-end secure fabric. A network of networks that APTs (Advanced Persistent Threats) may try to infiltrate by any means including the new devices interconnected at the edge as part of the continued growth of the (IoT) Internet of Things.

For instance, as we have already explained, the F-35 Lightning II leverages IoT capabilities to support Condition-Based Maintenance by proactively identifing 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. Moreover, the F-35 is 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.

Moreover, a growing reliance on technology implies new advanced adversaries to face: in fact, the so-called Revolution 4.0 has already completely changed the geopolitical landscape requiring Defense to evolve and include the Cyber domain because even smaller economies, organizations or individuals (backed by some intelligence service or not) can pose a significant threat to larger nations today.

So, Digital Transformation in the Military is today about using mobile devices and remote sensors to collect data at the edge, transfer it to where is needed (including a private cloud), process it to get actionable intelligence, and send the orders back to the soldier deployed abroad in the shortest time possible: a process that requires cutting edge technologies developed by Aerospace, Defense and National Security companies that are today more exposed than ever to the new emerging threats, and increasingly in the need to show their ability to comply with new security standards if they want to continue working on the most advanced (hence targeted) programs.

Attackers have been trying to intrude Government, Aerospace and Defense firms’ networks, often with real cyber weapons, for years. “Software-based” weapons systems, IoT capabilities, Big Data, Cloud Computing and digitization will simply expand the attack surface they can target, making them even more aggressive and dangerous than ever before. Therefore, a Cybersecurity strategy covering the whole technological domain will be the key to address new and existing risks and threats before these can give the enemy an edge both in the cyberspace and in the battlefield. And such strategy will not have to cover cover “defensive” cyber operations only but also “offensive” ones. Companies that have designed and developed “legacy” EW (Electronic Warfare) systems and pods are increasingly working on Cyber EW capabilities too: indeed, EW aircraft are already embedding (or are about to embed) in-flight hacking capabilities to conduct malware attacks by air-gapping closed networks.

U.S. Air Force EC-130H Compass Call aircraft have already been involved in demos where they attacked networks from the air, a kind of mission that is far from new. In 2007, the success of Israeli Air Force’s Operation Orchard against a Syrian nuclear installation was largely attributed to effectiveness of the Israeli Electronic Warfare platforms that supported the air strike and made the Syrian radars blind: some sources believe that Operation Orchard saw the baptism of fire of the Suter airborne network system against Syrian radar systems. Although the details surrounding this capability are a bit fuzzy, the F-35 AESA radar could be able to do the same thing

Top image credit: U.S. Army

 

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