The US offered additional confirmation that debris from an attack on Saudi oil facilities in fact indicate that the strike was mounted by Iran. Reuters reports that US investigators concluded that the drone attack against Abqaiq originated from the north, and that the debris collected at the site appeared consistent with an Iranian-produced IRN-05 UAV. The strike was claimed by Yemen's Houthi rebels. Tehran backs the Houthis, but has denied that it had anything to do with the attack. The direction from which the drones approached is significant because, of course, the Houthi center of activity is to the south, whereas Iran itself is to the north of Saudi Arabia. Eighteen drones and three missiles were used in the strike, and some of their flight paths crossed either Iraq or Kuwait. The activity is consistent with the sort of grey zone deniability Iran has sought in its increasingly sharp operations against the US and its allies. Attribution can be expected to remain a challenge.
Another confrontation took place in Iraq late in December. According to the New York Times, Iran has been moving missiles into Iraq, where it supports a number of insurgent militia groups. A rocket strike against a compound killed at least one American and prompted US airstrikes against militia positions. The militias retaliated by organizing mobs to rush the US embassy in Baghdad, an assault thwarted by US deployment of additional Marines. ("No Benghazis," as a partisan note in the New York Post puts it.) Tehran again denied any involvement in the incident, but it's widely seen, as the Wall Street Journal notes, as Iranian-inspired and quite probably Iranian directed.
Russia has also continued its use of deniable forces in the region, in Russia's case "mercenaries" who have deployed to Syria and, more recently, to Libya. Reuters reports that the US has charged Russian forces with shooting down an American reconnaissance drone over Libya on the 21st of November.
North Korea's promised end-of-year big show fails to materialize.
But that doesn't mean Mr. Kim is done. A New York Times op-ed calls Pyongyang's recent promises that something big was coming (probably a test and demonstration of enhanced nuclear and nuclear delivery capabilities) "trolling," but trolling with the serious purpose of establishing a "new normal" in which North Korea can threaten US cities with incineration and the US will do nothing in response. The National Interest sees the newfound assertiveness as a mistake, and the sort of mistake regimes experiencing severe internal stresses tend to make.
Space Force takes shape.
Congress finally approved Space Force when it passed the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act on December 17th. (Defense News observes that Capitol Hill horse-trading brought Space Force into being in exchange for enhanced parental leave.)
Observers have generally welcomed the creation of Space Force, with many stressing, as an op-ed in TheHill does, the importance of getting the new Service's culture off on the right foot. They look in particular for effective, productive alignment with industry, and a procurement system more supple and responsive to emerging needs than traditional Defense acquisition systems have proven. Retired Admiral James Stavridis, a former NATO Supreme Allied Commander, published an opinion piece in Bloomberg in which he offered one sentimental and three serous recommendations to those who'll be charged with establishing Space Force. He advises them to, "first, study the history," and specifically the history of the creation and development of the US Air Force and Marine Corps. Second, they should "build solid relationships" with both the Air Force Secretariat and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and also with Space Force's principal customers, the Combatant Commanders. He thinks a close working relationship with US Special Operations Command will be particularly important. And third, he advises that the new Service's top leadership should be long-tenured, and here he has the success of Naval Reactors in mind, where the leadership had eight-year tours (much longer, of course, in the case of Admiral Rickover). His sentimental recommendation? He'd like to see the new Service's personnel be given naval ranks and uniforms that evoke the sea services.
Competition over commercial satellites.
Amazon is looking for a waiver of FCC regulations that would facilitate its plans to fly more than three-thousand satellites intended to deliver Internet access. SpaceX is lobbying against any waiver, Vice reports. Since they had to follow the FCC rules, why should Amazon's Project Kuiper get a break?
Amazon isn't the only new entrant into the space-delivered Internet competition. Apple is said, by Bloomberg, to be quietly hiring personnel necessary to building out its own space-based Internet service. Cupertino's goal is to begin deploying satellites within five years.
Inmarsat is convinced the US Department of Defense will need more bandwidth to support operations in the Middle East. The company's Global Xpress 5 satellite, launched in November and expected to become operational early this year, is, C4ISRNET reports, designed to enhance the coverage the company can provide for the region.
Science and technology priorities.
The US Army Research Laboratory looked back at 2019 and selected its favorites from among the past year's science and technology advances. These are, counting down from number ten:
"Artificial muscles made from plastic," intended for use in robots.
"Monitoring Soldier health and performance with biorecognition receptors."
"A water-based, fire-proof battery."
"Generating power on-demand with hydrogen."
"3-D printing ultra-strong steel."
"Human interest detector," a way of tracking neural responses so commanders have a better fix on what Soldiers are actually paying attention to on the battlefield.
"AI to identify fuel-efficient materials."
"Robotic arrays for directional communication."
Most of these have a familiar look, as they've appeared in the Services' S&T portfolios for some time now. But notoriously science and technology results have proven difficult to transition to the warfighters, and these developments would seem naturals for rapid prototyping.
China announced on December 26th that it will shortly, in a matter of months, complete its Baidu positioning system. The final two satellites in Beijing's new constellation are scheduled to be flown in June, the Nikkei Asian Review reports. The thirty-five-satellite constellation is intended for both military uses and for civilian telecommunications applications. Beijing intends, as Nikkei puts it, to "decouple" itself from GPS, which for all its widespread international adoption is, after all, owned and operated by China's principal economic and geopolitical rival, the United States.
So does the US.
It's not exactly a replacement, since GPS is so deeply embedded in everyday civilian technologies (consider smart phones alone) but it would amount to a supplement or an enhancement that would introduce capabilities specific to military applications. The Air Force Research Laboratory's Navigation Technology Satellite program, scheduled to fly NTS-3 in 2022, is intended to provide a software-defined experimental platform in which enhanced positioning, navigation, and timing (PNT) technologies might be explored, as well as in-orbit mission reprogramming. C4ISRNET reports that technologies developed in the NTS program are expected to find their way into GPS vehicles 14, 15, and 16, which are expected to enter orbit in the latter part of this decade.
Congress has also weighed in on GPS alternatives, prodding the Air Force to develop a prototype receiver that could use PNT signals delivered by other nations' satellite constellations. The measure was included in the same National Defense Authorization Act that formally created the Space Force, C4ISRNET says. The low-hanging fruit would be signals from the European Union’s Galileo and Japan’s QZSS systems; the goal is more resilient PNT capability.
Breaking Defense notes that, while GPS satellites themselves have evolved in an orderly fashion, the ground stations the US military uses to listen to them, and to communicate through other satellites, are more a hodge-podge than a well-structured system. The Government Accountability Office is primly scandalized to find that the Department of Defense currently operates some seventeen-thousand terminals, and those terminals are built to "approximately 135 different designs." The GAO would like to see the Department implement its own recommendations for a future wideband architecture, which were developed in the Defense 2018 Analysis of Alternatives. Commercial satcom providers continue to urge the Pentagon toward adopting a managed services approach in its contracting for wideband satellite communications.
Space hacking and crowd-sourced design for security.
The US Air Force still plans to offer a satellite up to white hat hackers at this summer's annual DefCon cybersecurity conference, Avionics International says. The exercise is intended to expose vulnerabilities in satellite systems that have gone undetected by conventional quality and security tests and engineering.
Boeing's CEO departs.
Boeing's board dismissed CEO Dennis Muilenburg on December 21st. David Calhoun, a board member who assumed duties as chair to handle the crisis over the software-and-sensor-related 737MAX crashes, will assume duties as CEO this month, the Wall Street Journal reports. Coverage of Mr. Muilenburg's dismissal have focused on the ongoing troubles of the 737MAX, but the failure of a Starliner flight to accomplish its intended docking with the International Space Station on December 20th (described here in the New York Times) can't have helped.
IKEA goes to Mars (in a thought experiment, from Utah).
Eventually, if the aspirations of some governments and more private organizations should be realized, people will have the opportunity to live on the moon or Mars, presumably in small, self-contained habitats. IKEA has taken notice of this, and two years ago sent designers to spend some time living in the Mars Desert Research Station, the installation in the Utah desert that seeks to mimic some of the conditions that might be encountered on the Red Planet. The designers have now applied their small-space expertise to the habitat, and have, Fast Company reports, come up with a design that's "brightly lit and well-organized." Their central challenge was to make the habitat feel like a home, and that requires facilitating a sense of "security, comfort, belonging," and privacy. And the greatest of these is privacy.
Today's edition of the CyberWire reports events affecting China, India, Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
Can this group become 1-800-AI for the Pentagon?(C4ISRNET) “The JAIC is not just about delivering the products. We’re really trying to work toward becoming the DoD’s AI Center of Excellence,” said Nathaniel D. Bastian, a senior data scientist and AI engineer with the Pentagon's Joint Artificial Intelligence Center. “We want to be 1-800-AI.”
Coast Guard Intel Looking for Help on Cloud(MeriTalk) The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) is looking to leverage the cloud for its intelligence unit as the demands of cyber combat and maritime activities are pushing the unit to embrace technology, according to a request for information released November 22. Responses are due by December 20.
Kratos awarded $39M space-based RF signal contract(Intelligence Community News) San Diego, CA-based Kratos Defense & Security Solutions, Inc. announced on December 6 that it has been awarded a $39 million sole-source contract for Geolocation Global Support Services. The a…
E3/Sentinel Buys Operational Intelligence(WashingtonExec) E3/Sentinel has acquired Operational Intelligence, LLC, which provides mission-focused analytical, technical, operational and training services to the
Global Hawk arrival to bolster Seoul's ISR capabilities(Flight Global) The Republic of Korea Air Force's (ROKAF) first Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Block 30 Global Hawk has arrived in South Korea. The remotely piloted aircraft arrived at an air base near Sacheon during the morning of 23 December, according the official Yonhap news agency. Source: Northrop Grumman The Northrop ...
Northrop Grumman Signs Customer for First Flight of OmegA™(Northrop Grumman Newsroom) Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE: NOC) announced that Saturn Satellite Networks has selected the OmegA space launch vehicle to launch up to two satellites on the rocket’s inaugural flight scheduled for spring 2021. OmegA...
Is It Terminal? Mess Threatens DoD SATCOM & Multi-Domain(Breaking Defense) DoD currently maintains 17,000 terminals with "approximately 135 different designs," GAO said. Those terminals operate across diverse platforms—such as ships, backpacks, vehicles -- all with differing system requirements.
Satellites for conflict zone monitoring(Geospatial World) Syria, or the Syrian Arab Republic, has witnessed unspeakable devastation in the last decade. Its refugee crisis, next only to World War II, has left over five million people displaced. In the absence of monitoring organizations on the ground, satellite imagery has played a significant role in assessing the extent of damage caused by a …
Today’s military data storage goes far beyond rugged(Military & Aerospace Electronics) It’s not just about shielding data drives from shock and vibration; designers also are looking for the latest in speed and capacity, and want encryption to protect data at rest, and security to foil tampering.
Starliner test flight slips two days(SpaceNews.com) Boeing announced Dec. 3 that it’s delaying the uncrewed test flight of the company’s CST-100 Starliner by two days because of a minor launch vehicle issue.
Kim calls for measures to protect North Korea's security(The Sentinel Record) North Korean leader Kim Jong Un called for his military and diplomats to prepare unspecified "offensive measures" to protect the country's security and sovereignty, the North's state media said Monday, before his end-of-year deadline for the Trump administration to make major concessions to salvage a fragile nuclear diplomacy.
Congress wants more clarity on space-based missile warning(C4ISRNET) With multiple agencies and services developing overhead persistent infrared sensors in space for missile tracking, lawmakers want to see a plan on how the Department of Defense will integrate those efforts and avoid duplication.
When should the Pentagon update its rules on autonomous weapons?(C4ISRNET) A prominent group of national security thinkers is questioning if the Pentagon’s policy on developing autonomous weapons needs to be updated to more accurately reflects current technology and the greater role artificial intelligence is expected to play in future conflicts.
When do cyberattacks deserve a response from NATO?(Fifth Domain) The biggest concern for the NATO alliance might not be agreeing on a framework for when collective defense is triggered from a cyberattack, but rather, how can the alliance address daily cyber events that fall below the level of armed conflict?
New US Space Force Hub Renamed ‘SPOC’(Military.com) The 14th Air Force, at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, has been renamed. It will now live long and prosper as Space Operations Command, or SPOC, according to a recent service announcement.
Why Amazon's Allegations of Wrongdoing are Wrong(The National Interest) The notion that presidential suggestions or guidance can influence a Pentagon procurement decision betrays a fundamental lack of understanding of how the acquisition processes work within the Defense Department.