Tensions in the Gulf region remained high this past month. Iran became increasingly active interfering with shipping in the region--the seizure of a British-flagged tanker amounting to Tehran's most serious provocation. The British government organized talks with the US and France about a multinational mission to secure shipping in the Straits of Hormuz. For its part, Iranian authorities exhibited little disposition to soothe tensions, suggesting that should circumstances warrant, it would not hesitate to seize other vessels in the region.
Both the US and Iran have been operating drones in the region. Iran shot down a US RQ-4 Global Hawk in international airspace on June 20th without warning. The US apparently responded with cyberattacks against Iranian intelligence and missile command-and-control units.
On July 18th an Iranian drone was taken down. The US destroyed an Iranian drone that approached too closely to the USS Boxer, an amphibious assault ship operating in the region. Boxer downed the drone using the Light Marine Air Defense Integrated System (LMADIS), developed and fielded rapidly in 2015 as ground-deployable counter-drone system. It's truck-mounted, carried on two Polaris MRZR light all-terrain vehicles, one a command vehicle, the other carrying the electronic countermeasures. The system aboard USS Boxer was simply parked on the flight deck. LMADIS combines radars, jammers, a Stinger air defense missile launcher on some variants, and threat assessment subsystems. Iran denied losing any drones, but the US claims seem well-confirmed.
The drone takedown is said to have been a non-kinetic kill; that is, no missiles or guns were fired. Some reports have called it a directed-energy kill, but electronic attack would be a better description: electronic interference with the drone's command-and-control by the system's Sierra Nevada Modi II electronic countermeasures subsystem causing the drone to crash. As USNI News puts it, the Navy took out the aircraft not by expending an air defense missile, but with a device whose cost of operation was "the cost of a tank of gas." LMADIS was developed and fielded rapidly, integrating relatively mature standalone subsystems.
Both the Marine Corps and the Army are working on CLaWS, the Compact Laser Weapon System, designed to give systems like LMADIS a laser capable of destroying drones at ranges of hundreds of meters. The Air Force is also working on drone-defense systems for base defense. Some involve electronic countermeasures, others involve nets that can be deployed from 40mm projectiles. The Army has begun using counter-drone systems in training rotations at the National Training Center. This indicates that, while the systems were developed and fielded rapidly, they're regarded as mature enough to represent an operational capability. The Combat Training Centers aren't used for research and development.
At Interpol's conference in Singapore on July 3rd, British authorities shared lessons learned from the drone activity that shut down Gatwick Airport earlier this year. The drones, operated by environmental activists, amounted to a very small swarm, a nuisance. The hobbyist drones weren't armed, and the threat they posed was simply one of collision with civil aircraft. Unfortunately the counter-drone systems in place proved incapable of handling more than one drone at a time.
North Korea resumes missile tests.
On July 25th North Korea tested two short-range ballistic missiles. Pyongyang said the tests, witnessed by DPRK leader Kim Jong Un, were intended as a warning to South Korean "warmongers." Seoul was specifically counseled to stop importing weapons and conducting joint exercises with the United States.
Satellite system availability.
Europe's Galileo satellite navigation system sustained a general outage for about four days beginning on July 11th. Coverage had been largely restored by July 18th. The consequences of the outage were not severe, but this was only because the digital systems that depend up precise timing and geolocation had GPS available as a fallback. The outage appears to have been the result of ground station malfunctions, not an attack. The European Global Navigation Satellite Systems Agency said, “The technical incident originated by an equipment malfunction in the Galileo ground infrastructure, affecting the calculation of time and orbit predictions, and which are used to compute the navigation message. The malfunction affected different elements on the ground facilities.”
Electronic attack, however, has interfered with GPS in other incidents. Airline pilots flying to and from Tel Aviv report loss of GPS signal. That loss does seem traceable to electronic warfare, but in this case it appears to be collateral damage from Russian jammers operating in Syria.
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Satellites as cyber and kinetic targets.
A report from Chatham House warns that NATO space assets are attractive targets for cyberattack. The report singles out the vulnerability of networked ground stations to hacking. It cites the widespread reliance of military operations on the commercial technology used in those ground stations, and in the satellites themselves. The hardware and software supply chains that support these systems is notoriously difficult to secure.
Space-based systems are important both tactically and strategically, but Chatham House is more concerned with the strategic implications of the vulnerabilities. "Cyber vulnerabilities undermine confidence in the performance of strategic systems. As a result, rising uncertainty in information and analysis continues to impact the credibility of deterrence and strategic stability. Loss of trust in technology also has implications for determining the source of a malicious attack (attribution), strategic calculus in crisis decision-making and may increase the risk of misperception."
As Chatham House points out, NATO itself owns no satellites, and depends upon the national assets of its member states. One of those members, France, has announced its intention of developing and fielding space-based lasers for satellite self-defense. The US continues to mull the threat that Russian and Chinese kinetic kill capabilities pose to American space assets.
Commercial satellites and military requirements.
The US Air Force, at least, is interested in integrating commercial satellite capabilities even into its strategic C4ISR systems. The Service is already making more use of commercial satellite imagery, and it's considering a move to a hybrid network in which operators could shift between military and commercial services as operational needs dictate. The bandwidth commercial satellites offer is also attractive. It's now cheaper than fiber, which makes it attractive on the basis of affordability alone.
Stratospheric balloons as communication satellite surrogates.
Alphabet's Loon has completed successful flight tests, setting a record by spending two-hundred-twenty-three days aloft, according to TechCrunch. Launched from Puerto Rico, the Loon completed one circuit of the earth in the process, but for one-hundred-forty continuous days it demonstrated the ability to loiter where it was supposed to be, in this case off the west coast of Central America. The balloon project has generally been reported as an affordable, easily deployed alternative to cell towers and other terrestrial Internet infrastructure for underserved areas, but they also fill a role that might otherwise be served by communication satellites. TechCrunch reports that the Loon will receive its first commercial run in Kenya later this year.
Notes on research, development, and procurement.
Air Force Magazine reports that the new Space Development Agency has opened talks with industry to share its vision for the future of military space. The agency held an industry day on July 23rd. It's clearly interested in moving quickly, since the Space Development Agency asked that participants deliver proposals for "a network of satellites, payloads, and software" by August 5th. That industry day represented a kind of coming-out party for the young agency, established some four months ago. The SDA explained that it's after "resiliency via numbers," and wants to create an architecture that uses a large number of smaller, less capable systems. "Proliferation of our systems, where each individual asset has less capability but in aggregate they have all that we need is the path that we want to go down.” It's essentially a Jeune École approach to space operations: go for cheaper, more numerous platforms as opposed to concentrating capability in large, expensive, powerful units that in wartime become attractive targets ("juicy targets," as the SDA calls them).
DARPA is investing in machine learning approaches to discerning and receiving signals in an increasingly crowded electromagnetic spectrum. The research agency has awarded BAE a $4.7 million contract for the company's Controllable Hardware Integration for Machine-learning Enabled Real-time Adaptivity (CHIMERA) solution. The use cases the award envisions are largely focused on signals intelligence.
The Defense Innovation Unit, acting on behalf of the Air Force, has issued contracts for the development of a new family of multi-band, multi-mission phased array satellite antennas that would enable multiple simultaneous connections. Harris Corporation received a $6.2 million contract, and a Lockheed Martin-led team received a $7.2 million award, to work on prototypes. Should the development prove successful, the new antennas would be integrated into the Air Force Satellite Control Network.
The White House has gone to bat for increased funding of the Next Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared system. The Administration argues that delaying funding the system will not only degrade strategic capabilities, but will wind up costing more in the long run.
Space Force updates.
Plans for Space Force continue to advance, although language in authorization bills seems to leave the door open to scaling it back to a renaming of existing Space Command. Nonetheless, the Administration continues to work toward creating Space Force as a distinct Service within the Department of the Air Force, much the way the Marine Corps is organized within the Department of the Navy. The new Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Milley, said in his confirmation hearings that he fully supports the new Service.
So here's the question that continues to exercise observers: what rank structure will the new Space Force use? An opinion piece in the Space Review argues that naval rank is the way to go, for reasons of organizational culture, esprit, recruiting, and a degree of independence from its sister service, the Air Force. And, of course, the unstated reason: Star Trek used naval rank. Kirk and Picard were captains, not colonels.
Today's edition of the CyberWire reports events affecting China, the European Union, France, India, Iran, Israel, the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea, the Republic of Korea, NATO/OTAN, Russia, Syria, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
What can the Pentagon learn from the drones at Gatwick?(C4ISRNET) At the Interpol World conference held in Singapore, July 3, British security officials attempted to explain how a drone, or perhaps a handful of drones, kept the airport immobilized. But what can the Pentagon learn from the event?
The Growing Threat of Drones(Industrial Control Systems (ICS) Cyber Security Conference) Drones are increasing threat to industrial facilities, enabling various attacks (both cyber and physical) that historically were only possible in close proximity to a facility or device.
The next cybersecurity concern for NATO? Space(Fifth Domain) A new report warns that the cybersecurity vulnerabilities related to military space systems, specifically terminals and command-and-control systems, deserves renewed attention from NATO countries.
US Missile Warning Sats Fair Game If No New START?(Breaking Defense) US may face destabilizing Russian interference with NTMs "while demand for strategic intelligence on Russian strategic nuclear forces from space-based NTMs goes up significantly," says Michael Gleason.
U.S. Downed Iranian Drone With New Technology(WSJ) The U.S. brought down an Iranian drone this week near an American warship in the Strait of Hormuz by using new technology that had just been added to naval defenses, the latest move by the U.S. military to deploy more furtive measures against Iran, defense officials said.
Iran state TV: Iranian forces seize foreign oil tanker, crew(Military Times) Iran's state television did not identify the seized vessel, but said it was intercepted on Sunday. It said the oil tanker had 12 foreign crew members on board and was involved in smuggling some 1 million liters of fuel from Iranian smugglers to foreign customers.
3 ways IoT devices compromise security(Fifth Domain) The National Institute of Standards and Technology released a report detailing the cybe security and privacy risks associated with the Internet of Things.
Pentagon redirects $282M to close ISR gaps(C4ISRNET) The Department of Defense is using reprogramming actions to transfer hundreds of millions of dollars to intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance programs.
NIWC posts SATCOM support RFP(Intelligence Community News) On July 15, the Naval Information Warfare Systems Command (formerly the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command) posted a request for proposals (RFP) for SATCOM CB ISEA Support. Proposals are due b…
Army posts C5ISR, cyber defense sources sought(Intelligence Community News) On July 19, the U.S. Army posted a sources sought notice for CCDC, C5ISR Cybersecurity Defense Operations and Research (CDOR). Responses are due by 3:00 p.m. Eastern on August 19. The United States…
Air Force sticks with familiar face for support(C4ISRNET) Amidst restructuring of its space-related organizations and the seemingly imminent establishment of the Space Force, the Air Force has awarded a $562 million, seven and a half year contract for MILSATCOM support.
JEDI: How we got here(Federal Times) After months of back-and-forth in court filings, oral arguments are finally here.
Change Or Scrap JEDI, Says IT Council(Breaking Defense) An independent advisory group recommends the JEDI program be put on hold until the Defense Department’s cloud procurement plan is redone and syncs with the CIO’s cloud strategy.
Space Development Agency posts space architecture RFI(Intelligence Community News) On July 1, the Space Development Agency issued a request for information for Next-Generation Space Architecture. Responses are due by 10:00 a.m. Eastern on August 5. The Space Development Agency…
Harris, L3 complete merger deal(Washington Business Journal) Nine months after the two companies detailed plans to create the sixth-largest aerospace and defense contractor, the newly formed L3Harris Technologies hit the market.
Raytheon United Technologies merger(Military & Aerospace Electronics) Speculation merger may not happen, President worries it could cut competition, Air Force calls it a security concern, and investors question its logic.
Raytheon, UK Ministry of Defense Develop New Space Capabilities(Via Satellite) Raytheon signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the U.K. Ministry of Defense to join Team Artemis Industry, a collaboration between government and industry formed to fast track the launch of a small satellite constellation and enhance the U.K.'s sovereign space capability. Raytheon and the U.K. MOD have
Northrop Grumman Board Names Kathy J. Warden Chairman(Northrop Grumman Newsroom) The board of directors of Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE: NOC) has elected Kathy J. Warden as its chairman, effective August 1, 2019. Warden will serve as chairman, chief executive officer and president. Warden...
Richard Branson’s Space Unit to Go Public(Wall Street Journal) Virgin Galactic has plans to become the first publicly listed human spaceflight company. It expects that the deal to go public will give it enough capital to fund the business until its spaceships can commercially operate and send tourists into space.
Securing Space: Kaspersky to Give Cosmonauts Cybersecurity Training(Al Bawaba) Kaspersky is proud to announce its new partnership with the Gagarin Research and Test Cosmonaut Training Center – the location in Star City where cosmonauts from all over the world prepare to go to space. As part of this collaboration, the company will hold special training for cosmonauts, as well as IT specialists at the center, to educate them on the current cybersecurity landscape.
Loon breaks its stratospheric balloon flight record with 223 days aloft(TechCrunch) Alphabet’s Loon is gearing up for its first big commercial trial later this year, but it’s also breaking records in terms of pure performance. The company announced today that it just retrieved P-496, one of its balloon flight systems that earned the notable distinction of breaking the …
China’s Tiangong-2 space station is officially no more(TechCrunch) Chinese space station Tiangong-2 has officially ended its mission, and the orbital research facility’s entire existence. The platform de-orbited and burned up as planned at just after 9 AM ET on Friday, coming down over the South Pacific Ocean, as confirmed by the official Chinese space agenc…
What the Pentagon learned from Cyber Lightning 2019(Fifth Domain) The Department of Defense’s cyber leaders are using a spring exercise – where for the first time multiple teams helped commanders understand their cyber options in theater – as a way to better work together in future conflicts.
Cryptographic ICE Cube tests orbital cybersecurity protocols aboard the ISS(TechCrunch) Encryption in space can be tricky. Even if you do everything right, a cosmic ray might come along and flip a bit, sabotaging the whole secure protocol. If you can't radiation-harden the computer, what can you do? European Space Agency researchers are testing two solutions right now in an experiment…
SDA Kicks Off Future Space Systems Research(Air Force Magazine) The Space Development Agency is launching its first formal talks with industry about a new vision for military space, in the midst of unexpected leadership turnover and with its initial tranche of funding in the works.
Pentagon Eyes Military Space Station(Breaking Defense) The fact that the Defense Innovation Unit is even considering the idea of a space station in orbit is a pretty big deal -- and an even bigger deal if it grows over time to accommodate a human crew.
Iran to start up weapons-grade plutonium plant(Times) Tehran has announced that it is escalating its nuclear programme, putting back on stream a reactor that can produce weapons-grade plutonium. Abbas Araqchi, Iran’s deputy foreign minister and...
The challenge (and benefit) to a more open intelligence community(C4ISRNET) Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence Sue Gordon says that as foreign powers increasingly target the private sector and general public, the intelligence community needs to be more open and share more information publicly. That could be a net positive for business relations.
The Democratization of Space(Foreign Affairs) Technological advances are driving down the cost and ease of getting into space, allowing a crowd of new actors, from developing countries to small start-ups, to get into the game. In the next space race, the main challenge will be figuring out how to regulate all the new activity.
SPACECOM Stand-Up: New Focus For Ongoing Missions(Breaking Defense) LinQuest in April began work under a $9.2 million, sole-source contract to "hold the planks for the stand-up" of SPACECOM, working directly with Gen. Raymond and its joint staff directorates.
Congress to NGA: Hurry up and adopt more automation(C4ISRNET) The House of Representatives has inserted several provisions in the Intelligence Authorization Act to help speed up the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency's adoption of image processing technology.