In what is seen as an anticipation of the expected expiration of the 2015 international agreement to limit its nuclear ambitions, Iran took steps to resume production of fissile material early this month, injecting uranium gas into centrifuges at its Fordo nuclear facility, the Military Times reports. US Secretary of State Pompeo was quoted by Reuters to the effect that “Iran’s expansion of proliferation-sensitive activities raises concerns that Iran is positioning itself to have the option of a rapid nuclear breakout," and that “It is now time for all nations to reject this regime’s nuclear extortion and take serious steps to increase pressure. Iran’s continued and numerous nuclear provocations demand such action.”
Iran is currently engaged in what remains, even after drone strikes against Saudi oil facilities, a low-level hybrid war against its regional rivals and those rivals' allies (especially the United States). Reuters reports that a high-level meeting in Tehran some four months before September's strikes against Saudi Aramco installations was urged, by leaders of the Revolutionary Guard, "to take out our swords and teach them," that is, the Saudis and their partners, "a lesson.” Iran's representatives at the United Nations deny that any such meeting took place, still less that any aggressive decision was taken, but then deniability is one of the defining characteristics of hybrid warfare. The US response to the drone strikes generally attributed to Iran has apparently been largely confined to cyber retaliation, and that, too, is one of the defining features of hybrid combat. Iran has itself stepped up its own offensive operations in cyberspace, Modern Diplomacy observes, as the Tehran-linked threat group Microsoft tracks as "Phosphorus" has shown increased activity against regional and Western opponents.
Space as an operational domain.
On November 20th NATO's foreign ministers formally voted to declare space an "operational domain," Defense News reports. That resolution will not commit the Alliance to weaponizing that domain, but it will make it easier for NATO to draw upon its members' space capabilities.
Following studies (noted here by Bloomberg) that outline an increasing challenge from peer and near-peer rivals to US space operations, Air Force leaders say they're resolved to change the way they do business so that the US will be able to maintain the dominance it's enjoyed since the end of the Cold War, Space.com reports. US Space Command (the combatant command not to be confused with the still-emerging Space Force) is, Air Force Magazine recounts, in the process of learning how to fight in this operational domain.
India's space agency acknowledges receipt of cyberattack warnings.
ISRO, the Indian Space Research Organisation, received warnings about the possibility of a cyberattack against September’s Chandrayaan-2 lunar mission. That flight was only partially successful: the orbiter functioned as intended, but control of the lander was lost during descent. The warnings are said, by the News Minute and various other Indian media outlets, to have been passed to ISRO by an unnamed American security company. The threat actor named was North Korea’s Lazarus Group, which has long been active against foreign targets.
The attack came at about the same time the Lazarus Group was also named as the principal suspect in an incident that affected the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited’s Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project, a summary of which may be found in the Washington Post. The Lazarus Group is best known for the financially motivated operations designed to address Pyongyang’s persistent, sanctions-induced, economic crisis, but according to the Indian Express, the malware believed to have been used against both ISRO and Kudankulam was a variant of DTrack, which is a known information-stealing tool.
In the case of Kudankulam, the malware infection was confined to business as opposed to plant control systems. What systems were affected at ISRO remains unclear, but the episode does highlight the vulnerability of space organizations to cyberattack.
Drone and counter-drone: threats, technologies, and authorities.
As drones become increasingly commodified, commercial tools readily accessible to any number of potential threat actors, a study by Booz Allen warns that they pose threats beyond both overhead imagery collection and kinetic strike. Those threats are undoubtedly real, and have seen recent operational use in the Gulf region, but drones also pose a cyber threat to poorly protected networks. They can readily serve as "rogue access points," that is, "initial network infection vectors," especially with respect to wireless protocols like Bluetooth. Bluetooth users have often approached security with benign neglect, since Bluetooth offers a relatively low-power, short-range capability. But drones, of course, can easily move close enough to a Bluetooth signal for their operators to gain access to a network. It's an updated form of the old practice of war-driving, when hackers would drive through a neighborhood scanning for unprotected WiFi networks. Booz Allen recommends dusting off old defenses against war-driving, and also that organizations extend their security perimeter, and their anti-drone perimeter, to the limits of their WiFi networks.
The UK Ministry of Defence's DASA (Defence and Security Accelerator) has allocated £1.8 million for the development of anti-drone capabilities, Infosecurity Magazine reports. DASA is aware of, and interested in addressing, the threat to networks Booz Allen pointed out, but they're interested in ways of denying drones access to any sort of sensitive airspace. The UK has been troubled by wayward drone activity near facilities like Gatwick Airport, where the mere presence of quite ordinary drones has on several occasions posed a threat to flight safety.
In the US, the Department of Homeland Security is also showing an interest in counter-drone technologies. Defense Systems reports that the Coast Guard is using authorities granted under last year's Preventing Emerging Threats Act to "develop processes and procedures for deploying anti-drone capability." The pilot program underway includes deploying radar and imaging systems that could detect and track drones with the ultimate goal of being able to "seize control of airborne contacts" (that is, seize control of drones) when such contacts pose a threat that warrants doing so.
Not all members of Congress agree that DHS actually has the authority under the Preventing Emerging Threats Act or the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 to do these things, according to Drone Life. They're particularly concerned about plans to give TSA Air Marshals the means and authority to neutralize drones operating over airports. Representatives Sam Graves (Republican of Missouri) and Mark Rogers (Republican of Alabama) wrote acting Homeland Security Secretary Wolf that "If Congress had wanted to provide specific C-UAS [counter-unmanned aerial systems) authority to TSA it would have done so in FAARA.”
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New sources of overhead imagery for the Air Force.
Taking an approach to rapid innovation and insertion of new technologies into programs of record that seems modeled on the television program Shark Tank, the Air Force used its Pitch Days this past month as an occasion to award Capella Space a $750,000 base contract for high-resolution synthetic aperture radar (SAR) imagery from a thirty-six satellite constellation of SAR platforms it intends to begin launching in 2020. C4ISRNET says that Capella intends to have its constellation fully operational some time in 2022. The data the satellites will deliver are expected to have applications in the Air Force's "hybrid, military and commercial space architecture."
Commercial satellite broadband.
Several commercial broadband constellations have begun to take shape. On November 11th SpaceX launched the first sixty of its Starlink satellites, Ars Technica reports. When the constellation is completed, sometime in the next decade, it is expected to include between twelve-thousand and forty-two-thousand satellites.
Toronto-based Kepler Communications has successfully demonstrated high-bandwidth satellite communications in the Arctic, enabled by its nanosatellites. TechCrunch says that the company has delivered 100 Mbps to a German icebreaker that acts as the laboratory for the MOSAiC polar research expedition.
A competitor of SpaceX's, the Richard Branson-backed, UK-based firm OneWeb plans to raise $1 billion in support of its ambitious plans to put a "megaconstellation" into orbit at the rate of thirty satellites per month, the Telegraph reports.
Innovation and rapid prototyping.
Carbonics and the University of Southern California have demonstrated carbon nanotube semiconductor technology that delivers 100 GHz speeds in radio-frequency applications. The Army Research Laboratory sees considerable promise in the breakthrough for the Army's ability to realize the promise of 5G technology.
C4ISRNET reports that the Space Development Agency believes that a GPS alternative can be found in existing constellations of low earth orbit satellites: their data transport layer could be used to transfer positioning and timing data to ground users from satellites. This could make the need for additional dedicated precision navigation satellites less urgent.
C4ISRNET also reports that US Space Command is positioning and organizing itself to take quick advantage of commercial space advances.
Another demonstration is expected to provide the Air Force with valuable insight into the feasibility of placing a "proliferation of satellites into low-earth orbit." Two Aerospace CubeSats were launched on November 2nd. The program is expected to teach lessons on rapid development and launch of such spacecraft, and the satellites themselves willbe used to test novel communications and sensing technologies, according to C4ISRNET.
The ongoing story of the US Defense Department's JEDI cloud program continues to show how an effort designed to facilitate rapid insertion of new technologies--the cloud--can itself show many of the signs of the traditional acquisition system so many have over recent decades come to deplore. Some of those much-remarked features are high stakes that make protests and litigation reliable features of the process.
Microsoft was the surprise winner of the very large ($10 billion) JEDI prime position. Amazon had widely been considered the frontrunner, and Amazon is protesting the award. The company cites the Washington Post reports, "unmistakable bias" in the selection process. In particular that bias is alleged, in a November 22nd court filing, to flow from President Trump's animosity toward Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. Federal Times has a summary of the evidence Amazon has so far presented in support of that allegation.
Oracle, another disappointed competitor for JEDI, earlier in November appealed a decision by the Court of Federal Claims to permit the Defense Department to proceed with its JEDI selection even after that same court found the structure of the JEDI contract violated Federal procurement law. Federal News Network says that the Department ought to have stopped the contracting process when it found what Oracle characterizes as potential conflicts of interest among personnel involved with the solicitation.
Today's edition of the CyberWire reports events affecting Canada, China, India, Iran, the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea, Russia, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
Iran set to dash for nuclear bomb, warns US(Times) The United States accused Iran of readying for a sprint towards a nuclear weapon after its government reactivated an underground enrichment facility mothballed under the 2015 nuclear. Witnessed by...
Cyberspace operations contract for Navy won by Parsons(Military Embedded Systems) Parsons Corporation won its first task order under a potential Naval Information Warfare Center Pacific (NIWC Pacific) indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity, multiple award contract. The contract was originally announced by NIWC Pacific in May 2019.
Vislink Receives $117,000 Order from Mid-Atlantic Municipal Police Organization for Airborne Downlink Equipment(West) Vislink Technologies, Inc. (NASDAQ: VISL) announces that it has received an order with an approximate value of $117,000 from a Mid-Atlantic municipal police organization for airborne downlink equipment. The order is in addition to the recently received $3 million in new orders and order backlog amounts that were announced on Nov. 6, 2019. The order fulfills part of a statewide project to upgrade coverage for law enforcement operations, with the potential for additional downlink equipment purchases to enhance the client’s current system.
Skyborg, Weapon Swarms, Satellites Chosen as First “Vanguards”(Air Force Magazine) USAF officials have settled on the three programs they want to adopt as the service’s first “vanguards”: the Skyborg wingman drone, a weapon swarming project, and an experimental satellite effort, the head of Air Force Materiel Command said Nov. 21.
Three teams selected to design Project Blackjack’s brains(C4ISRNET) Pit Boss is an autonomous mission management system being built for Project Blackjack, a DARPA initiative to demonstrate the value of a large proliferated constellation of low earth orbit satellites for a variety of military uses.
darpa blackjack raytheon pit boss automation(Intelligent Aerospace) Pit Boss aims to use an advanced architecture, processors and encryption to autonomously collect and process data from the entire Blackjack constellation.
SpaceX completes key Crew Dragon launch system static fire test(TechCrunch) SpaceX has confirmed that it ran a static fire test of its Crew Dragon astronaut capsule launch escape system. That’s a key step that it needed to run, and one that is under especially high scrutiny because a static fire of its thrusters back in April resulted in an explosion that destroyed t…
Air Force Testing Novel ISR Sensors For LEO Sats(Breaking Defense) Aerospace was able to build and test both sats within 16 months, and launch them after only 18 months -- a fraction of the average seven to eight years it traditionally has taken the service.
Cyberwarriors lack planning tools. That could change.(Fifth Domain) Cyberwarriors still don't have a robust cyber-planning tool that spans across all services and teams within U.S. Cyber Command. The Air Force and Strategic Capabilities Office is continuing DARPA's work to change that.
US Space Command is Starting to Figure Out How to Fight(Air Force Magazine) US Space Command is beginning to pull together the budget and operations plans that will shape how it defends US systems in space and provides services like GPS navigation and communications to military personnel around the world.
New Space Command head presses Congress over budget impasse(The Washington Times) President Trump’s pick to lead the Pentagon’s new Space Command, Gen. John Raymond, on Monday said he is “eager” for Congress to break a deadlock holding up the massive 2020 National Defense Authorization Act so work can begin on establishing a Space Force.
The intelligence community has a new executive(C4ISRNET) Career CIA officer Andrew Hallman will serve as the temporary replacement of Principal Deputy Director Sue Gordon, who resigned Aug. 15 and has yet to be replaced by a Senate-confirmed appointee.
Meet IARPA’s new director(C4ISRNET) The agency's new director replaces Stacey Dixon, who left the agency over the summer to become the new deputy director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.
NGA’s strategy to ‘see what others can’t’(C4ISRNET) Vice Adm. Robert Sharp, director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, shares his thoughts on how the agency is adapting to an evolving mission space.
Does the federal government need a 5G coordinator?(C4ISRNET) A bipartisan group of senators called on the White House to name a 5G coordinator to tackle what lawmakers described as an “unprecedented security challenge” presented by the new technology.
NGA breaks ground on new St. Louis campus(C4ISRNET) The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency's new facility will host a range of features virtually unheard of in the intelligence community, from wireless technology to spaces that can switch between classified and unclassified environments.
What to watch for in the JEDI protest case? Bias depositions(Washington Business Journal) Amazon Web Services’ intention to protest in the Court of Federal Claims last month’s award of the potential $10 billion JEDI contract is expected to hinge on comments President Trump has made about the contract.