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May 23 2015

May 26, 2015


23 May 2015


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ISIS preps for cyber war

By Cory Bennett and Elise Viebeck – 05/17/15 07:30 AM EDT


Islamic terrorists are stoking alarm with threats of an all-out cyber crusade against the United States, and experts say the warnings should be taken seriously.

Hackers claiming affiliation with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) released a video Monday vowing an “electronic war” against the United States and Europe and claiming access to “American leadership” online.

“Praise to Allah, today we extend on the land and in the Internet,” a faceless, hooded figure said in Arabic. “We send this message to America and Europe: we are the hackers of the Islamic State and the electronic war has not yet begun.”

The video received ridicule online for its poor phrasing and the group’s apparent inability to make good on its cyber threat this week.

But as hackers around the world become more sophisticated, terrorist groups are likely to follow their lead and use the same tools to further their ends, experts said.

“It’s only really a matter of time till we start seeing terrorist organizations using cyberattack techniques in a more expanded way,” said John Cohen, a former counterterrorism coordinator at the Department of Homeland Security.

“The concern is that as an organization like ISIS acquires more resources financially they will be able to hire the talent they need or outsource to criminal organizations,” Cohen added. “I think they’re probably moving in that direction anyway.”

Military officials agree. NSA Director Adm. Michael Rogers this week called the pending shift “a great concern and something that we pay lots of attention to.”

“At what point do they decide they need to move from viewing the Internet as a source of recruitment … [to] viewing it as a potential weapon system?” Rogers asked.

While ISIS has been widely recognized for its social media prowess, the growing computer science talent of its recruits has mostly gone unnoticed.


“A number of individuals that have recently joined the movement of ISIS were folks that studied computer science in British schools and European universities,” said Tom Kellermann, chief cybersecurity officer at security firm Trend Micro, who said ISIS’s cyber capabilities are “advancing dramatically.”

Even the man responsible for a number of the brutal ISIS beheadings, dubbed “Jihadi John” by his captives, has a computer science degree, Kellermann said.

The burgeoning online threat posed by Islamic extremists was part of the motivation for a new security pact announced Thursday between the White House and Gulf states.

In addition to securing infrastructure and providing cyber training, U.S. officials will also work with partner states to expand joint exercises that involve the potential for cyber warfare.

Part of the danger of the ISIS threat is the group’s ability to marshal attacks from its sympathizers, generating a diffuse and unconnected network that is hard to track.

Kellermann said the video threats this week were “a call to arms more than anything,” meant to incite individuals to act on their own.

“It has actually added a new dimension to the terrorist threat that our counterterrorism approach is not intended or designed to pick up on,” Cohen said.

So far, supporters have focused on distributed denial-of-service attacks, spear phishing campaigns, and hijacking legitimate websites to push malware, creating what are known as “watering holes.”

“For example, if you go to an ISIS website and download their videos, you better recognize most of those websites are watering holes,” Kellermann said. “[They are] basically trying to attack you while you’re watching that video.”

Experts think radical hackers are likely to expand this tactic to mainstream websites and powerful companies’ websites as a way to gather information on key targets.

“They’re beginning to conduct more and more counterintelligence,” Kellerman said.

The Islamic State’s use of the Internet has been described as unprecedented for a terrorist group, and lawmakers are growing increasingly concerned about U.S. attempts to counter its rhetoric online.

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) recently criticized U.S.-led online campaigns against radicalization as “laughable,” saying he was “stunned” by the efforts’ lack of sophistication.

Jen Weedon, threat intelligence manager at security researcher FireEye, said these concerns are understandable.

“Part of the reason why there’s a belief that these emissaries are so savvy is because there’s a sense of people not feeling that they’re’ in control of the message,” she said.

Most of ISIS’s current online power lies in its messaging, experts say, and not its ability to hack real computer networks. But a handful of high-profile intrusions point toward its aspirations as a hacking group.

Almost every month of 2015 has been punctuated by some online attack by ISIS affiliates or sympathizers.

The so-called Cyber Caliphate took over the Twitter and YouTube accounts for the U.S. Central Command in January and the Twitter account for Newsweek magazine in February.

Then, the next month, the so-called Islamic State Hacking Division posted the personal details of 100 U.S. military personnel supposedly involved in attacks on ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

“Kill them in their own lands, behead them in their own homes, stab them to death as they walk their streets thinking they are safe,” the group urged supporters.

In April, a French television station was knocked offline in perhaps the best example of terrorists’ abilities.

“It seemed to be of a broader scale than we had seen previously,” Weedon said. “There were a number of facets to that attack and they also took the station offline for quite awhile. That seemed to me to be of a different magnitude.”

Some worry the next step is inevitable within the year.

Kellermann has noticed an uptick in ISIS activity on the “cyber arms bazaar,” the massive underground dark Web market run out of Eastern Europe that traffics in almost every form of cyber sabotage imaginable.

“By the end of 2015,” Kellermann said, “we’re going to hear about significant attacks that were pulled off by sympathizers of ISIS.”



Laser Fighters: 100 kW Weapons By 2022

By Sydney J. Freedberg Jr.

on May 18, 2015 at 4:00 AM


PENTAGON: Star Wars fans, calm down. The US Air Force wants to fire a 100-plus-kilowatt laser from a small plane. And not just any airplane, Air Force Research Laboratory officials. The last laser on an airplane — the megawatt Airborne Laser, which filled a converted 747 and cancelled in 2011 — the 2022 demonstration will be fired from a fighter.

But this isn’t a real-world X-Wing. It probably won’t even be an F-35A because that’s a stealth aircraft that carries its weapons inside to give it a smaller radar cross section. Instead, the 2022 weapon will be built into an external weapons pod.

It’s a crawl-walk-run approach, said Morley Stone, the Air Force Research Laboratory’s chief technology officer. Modern electrically powered, solid-state laser technology is “orders of magnitude” simpler and more compact than the vats of toxic chemicals that powered the cancelled Airborne Laser, Stone told reporters at Thursday’s “DoD Lab Day” in the Pentagon courtyard. But technological advances still don’t make putting lasers on airplanes simple. So, he said, “before we start getting into really what we consider a lot of risk with internal carriage integration, we’re going to look at external integration via a pod.”

Even an external pod on a fighter, however, is a much tighter and more challenging fit for a laser weapon than, say, the massive weapons bay on an AC-130 gunship. Special Operations Command wants a laser cannon on future AC-130s, but “what we’re doing is taking the most challenging case, and that’s on a fighter,” said AFRL director Maj. Gen. Thomas Masiello. “As technology advances, it can be spun right of into a larger platform like the AC-130.”

By way of comparison, the only forward-deployed laser weapon in the US military today is a 30-kW prototype installed on the broad decks of the USS Ponce, a converted amphibious assault ship now in the Persian Gulf. Lasers fired from a ship face some unique problems that an airplane doesn’t. Sea air is full of moisture, which can weaken and distort the laser beam. Higher altitude air is clearer, but airborne lasers still require sophisticated corrective optics to stay focused on their target. While the atmospherics are arguably easier for an airborne laser than a shipborne one, ships are a lot bigger than a fighter.

“Air applications actually can be the most challenging,” said AFRL laser guru David Hardy. (His formal title is “Director, Directed Energy Directorate” — yes, really, he says with an apologetic smile). “On a ship, I’m probably going to have more SWAP [Size Weight And Power] than I’m going to have on an aircraft,” Hardy said. What’s more, he went on, “aircraft tend to shake more than a ship does: A ship rolls but it doesn’t vibrate as much.” Vibration is hard on any complex machinery, but it’s especially problematic for a laser, which has to hold its beam steady enough to burn through a single spot on the target.

“A laser is basically a heating device,” Hardy said. “It heats up something. It melts holes in it. That’s what we do.” But it takes a lot of technology to get that hot spot on target, especially when fired from a flying platform. While the military has abandoned the bulky chemical lasers used on the Airborne Laser program, the experience of building ABL taught valuable lessons that still apply to the more compact electrically powered lasers of today, Hardy told me. “Making ABL work was not just fitting the laser in: It was building the beam control system, it was building the pointing system, it was building the targeting,” Hardy said. “We leaned a lot from that.”

Another crucial evolutionary step is the General Atomics HELLADS laser, which will soon shift from a DARPA experiment to a DARPA-Air Force Research Lab joint venture. “That was a major investment on the part of DARPA,” Hardy said. “It’s the first time anybody’s shown you can make a 150-kw-class electric laser.”

HELLADS was intended to demonstrate whether a 150-kW laser weapon compact enough to fit on an aircraft could be built, though it’s never actually be installed in one.

(The exact power output of HELLADS isn’t published, and many details are classified). While HELLADS is technically a ground-based weapon, it’s generates a lot of power in a compact package, making it “the existence proof that we can really make these electric lasers work in the greater-than-100-kw regime, in a reasonable SWAP [Size Weight And Power].”

“We believe [that] in the next decade we’ll have systems that routinely deliver over 100 kw,” Hardy told me. “Exactly how many hundreds of kilowatts we don’t know.”

Future Firepower

What can 100-plus kilowatts kill? Hardy was cagey about specific targets, but a study from the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments suggests that it could destroy enemy cruise missiles, drones, and even manned aircraft at significant ranges.

“A 150-200 kW laser could be capable against surface-to-air and air-to-air missiles,” said CSBA’s Mark Gunzinger, the report’s author. And against manned aircraft? “Quite probably,” he said, “especially at altitude where the air is thinner.”

Maj. Gen. Masiello explicitly brought up lasers as potential replacements for air-to-air missiles. “The ultimate almost unlimited magazine is provided with directed energy[:]One laser shot we estimate would take about a liter of fuel,” he said, “but that’s a ways off.”

“Missile defense is our biggest interest,” Hardy told me, just as it is for the Navy and Army laser programs. “But we’re also interested in the offensive capability they provide, because…as long as you have jet fuel that can be converted into electricity to feed the laser, I can keep firing the weapon.”

A typical modern fighter like the F-16 can carry at most six air-to-air missiles. Shoot six times, hit or miss, and it’s back to base to re-arm. By contrast, said Gunzinger, a laser-armed aircraft could just head back to the tanker. “Instead of landing to reload, air refueling would ‘reload’ [laser]-equipped aircraft in flight,” he said. They could keep fighting until the pilot couldn’t take it any more — or, if unmanned, for longer than any human could endure.

“There are several developmental lasers, including HELLADS, that are making great progress” towards making a weapon compact enough for an aircraft, Gunzinger told me. “Aircraft-based laser weapons could be a near-term reality.”

One of the Air Force’s leading futurists, retired Lt. Gen. Dave Deptula, was even more enthusiastic about the possibilities for airborne lasers — and, someday, spaceborne ones. In the near term, he told me, the place to start is probably short-ranged defensive systems: Instead of trying to overcome the power, focus, and atmospheric distortion problems required to strike targets far away, he said, you let the enemy come to you. But laser’s long term potential lies at long range, and aerospace platforms are the way to get there.

Lasers are just intense beams of light, after all. They get attenuated by the atmosphere and can’t fire indirectly at targets beyond the horizon the way a missile or artillery shell can. The higher the laser’s altitude, the farther it can shoot and the less atmosphere is getting in the way. This is where Air Force laser weapons have a potential that ship- or ground-based lasers can’t match.

“You can just imagine the kinds of advantages there are when you free yourself from the atmosphere,” Deptula told me. Beyond firing from high-altitude aircraft, he said, “there are some enormous opportunities here to use lasers in space or from space,” for example to shoot down enemy aircraft or ballistic missiles from above. Current international treaties prevent that, he acknowledged, and “we don’t want to weaponize space, but guess what: it’s gonna happen — so we need to be prepared to operate in space and from space.”

From space, from the air, or from the surface, lasers have genuinely revolutionary potential. “The term game changing is thrown around pretty loosely,” Deptula said, but it fits here. “Since Chuck Yeager first broke the sound barrier, in the late forties, we’ve been engaging at the speed of sound,” he told me. Now the US, Russia, and China are all developing hypersonic weapons that can travel at Mach 5 or more. But with lasers, he said, “now you’re talking about engaging at the speed of light.”



Inside Raytheon’s Secret Cyber Push

By Andrew Clevenger 2:36 p.m. EDT May 16, 2015


WASHINGTON — From the outside, the building is so nondescript that it wouldn’t raise eyebrows in any business park in America. On the inside, though, Raytheon’s

Cyber Operations, Development & Evaluation (CODE) Center

is full of cutting edge technology, discretely tucked away behind heavily secured doors.

The Northern Virginia facility has been operational since 2011, but the company hasn’t publicly disclosed its capabilities until recently, when it extended invitations to tour the building to a small handful of journalists.

Raytheon’s acquisition of Websense part of larger strategy

Raytheon Chairman and CEO Thomas Kennedy said the CODE Center exemplifies the company’s increasing focus on growing its cyber business.

“In the last two years, we have essentially grown an international cyber business from zero to very strong,” he said, adding that the company has seen its Raytheon Cyber Products business grow by 20 percent year upon year.

Raytheon would not disclose how much it has invested on its CODE Center, but it represents a significant investment made during the economic downturn, when many defense companies were scaling back on expenditures.

The building features two rooms resembling classrooms, with rows of tables with computers and monitors on them. It is here that they conduct their red team/blue team drills, with one side posing as hostile (virtual) intruders. The other tries to fend off their cyber attacks in real time.

This fall, the facility will host a drill involving 140 government employees from more than a dozen agencies, Raytheon officials said. In one room, the employees will try to get through a normal workday while cyber enemies in the other room devise new and unexpected interruptions.

“We are actually training our engineers to be cyberwarfare experts, so that they understand what the ramifications are of the threat and help them better understand how to design their systems in a way that they can help them be resilient to the cyber threat,” Kennedy said.

Down another hallway, Raytheon has constructed a room-sized Faraday cage, where it can run tests without any electronic or electromagnetic interference from outside. The room features and a steel frame lined with carbon cones like the knobby soundproofing insulation found in recording studios. Journalists entered using a door resembling a bank vault.

Raytheon officials said they have used the isolation chamber to see whether they could remotely see, seize control of, and crash a small quad-propeller drone. (They could.) They then coated the drone in Raytheon’s electronic armor, and found they couldn’t repeat their previous success.

On another floor, Raytheon installed a security operating center, or SOC, built to replicate the company’s SOC in Garland, Texas, Kennedy said.

“It essentially monitors our whole network, checking for issues,” he said. “We put another SOC here on purpose, so that we can show our international customers in real time how these systems are being utilized.”

For the past decade, Raytheon has been fending off cyber intrusions, and plans on marketing its expertise in the commercial marketplace, Kennedy said.

“We have a deep domain knowledge of what the vulnerabilities of a system are, whether they are connected via the Internet or some RF [radio frequency] device. And we’ve been using that to develop products, solution sets, to protect ourselves,” he said. “This facility here actually can test not just Internet vulnerabilities, but RF vulnerabilities, via Bluetooth, via wi-fi, Link16, whatever else.”

Byron Callan, an analyst with Capital Alpha Partners, said it will be challenging for traditional defense contractors to move into the commercial cybersecurity market, but Raytheon seems to understand the need to accept the cultural differences between the two spheres and to create a bridge between them. As the recent hack of Sony Pictures Entertainment demonstrated, military and commercial threats have more and more in common, he said.

“There is a value to having feet firmly planted in both military and commercial cyber worlds,” Callan said of Raytheon’s strategy. “If you can get those two sides to work together, you may have a winning advantage.”

With much of the business conducted in secret, it is difficult to quantify the commercial cyber market, but there is widespread agreement that the market is expanding, he said. This creates opportunities for defense contractors who can adjust their mindset to the fast pace of tech innovation, particularly compared with the stately pace of legacy defense programs.

“It absolutely is permeable,” Callan said of the cybersecurity market. “There’s no barrier between civil and military.”



DoD rethinks Identity and Access Management strategy

John Edwards and Eve Keiser, Contributing Writers 1 p.m. EDT May 17, 2015

In an age of heightened security demands and rapidly evolving mobile technologies, the Department of Defense is re-evaluating and updating its Identity and Access Management (IdAM) strategy to strengthen network access protection without placing undue burdens on authorized users.

“We’ve looked at a number of different solutions, from biometrics to different kinds of encryption; there’s a whole spectrum of solutions out there,” said Michael McCarthy, director of operations and program manager for the Army’s Brigade Modernization Command, based in Fort Bliss, Texas.


Yet, even as research into promising IdAM technologies moves forward, common access cards (CACs) and personal identity verification (PIV) cards, the current IdAM mainstays, are not going away any time soon. “They are still important for physical access, and will be used in smart card readers on larger devices, particularly desktop computers,” said Steve Taylor, a solution architect for Intel Federal in Fairfax, Virginia.

While CAC/PIV readers will continue to be used with laptop and desktop PCs, the next-generation mobile devices now being adopted by DoD organizations require a fresh IdAM approach. “The PIV card works quite well with laptops and desktops, but now we have new mobile computing devices that can’t use the PIV card very easily,” said Hildegard Ferraiolo, PIV program lead at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Gaithersburg, Maryland. “These devices don’t have built-in readers, so you have to have a bulky and cumbersome ‘sled’ to use a PIV card with it,” she said.

McCarthy agreed. “I have an iPhone that has a little [external] plug-in reader,” he said. “I can slide my CAC in and use it just like I do on my desktop computer.” Yet McCarthy acknowledged that using a mobile device with an external reader in the field is inconvenient at best and dangerous at worst. “Most soldiers are carrying something in one of their hands — call it a weapon — and it causes them to be distracted,” he said. “If they fail to enter the correct passcode after a certain number of times, the device locks up.”

The Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) currently operates two mobile security programs: the Defense Department Mobile Unclassified Capability for managing unclassified smartphones and the Defense Mobile Classified Capability program to approve secret and top-secret classified smartphone communications, said Tony Crawford, director of C4ISR solutions for IT services provider CACI in Arlington, Virginia.

“The creation of these programs allows industry to develop working mobile device solutions capable of meeting the stringent security requirements for mobile device access to DoD enterprise networks, because they have published government security standards/specifications,” Crawford said. “This saves time and money both for industry and the government client; ensures security controls are considered during the entire systems engineering process; and reduces systems development to fielding timelines to keep pace with a very dynamic operational environment.”

Derived credentials

DoD has struggled over the years to bring IdAM to mobile devices in a usable and cost-effective form. “Only in the past six months to a year have they really made great strides by looking at replacements for traditional smart cards to bridge the gap between their IdAM infrastructure and their mobile devices,” said Eugene Liderman, public sector product management director for mobile security company Good Technology, located in Sunnyvale, California. “[DoD] spent years pushing for smart card integration in conjunction with mobile devices, starting with BlackBerry, followed by Windows Mobile, then with iOS and Android,” he said. The agency then evaluated a variety of alternative form factors, including Secure Elements microSD cards. “The Defense Manpower Data Center [DMDC] did a pilot using NFC-enabled smart cards,” Liderman said. “Now they are looking at derived credentials, which will be stored on the [mobile] device.”


A derived credential is a certificate that’s generated after a user has validated his or her identity using another type of certificate, typically a CAC or PIV card. “Derived credentials is … the process of creating this additional certificate derived from the certificate on the CAC or PIV and provisioning this derived certificate to the device, which is then used for certificate-based device and user authentication without the need for a CAC/PIV reader on the device,” Taylor said.

Using a soft certificate or derived credential eliminates the need to have a reader either mounted on or attached to the mobile device. “This lowers costs, improves usability, lowers the total weight of the solution the user carries and increases the battery life of the device,” Taylor said.

“In the short term, we will have a hybrid environment where the CAC will be used for physical access to buildings, logical access to computers and network access from a computer,” Liderman said. Derived credentials, he observed, will likely be used for logical access into the devices and/or applications on the devices, as well as for network access to backend resources via mobile devices. “Ultimately, I believe we will see a convergence where the mobile device will replace the Common Access Card for traditional physical, logical and network access as [chip-based security technologies] like Trust Zone and Trusted Execution Environment become more ubiquitous,” he said.

According to Liderman, a great deal of work has already been completed in the effort to establish a path toward integrating IdAM technology directly into mobile devices. “We have the DoD CIO memo around the use of derived credentials, as well as NIST SP 800-153, which covers the best practices around implementing a derived credential,” he said. “As a result, there are now multiple officially sanctioned pilots evaluating the approaches and techniques to distributing these derived credentials.”

Taylor noted that DoD is currently running a one-year, 500-device soft certificates pilot, giving users access to NIPRNet, the unclassified but sensitive Internet Protocol router network. “These devices will use soft certificates to do native signing and encryption, native browser authentication, Exchange ActiveSync and VPN authentication,” he said.

Taylor predicted that DoD organizations will eventually implement a process that validates a user to his or her CAC/PIV card to create a new certificate for the user’s device and then provisions the certificate to the device. “The user will then use the new certificate from the device for various use cases, such as authenticating to the VPN or signing and encrypting email, using the new certificate on the device as per policy and usages established by the agency,” he said. “For the most part, the infrastructure to support this, mainly certificate authorities, exists in the enterprise today.”

McCarthy observed that DoD’s overall network security efforts are already encouraging the adoption of a wide range of commercial off-the-shelf mobile devices.

“Commands are starting to purchase iPhones and iPads and Android phones and tablets because they are now able to operate in a secure environment,” McCarthy said. “Four years ago I had DISA tell me they would never let a mobile device on a government network; today, I’ve got a DISA iPad that’s a standard, off-the-shelf iPad, but I can go in and view my enterprise email, which is not classified, but it’s sensitive.”


Biometric technologies, such as fingerprint and iris readers, have long been touted as potentially useful IdAM methods. Yet DoD isn’t even close to approving any type of biometric-based IdAM specifications or guidelines.

“We have looked at those technologies, but they’re not quite ready for prime time,” McCarthy said. “It’s possible that as the technology improves we might move to biometrics, because then we will be able do multiple levels of authentication on a single device,” he said.

“Biometrics may play a critical role with derived credentials as an additional factor of authentication, especially with people complaining that a derived credential on its own is not an adequate form of two-factor authentication,” Liderman said. He noted that biometric technology could “layer in nicely” to help mitigate any perceived risk as an additional authentication factor. “The question is going to be whether policy will allow biometrics or prohibit it,” he said.



‘Robotic carrier pigeons’: US mini-drones can eavesdrop & pick up enemy subs

by Press • 17 May 2015


US military researchers have presented a new mini-drone, which can be used on civil missions and in war. The toy-sized “Cicada” is capable of picking up enemy submarines, or eavesdropping on troops.

The “Cicada” or Covert Autonomous Disposable Aircraft, is a GPS-guided, micro disposable air vehicle that can glide like bird, as scientists explain, after being dropped from any aircraft, balloons, or even a larger drone.

“The idea was why can’t we make UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) that have the same sort of profile,”Aaron Kahn, a flight controls engineer, from the Naval Research Laboratory told AFP. “We will put so many out there, it will be impossible for the enemy to pick them all up,” he added.

Despite its relatively tiny size, the drone can fly at about 75kph and is fairly silent, as it has no engine or propulsion system.

“It looks like a bird flying down,” said Daniel Edwards, an aerospace engineer at the Naval Research Laboratory, adding the drone is “very difficult to see.”

The prototype cost only $ 1,000 and the price could even be lower – about $250.

The minuscule device survived its test flight back in 2011 near the city of Yuma, Arizona – from 17,500 meters. The drone managed to land within 3 meters of its target.

The device’s inventors say the miniature drone can be used for many types of mission, from weather forecasting or monitoring traffic to eavesdropping on troops.

“They are robotic carrier pigeons. You tell them where to go, and they will go there,” Edwards said.

“You equip these with a microphone or a seismic detector, drop them on that road, and it will tell you ‘I heard a truck or a car travel along that road.’ You know how fast and which direction they’re traveling,”Kahn added.

The tiny vehicles are surprisingly robust, the researchers say.

“They’ve flown through trees. They’ve hit asphalt runways. They have tumbled in gravel. They’ve had sand in them. They only thing that we found that killed them was desert shrubbery,” Edwards said.

According to the scientists, almost every branch of the US government has become interested in the”Cicada”, including some intelligence agencies.

“Everyone is interested. Everyone!” Edwards said.


Socom looks to enhance interactions with industry, academia

By Howard Altman | Tribune Staff Howard Altman on Google+

Published: May 18, 2015 | Updated: May 18, 2015 at 06:08 PM


Imagine a Special Operations Forces Industry Conference in Tampa every single day of the year. Imagine U.S. Special Operations Command reaching out to inventors, industry and academia with needs, and a place to bring them all together to figure out how to rapidly turn ideas into prototypes.

It is not pure imagination.

It is a concept Socom has dubbed “Thunderdome.”

“We are looking at venues and creating opportunities where we can better interact with the local community and take advantage of the incredible talent in academic institutions, small business and large business and create venues where we can all come together and work on problems,” says James “Hondo” Geurts, Socom’s head of acquisitions. With the annual SOFIC conference in town, Geurts is kind of like the king of what I call “commando prom” this week.

It’s extremely early in the process. Everyone I’ve talked to stresses the importance of regional buy-in to ensure this gets off the ground and that while Socom is a key component, Thunderdome can’t happen without the support of local civic and academic institutions on both sides of the Bay.

But the opportunity is certainly enticing for anyone who thinks that melding the economic stimulus and operational flexibility and rapidity of Socom with the region’s industrial and academic infrastructure to create jobs and produce products is a good thing.

If all goes as hoped, the Thunderdome concept would piggyback on something called SOFWORX, which is set up at the Armature Works building in Tampa Heights. SOFWORX is a Socom effort to get outside the wire, so to speak, of MacDill Air Force Base to interact with industry, academia and others to more rapidly get needed products into the hands of commandos in the field. But SOFWORX itself will eventually move to a more permanent location because the Armature Works building is slated for a mixed-use development project.

SOFWORX would serve as one home for Thunderdome events, which could be held in a variety of locations, depending on what is needed. The Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. is putting together a Thunderdome business plan due on June 30, says Rick Homans, the organization’s chief executive officer.

But Homans is quick to point out that his organization, which is spending $30,000 via an Enterprise Florida grant on the effort, is just trying to shepherd the project, not run it.

Local universities, incubators, accelerators and other organizations have to play a role, Homans says.

“We’ve got to figure out ways to plug in all these assets and tools that we have in Tampa Bay,” says Homans.

The idea, says Geurts, is to “figure out how to work together to increase Socom’s competitive advantage in acquisitions velocity. The key to velocity is generating greater networks and trusted relations with a greater number of folks in that network.”

The bottom line, he says, is to “make it as easy as possible for folks to bring in ideas and to deliberate on those ideas. And for the ones that makes sense, to execute those ideas.”

The desired end state, says Homans, “is to create the entrepreneurial ecosystem that is the brass ring for economic development, from incubation to acceleration to prototype manufacturing to full-scale manufacturing and creating new products and services faster and better than any place in the country.”

The key is that no other place in the country is home to Socom. As I mentioned in my piece about SOFIC, President Barack Obama has asked Congress to give Socom $2.4 billion in the next budget for acquisitions, research and development, which represents about a 20 percent increase over the current year, according to figures Geurts gave me.

The command, he says, is one of the few actually getting an increase in those funds. And it’s just a fraction of the $6 billion to $7 billion Socom spends on research and development, procurement, sustainment or support services” like IT services, language support and knowledge management among other items.

“They are a huge anchor,” says Homans. “They are the differentiator with this effort for our community. Every community wants to build an entrepreneurial ecosystem, but no other community has Socom sitting there with the needs and the budget and the ability to interact and engage the way Socom wants to, and that is a very powerful differentiator for the Tampa Bay.”

It’s a difference that goes beyond just the military, says Homans, because many of the products that would be developed through Thunderdome events could have civilian applications, just like GPS systems.

The trick is making it all work.

Mark Swanson, a West Point graduate, former Army Apache helicopter pilot, computer engineering graduate, internet innovator, technology management guru and serial entrepreneur, has been tabbed to put together the Thunderdome business plan.

As chairman of the Tampa Bay WaVE, whose mission is to “help entrepreneurs turn ideas into growing tech businesses in Tampa Bay,” Swanson “gets” the Thunderdome concept. And he sees its value as an “accelerator” that attracts and maintains high-tech startups.

“We lost three really solid startups in the Tampa Bay to accelerators like Wufoo,” says Swanson. “They left and never came back and what we need is a way to attract great startups from all over the United States.”

Swanson likens Socom to a “bug light” for innovation “because they are so big, have a well-recognized name and have an aura about them. They are at the tip of the spear so to speak in terms of defense acquisition. They buy the coolest stuff, are mission-oriented and have the ability to purchase things outside the traditional defense-industry problems.”

Hillsborough County Commissioner Mark Sharpe, who is working on his own business development project, sees the Thunderdome concept as helping bridge the gap between the tens of millions of dollars local contractors derive from military spending and the billions available.

“This is a unique opportunity,” says Sharpe.

Likewise, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn is a Thunderdome believer.

“The concept makes a lot of sense for both Socom as well as the defense contractors associated with special operations,” says Buckhorn. “There are 2,400 contractors in the Tampa Bay area.”

Over on the other side of the great watery divide, the president and chief executive officer of the Tampa Bay Innovation Center in St. Petersburg, another high-tech accelerator, says the Thunderdome concept has promise.

“The way I understand the concept, it is a good complimentary effort to what we are doing,” says Tonya Elmore, whose organization does a lot of work with the defense sector in Pinellas County and whose involvement in the Thunderdome effort is also considered key.

Like Swanson, Elmore says that the region is “losing more and more companies to accelerators” elsewhere.

Elmore is quick to point out that she is not frustrated by what some see an inability for both sides of the Bay to come together on projects.

“Everyone has their lane,” she says. “We are primarily focused on Pinellas County. When things happen across the Bay that we can benefit from, that’s great. We see a lot of things come and go.”

Does the Thunderdome concept seem like a worthy cross-bridge effort with staying power?

“It depends on the power they put behind it,” says Elmore.

Having the blessing of Hondo Geurts is a big deal, says Elmore.

“It is key to have buy-in from Jim Geurts,” says Elmore, who plans on attending SOFIC. “For him to champion this project is a key component, because then you have all the right players at the table.”



Bob Gates: U.S. has no Middle East strategy ‘at all’

By Nick Gass

| 5/19/15 7:51 AM EDT


Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Tuesday that when it comes to the Middle East, he does not think the United States has a strategy “at all.”

“We’re basically sort of playing this day to day,” Gates said in a discussion on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “I think our interests remain important in the Middle East.”

Gates said that during his “several decades” in the Situation Room, oil was never the reason for an invasion of the region. Early on, he said, the Soviet Union proved the impetus, and later it was Iran.

“I think our interests are enduring, but I certainly don’t think we have a strategy,” the former defense secretary and CIA director said, adding that if Iraq begins to fall apart, Iran would only be emboldened in the region, noting concerns about unintended consequences of an independent Kurdistan, for example.

Gates mentioned Turkey as one particular regional ally whose relations have frayed with the U.S. in recent years.

“My own view is, you don’t walk away from the people that you’ve counted as your friends and allies for several decades. The question is, how should those relationships evolve?” he asked.

Turning away from Turkey “would be a serious mistake,” given its role in NATO, he said.

Gates also touched upon the stir over presidential hopeful Jeb Bush’s answers to the question over whether he would invade Iraq given the information that is known now.

Bush “made a mistake” answering that question, Gates said, but added that getting into hypothetical situations is not productive.

“The right answer,” Gates said, is evaluating the lessons from the mistakes that were made when the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003. “One of those lessons is, it seems to me, we overestimate our ability to shape events there.”

Gates also broached the importance of keeping Asian allies close with regard to China and its territorial claim in the Senkaku Islands.

“I think we’ve made some good moves, but I think when it comes to the South China Sea, we need to do more with our allies,” he said.

Read more:



Counter drone Anti-UAV system unveiled by British trio

by Press • 20 May 2015

Blighter Surveillance Systems (electronic-scanning radar target detection), Chess Dynamics (electro-optic tracking and classification) and Enterprise Control Systems (radio frequency disruption) join forces to combat growing threat of micro, mini and larger unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) or drones.

Anti-UAV Defence System (AUDS) designed to detect, track, classify and disrupt UAVs at ranges of up to 8km; at recent international trials, AUDS successfully disrupted a variety of micro, compact and standard UAVs.

A trio of British technology companies comprising Blighter Surveillance Systems, Chess Dynamics and Enterprise Control Systems – leaders in their respective fields – have combined forces to develop a powerful, highly effective and fully integrated Anti-UAV Defence System (AUDS) to combat the growing threat of malicious micro, mini and larger unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) or drones.

The Anti-UAV Defence System (AUDS) integrates the Blighter A400 Series Ku band electronic scanning air security radar, Chess Dynamics’ stabilised electro-optic director, infrared and daylight cameras and target tracking software, and a directional radio frequency (RF) inhibitor/jammer system from Enterprise Control Systems to detect, track, classify, disrupt and neutralise UAVs at ranges of up to 8km. The AUDS system is even effective against so-called Group 1 micro UAVs at ranges of up to 2km and Group 1 mini UAVs at ranges of several kms.

Mark Radford, CEO, Blighter Surveillance Systems, said: “We formed the all-British AUDS team in 2014 as we were each acutely aware of the urgent operational requirement from our customers for an effective and affordable anti-UAV system. Working in partnership, we have developed some clever technology (patents are pending) that integrates the different sensors, effector and electro-mechanical positioning systems to disrupt and bring down any malicious drone in a phased and controlled manner.”

According to the AUDS team, the technology has been extensively tested in South Korea along the 250km demilitarised zone (DMZ), where Blighter radars have been deployed for some years. In March 2015, the AUDS team took part in multi-supplier French Government trials in Captieux, France, where its counter UAV system proved highly successful in detecting and neutralising a variety of fixed and rotary wing micro, compact and standard UAVs. And last week, the system also performed well in UK Government sponsored counter UAV trials (known as Bristow 15) in West Freugh, Scotland.

The AUDS system is designed for counter UAV operations in remote border sites or urban areas. It can be operated from fixed locations and from mobile platforms. Key features and benefits include:

•Fully electronic scanning radar technology with Doppler processing allowing all weather, 24-hour detection of both fast and slow moving micro and mini UAV targets with unsurpassed ground clutter suppression for near horizon operation;

•Highly accurate stabilised pan and tilt director combined with the very latest electro-optic infrared day and night cameras and state-of-the-art digital video tracking technology to automatically track the UAV and classify the target;

•Smart radio frequency inhibitor to selectively disrupt various command and control communication links employed by the UAV. Disruptive effect can be carried out in an intelligent, proportional and non-kinetic manner to mitigate collateral impact, and the inhibitor/jammer system is software controlled giving the capacity to counter new and emerging threats.

Colin Bullock, CEO, Enterprise Control Systems, said: “We believe that with the combination of our three systems – best-in-class expertise in radar detection, camera & video tracking and RF jamming & data communications – we have a world-beating product that competes even with systems based around expensive military 3-D air security radars. And, AUDS is available at commercial (COTS) prices right now.”

With incidents of UAV and drone related security breaches occurring on an almost daily basis, the AUDS system is able to address the heightened concern about UAVs within military, government, critical infrastructure and commercial security organisations. While UAVs have many positive applications, it’s expected that they’ll be used increasingly for malicious purposes – they can carry cameras, weapons, toxic chemicals and explosives – and be used increasingly for terrorism, espionage and smuggling purposes.

Graham Beall, managing director, Chess Dynamics, said: “This is truly an exciting collaboration – three British high-tech companies with different technologies and expertise working together to address the global problem of UAV detection. Our new invention is a complete smart sensor and effector package that can automatically detect, track, classify and when required neutralise the potential impact of malicious UAVs with a measured response. These three fully integrated technologies give AUDS a truly optimised Sensor Effector Mix.”


Navy seeks to close back doors to weapons systems

Michael Peck, Contributing Writer 11:16 a.m. EDT May 20, 2015

Today’s weapons systems are vulnerable to hackers, who could potentially commandeer them with the right tools and skills.

The Navy is trying to address that risk with a new research solicitation. The risk not always to the weapons directly. The research solicitation addresses support systems that connect to the weapons intermittently, such as maintenance laptops and industrial control system interfaces.

Resource: Read the solicitation

“There is a paucity of cyber R&D and threat information for weapon systems and supporting systems that directly or indirectly connect to weapon systems,” the Navy noted.

The solicitation lists 34 areas of interest for securing platforms, weapons and support equipment, including malware detection, “non-destructive” cyber inspection and how to patch software for weapons that only connect to the network periodically.

Data Overload Challenges Special Operators

By Joe Gould 12:39 p.m. EDT May 20, 2015


TAMPA, Fla. — In the wars of recent years, US Special Operations Command saw the results of a dizzying investment in intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) rushed into the field, leaving the command — in today’s leaner times — to make sense of its inventory and focus.

To that end, the command has created an ISR roadmap, aimed at reinforcing its collection, transmission and exploitation abilities, though transmission has proved one of the thorniest problems. Sensors have evolved to capture richer information, like high-definition video, outstripping the capacity of Defense Department data pipes to send the data.

“We’re trying to make the case that this is not a special operations problem, it is a DoD-wide problem,” Col. Matt Atkins, of Special Operations Command’s intelligence directorate, said at a National Defense Industrial Association conference here on Wednesday.

“Fortunately we have acknowledgement at the highest levels of government that yeah, moving sensor data around the battlefield to folks who need to exploit it is something DoD needs to get its arms around,” he said.

One technical challenge is that the power required to transmit sensor data is limited by the size of the platform. Large drones have that ability but midsized drones have less, Atkins told the industry crowd.

The wide array of environments and diverse demands placed on special operations forces make it difficult to articulate the command’s sensor needs. Atkins took a stab, saying there will be demand for sensors that function in, “dense cluttered signal environments, in an urban canyon,” or cellular base stations in shopping malls.

“The reality is the environments we operate in are the ones found all over the world, particularly the crappiest places, and those are the ones that will continue to present the biggest technical challenges,” he said.

Processing and exploitation, being the most manpower intensive, are the most expensive, so the command is interested in technologies that “buy that down,” Atkins said. It means investing in ways to perform exploitation in the field, rather than at US-based sites, using smaller, simpler applications that can be used by an intelligence specialist with a laptop on a special operations team, he said.

There is also a huge demand for ISR platforms that are affordable and easily used by partner nations for internal defense.

“A lot of these countries know how to fly the ScanEagles and things they buy, but they don’t necessarily know how to use them,” Atkins said. “There’s a demand for us to teach them how to control it, how to process the information and how to turn that information into intelligence.”

Exploring small or micro satellites and their ability to transmit data, Atkins and his team have been visiting Silicon Valley in recent months. Less expensive commercial satellites might fill the gap for traditional intelligence sensors competing for access to satellites, he said.

“We look forward to some significant partnerships based on that,” Atkins said.


Special Operations Command Outlines New Sensor, Platform Roadmap

By Jon Harper

TAMPA, Fla. – U.S. Special Operations Command leaders May 20 outlined a new roadmap for how it plans to buy and deploy its intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms in the years ahead.

SOCOM uses ISR assets to gain situational awareness and destroy enemy targets. Col. Matt Atkins, the head of SOCOM’s intelligence capabilities and requirements division, said the demand for ISR is “insatiable.”

A recently conducted review of requirements, capabilities and resource constraints, has led SOCOM to the conclusion that it needs to realign its portfolio investments.

“In the post 9/11 environment there was really a dizzying investment in ISR as folks rushed capabilities to the field in huge numbers and often with not a lot of foresight,” Atkins said at a National Defense Industrial Association conference. “Now in the new more austere fiscal environment, we sort of have to make sense of what’s in the inventory.”

SOCOM had to “rethink” the way it does ISR. The command now recognizes that it doesn’t need “Cadillac” quality assets to do every job, he said.

“A field commander would say, ‘Hey I need an MQ-9 high-end Reaper to do something that a far smaller and less capable platform could do.’ So essentially there was no nuance in the way we did our requirements process,” Atkins said.

Going forward, SOCOM will buy more “Ford” quality platforms while focusing on sustaining and improving the capabilities of high-end platforms that are already in the fleet, he said.

SOCOM also wants to invest in more affordable, less-complex assets to facilitate ISR cooperation with international partners.

“We need an ability to create and purchase and field platforms that not only are affordable for our partners but are employable by partners,” he said. An intelligence sharing agreement should be “baked in” when SOCOM buys a platform, so it can have a Nigerian sitting at a joint operations center as it chases Boko Haram with a small unmanned aircraft system, Atkins said.

Airborne assets currently account for about 80 percent of the command’s ISR portfolio. To save money and diversify the portfolio, more investments will be made in ground-based and maritime-based platforms, as well as space and cyber capabilities.

“We need to reduce our reliance on airborne platforms,” Atkins said. “We’re going to be putting considerable energy into exploring and understanding our way to expand ground-based and maritime-based ISR… to buy down our chemical dependence on the airborne realm, which is not always available and it’s probably the most costly.”

Atkins told conference attendees that SOCOM needs help inform industry when it comes to developing better sensors and improving data transport between ISR platforms and the special operators who rely on them.

The command also wants to reduce the number of people needed for processing, exploitation and dissemination of collected intelligence, which is human capital intensive.

“We’re looking for technology to buy down that,” Atkins said.

SOCOM officials have visited Silicon Valley to explore the idea of using small and mini commercial satellites to improve the command’s ISR coverage.

“We’ve just started to scratch the surface on that,” he said. That kind of technology could potentially “fill the gap where our traditional intelligence sensors don’t have dwell just because of national demands. So SOCOM in particular is leaning forward on the commercial space sector, and we look forward to some pretty significant partnerships in space on that.”


Revealed: The Islamic State’s Two Most Powerful Weapons

Kumar Ramakrishna

May 20, 2015


The ominous shadow of the notorious Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) looms over Southeast Asia and Australia, judging from the scores of recent arrests throughout the region.

In order to neutralize ISIS, it is important to understand what we are confronting. Synthesizing various analyses of the entity appears to provide the following composite picture: ISIS seeks to create a geographically demarcated Islamic political entity that is potentially expansionist. The leadership of the organization is hierarchical and comprises a curious mix of hardline Islamic fundamentalists combined with genuine strategic and operational nous provided by disaffected and radicalized former Baathists of Saddam Hussein’s decimated military.

The core fundamentalist theology of ISIS emphasizes a deity that is punitive, keen on preserving religious purity above else. Consequently outsiders—Muslims who disagree with them; Shia, Christians and other minority groups and their religious symbols—can be disposed of as they are regarded as filth to be cleansed, not parties to a negotiable dispute.

Such an extreme religious narrative readily cloaks the base motivations of the many thugs who have been drawn into the movement and who rape, mutilate and kill for sadistic pleasure. The ensuing political ideology issuing from such a puritanical theological core is a version of Salafi jihadism, whose political goals appear to be as totalistic as its essential theological assumptions.

In the basic ISIS worldview, Islam must dominate all comers, by force if need be. Hence there is no logical reason to assume that ISIS leaders will be content with securing territory in Iraq–Syria only. If they can, they will expand further. Little wonder that they have sought to expand their influence into Taliban territory in Afghanistan–Pakistan and Libya; while conversely, similarly motivated violent Islamist entities such as Boko Haram in eastern Africa, and the East Indonesian Mujahidin in eastern Indonesia have pledged allegiance to it as well.

We are witnessing an institutional evolution of global jihadism in the Iraq–Syria region with potentially seismic worldwide implications. In short, ISIS is the new, improved, more resilient ‘mutation’ of al Qaeda.

Like its older, rapidly-declining, al Qaeda incarnation, ISIS does not seek to directly engage and defeat the armed might of its chief enemies: the ‘Jews and Crusaders’ – Israel, the U.S. and their coalition allies—as per stock Salafi jihadi narratives. ISIS has apparently adopted but refined the original al Qaeda ‘indirect’ strategy of aiming at the true centre of gravity of the Western and allied coalition: its largely multicultural publics.

The main political goal of this strategy appears to be to consolidate and opportunistically expand its self-proclaimed Islamic caliphate. ISIS’ objectives involve destabilizing and ultimately collapsing the fragile ‘near enemies’ of the Shia-aligned regimes in Damascus and Baghdad, as well as simultaneously corroding the political will of the ‘far enemies’ of Western coalition countries to carry on the struggle against it.

In line with this indirect strategy, ISIS emphasizes primarily non-kinetic means of expanding its power and influence. As much or possibly more thought and effort appear to be put into employing social media to attract followers worldwide to its religiously-legitimated enterprise of rebuilding the lost Islamic caliphate.

Social media—a weapon al Qaeda never really fully exploited—has truly been a force multiplier for ISIS. Thus not only untrained Muslim fighters, but trained military and law enforcement officers, as well as civilian professionals, and, as we have seen, entire families, have been targeted to conduct a hijrah (migration) to the caliphate to populate it and build up the ‘perfect’ Islamic society.

Even generally moderate Muslim societies like Malaysia and Indonesia have been affected by this skillful ISIS appeal. Meanwhile, another key element of the ISIS indirect approach has been to promote ‘crowd-sourced’ lone wolf or ‘wolf pack’ terrorism by self-radicalized supporters within Western and allied countries to internally destabilize them and sap their political will; whilst sowing discord within them between Muslim and non-Muslim communities and creating fecund conditions for the ISIS ideological virus to gestate further. The December 2014 Sydney incident demonstrated the ISIS crowd-sourced terror tactic all too well, and Malaysian authorities have recently warned of potential lone wolf attacks as well.

In a following post I will discuss how a Western coalition ‘direct’ strategy, employing kinetic means as the principal instrument but supported by a host of non-kinetic measures, represents a potentially effective response to the ISIS indirect approach.


Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works Is Cooking Up A Revolution In Drone Technology

May 21, 2015 @ 12:13 PM 20,049 views

Loren Thompson



In the years since the 9-11 attacks, unmanned aircraft — “drones” — have become the signature combat system of America’s global war against terrorists. According to the Air Force, its fleet of Predator and Reaper unmanned aircraft flew an average of 1000 hours per day last year over places like Iraq and Afghanistan, generating full-motion video and other reconnaissance that has become crucial to coalition military operations. The joint force routinely uses Reaper, a hunter-killer drone, to take out terrorists and insurgents where they hide because of its ability to loiter for many hours above suspected sanctuaries until enemies show themselves.

Such exploits have spawned widespread speculation that one day unmanned systems will dominate warfighting, taking the place of traditional combat systems not just in the air but on the ground and beneath the sea. For instance, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus recently told an audience that “unmanned systems, particularly autonomous ones, have to be the new normal in ever-increasing areas.” Mabus believes the F-35C fighter his service is developing will be the last manned fighter to fly off carrier decks.

Maybe so, but before the drones take over, there will have to be some big improvements in unmanned-vehicle technology. Craig Whitlock of the Washington Post reported earlier this year that most of the 269 Predator drones the Air Force bought over the last 20 years have crashed, which is a pretty dreadful performance considering the fact that the enemies against which they are used lack air forces or air defenses. And in the process of crashing, Whitlock notes, the drones frequently “are spilling secrets about U.S. military operations.” When a Predator crashes nearby, it’s an unambiguous signal to jihadists they are being watched — one which usually leads them to change tactics.

There are plenty of other problems with current military drones. They can’t operate when the weather is bad. They use up vast amounts of scarce bandwidth communicating with their remote pilots and transmitting reconnaissance. Ground crews require specialized training and equipment. And, surprisingly, they sometimes have higher personnel costs than manned alternatives. James Drew reported at on March 12 that the Air Force’s Global Hawk surveillance drone has a higher “unit personnel cost” than the manned U-2S spy plane, due to maintenance and other requirements.

So the age of unmanned warfare is not yet upon us. In the absence of major refinements, military drones may become less useful in the future as new enemies appear with greater capacity to defend themselves. Many of today’s drones were developed quickly to deal with lightly-armed irregular forces such as the Taliban by exploiting what the military calls “permissive,” meaning uncontested, air space. If the enemy were a well-equipped, state-based military, though, like China’s People’s Liberation Army, the current crop of Pentagon drones would survive about as long as the proverbial snowball in hell.

Which brings me to the revolution in drone technology that Lockheed Martin is cooking up at its secretive Skunk Works in the desert north of Los Angeles. Lockheed is a consulting client and longtime contributor to my think tank, so its executives occasionally will share ideas with me that they might be more reticent about sharing with, say, competitors. The most interesting ideas I’ve heard lately are about a generational leap in drone technology that would address all the drawbacks of current systems noted above — and then some.

The Skunk Works has a long history with military drones, although you’ll have to get somebody outside the company to give you the details. For instance, most experts believe it built the stealthy RQ-170 Sentinel drone that was circling above Osama bin Laden’s compound on the day U.S. special forces took him out, but the company has never publicly acknowledged its role even though the Air Force disclosed the drone’s existence in 2009. With three million square feet of floor space at its main Palmdale campus, the Skunk Works — officially, the Advanced Development Programs unit of Lockheed — has a lot going on at any given time, but drones have come to be a big part of its business mix.

Concerning drones, EVP and General Manager Rob Weiss says, “the Skunk Works is focused on persistent and survivable systems with enhanced sensor performance, and lower manpower requirements.” He goes on to state somewhat cryptically that his team has “proven” it can build such systems. Weiss says that legacy unmanned systems such as Reaper and Global Hawk “are designed to operate in the current permissive airspace environments and they will have limited utility in the future.” So Lockheed Martin is working on systems that will be able to operate effectively in what the Pentagon calls anti-access/area-denial environments — such as the airspace around Russia and China.

That implies drone designs incorporating low-observable (stealth) features, low-probability-of-intercept communication links, and advanced software capable of executing complex missions in the absence of continuous control by remote human pilots. But while the drones would have greater autonomy thanks to sophisticated algorithms in their flight controls and mission systems, they could also be integrated more readily with the operations of manned aircraft such as the F-35 fighter. That would be a big departure from today’s practices, where drones are electronically tethered to pilots on the ground and operate in isolation from manned aircraft. Working in tandem with manned aircraft presumably would require drones to have similar performance features.

There’s a lot more to the concept than that, though. For instance, drones would be able to “learn” from each other by sharing information after missions, using machine-learning technology not resident in today’s drone fleet. They would have reduced manpower requirements, reduced bandwidth requirements, and performance reliability comparable to that of manned aircraft. In other words, attrition due to crashes would be largely a thing of the past. And rather than performing one or two roles, the next-generation drones would be multi-role airframes capable of conducting diverse reconnaissance, strike, jamming and cyber missions all at the same time.

Obviously, unmanned aircraft with so many cutting-edge features have the potential to be costly. However, Skunk Works personnel believe that it is precisely because military budgets will be constrained for the foreseeable future that next-gen drones need to be flexible and versatile. They have some ideas for how that can be achieved while still holding down the cost of each airframe. First of all, the design needs to be a modular, open architecture in which new capabilities can be easily added as threat conditions dictate. Second, the cost of developing and building future drones needs to be shared with trusted allies; if a sufficient number of drones is built in variants customized to the needs of particular countries, then economies of scale would be feasible.

That is not the case today, because high-end drones tend to be bought in small lots precluding the efficiencies of serial production. If next-generation drones were constructed in multiple variants for different users the way the F-35 fighter is, and perhaps even in civil versions for non-military users, it would be easier to control costs. So the Lockheed Martin vision of future drones is of long-endurance unmanned aircraft with open architectures and modular designs configured in multiple variants for a networked world.

Skunk Works executives say that recent advances in automation, artificial intelligence, bandwidth management and related fields have made this revolutionary leap possible. Without such a leap, unmanned aircraft are destined to remain a niche capability that can’t cope with the adversaries U.S. forces will face in the future.


The 3D Printed War

Written by Peter Singer

May 21, 2015 // 08:00 AM EST


“The potential to revolutionize the way we do almost everything,” declared President Barack Obama.

And “like the cupcake, Daft Punk’s latest album, or goji berries… severely overhyped,” said Gizmodo.

Direct digital manufacturing, popularly known as “3D printing,” may be both of these things. Its core concept of turning “bits to atoms” by using digital files to design and build outside a traditional assembly line has been breathlessly reported in everything from feel-good stories of children hearing through digitally manufactured ears to spooky stories of wingnuts making 3D printed M-16s in their garages.

However, there is one area that, despite receiving relatively little recognition, might be where 3D printing has its most important impact of all: the industry of war.

Similarly, 3D printing has also allowed remarkable new design possibilities for technologies that might be used in battle. While many still think of the field as mostly hobbyists working in fragile plastics, GE recently showed off how far we’ve come by making an entirely 3D printed jet engine. These possibilities might be new parts for traditional weapons that are lighter or more efficient than those made through traditional construction, or it might be the design of entirely new weapons.

At the 2015 Sea-Air-Space Expo, a Navy trade show, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus showed off a CICADA (short for Close-In Autonomous Disposable Aircraft). CICADA is a tiny, disposable, 3D printed drone guided by GPS that can “seed an area with miniature electronic payloads, such as communication nodes or sensors.” In other words, imagine a swarm of tiny robotic drones flooding an enemy’s defenses.

The Navy has also explored using 3D printing to make winglets for its current F-18 fighter jets and recently a $36 million Navy plane was “saved” thanks to a 3D printed prototype part.

It’s remarkable that both the revolutionary improvement and the incremental one were enabled by this new field.

3D printing has often been described as being part of a Second Industrial Revolution. For perhaps the most apt precedent to understand how it might play out in war and industry, we should look to Samuel Colt, a key player in the first Industrial Revolution.

The Connecticut-born Colt was an inveterate inventor. He conceived new designs for everything from repeating firearms, to the waterproof cables that were used both for telegraphs and the first electrically detonated mines at sea (John Quincy Adams then shut down US government funding for the mines as he thought the idea of remotely operated weapons was “not fair and honest warfare.” How far we’ve come!).

Yet, for all the importance of Colt’s inventions—such as the new six-shooter Colt .45, not so aptly nicknamed “the Peacemaker”—his biggest contribution was rethinking the manufacturing process. By introducing interchangeable parts, Colt could make his new guns in mass numbers, through what we now think of as the assembly line.

Just like the military, criminals and terrorists will increasingly be able to make their own, hard-to-trace gear

This shift was a true game changer for both industry and then war. Up to that point, the hubs of military manufacture and gunsmithing were government owned armories like Harper’s Ferry. Colt changed all that, manufacturing military equipment and weapons in his private armory—the precursor to the modern defense industrial complex.

A similar shakeup seems likely to happen via 3D printing.


The modern defense economy is dominated by large corporations that profit from the design and sale of military systems and then decades of selling the follow-up spare parts. They locate their manufacture in a system that, instead of being efficiently consolidated into one place, is spread around the country, sensibly maximizing their presence in as many congressional districts as possible. The manufacture of the military’s new F-35 fighter jet, for example, is made in a stunning 46 states, making its cancellation impossible under the politics of the day.

By liberating not just the design, but the actual manufacture from the assembly line, the technology bodes an incredibly disruptive shift for not just what is used in war in the 21st century—it is also changing the how it is made, and therefore might also shift the who and where.

The ability to design and manufacture now is being moved back onto the open market, whether it be to people’s garages to even back to the military itself.

It is too early to know where this all might go next, but the possibilities are immense. We might see a return to the previous model of the defense industry, where industry players served both the military and civilian market off the same factory lines. In the mid 20th century, Ford made both cars and B-24 bombers, while Philco made everything from refrigerators and laundry machines to the first computerized “brain” of Navy jet fighters. With the ability to rapidly shift between designs, a 21st century company could use 3D printing to make anything from customized action figures to fighter jet winglets. This will allow both new entries into the defense space and, in turn, potentially shift the fundamental identities of defense firms.

This distributed model is one future. Or, we might see a return to the past, the very model of making weapons that the last industrial revolution displaced, where the military takes back the design and manufacture of its own gear. In his vision for the future, for example, the Secretary of the Navy cited how a group of sailors on the USS Essex built their own drone and flew it off their ship. Meanwhile, Air Force machinists have crafted their own spare parts for the venerable B-52 bomber (the plane first flew in 1952 and is so old that many of the original firms that make the parts are out of business).

If the military does go this route, it may encounter another wrinkle. What makes the technology of today different from that of Colt’s day is the digitization of the design process. This redistributes not just the ability to make something new, but to recreate, or even modify and improve on something old.

The old international punishment of putting a rogue nation under sanctions won’t have the same effect

This shift is more similar to what iPods and digital downloads did to the music industry. It shakes up an old system of IP rights and the control of distribution channels, redefining the producers, owners, and distributors of content. Defense companies have to worry about whether their trusted profit lines of spare parts might be wiped out by a crafty sailor with some spare time and CAD design skills, while the Navy has to figure out how much to allow its sailors to invent and who profits when they do.

It is not just entire industries that might shift, with jobs being both created and lost. Fields that range from law enforcement to diplomacy will also see new possibilities and perils. For example, just like the military, criminals and terrorists will increasingly be able to make their own, hard-to-trace gear. In San Bernadino, California, for example, police raided the hideout of a credit card theft ring and instead discovered a 3D printer being used to make automatic weapons parts. This is of even more concern in countries where guns are not as easily available as they are in the US; UK police have already discovered several criminal 3D gun “factories,” described as among “the worst fears of security chiefs.”

Similar shakeups loom on the international level. For instance, the old international punishment of putting a rogue nation under sanctions (such as those Iran is under for suspected nuclear weapons work, creating shortages of everything from jet fighter spare parts to oil rig gear) won’t have the same effect. All a nation will need to obtain is a digital code to recreate what it needs.

It also means the technologic and battlefield edge militaries get from buying new gear won’t hold as long as it did previously. For example, a group of university students in Great Britain needed just five days to design and fly a drone whose performance was comparable to those used by their military, while China’s space program has used 3D printing to make parts that NASA took decades to produce.

“The only limit to what this new technology can do for us is our imagination,” the Secretary of the Navy said. That is exactly what makes it so exciting and scary.

Peter Warren Singer is strategist for the New America Foundation, consultant for the Pentagon, and author of several books, including the upcoming Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War, which features a scene of weapons being 3D printed in a Walmart.


What They Told Us: Reviewing Last Week’s Key Polls


Bottom of Form

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Are U.S. troops headed back to Iraq? If so, voters don’t like it.

After ISIS chalked up major victories this week, voters are expressing more unhappiness with the way President Obama is fighting the radical Islamic State group. They’re increasingly convinced that ISIS is winning the war in Iraq.

That said, voters are less enthusiastic than ever about sending U.S. troops back into action to do something about it, even if it’s part of an international coalition.

Perhaps in part, that’s because most Americans agree that Islamic terrorism is now a bigger threat inside the United States. A growing number of voters feel the U.S. government does not focus enough on the potential threat from domestic Islamic terrorism.

Speaking of security on the home front, voters are more supportive of the National Security Agency’s practices despite the fact that a federal appeals court recently ruled that the NSA’s mass gathering of phone and e-mail data is illegal. 

With the number of overseas missions the U.S. military now has, more voters than ever think it is overstretched.

Sixty-three percent (63%) think the U.S. military would be better used along the Mexican border to stop illegal immigration, the highest level of support since December 2012. 

There’s something about Iraq, too, that still stings voters. Jeb Bush, a likely Republican presidential contender, stumbled recently when asked if he would have invaded Iraq in 2003 like his brother, President George W. Bush, did. Voters are closely divided over whether the president made the right decision 12 years ago, and most still consider the Iraq war an important voting issue.

In June of last year as the security situation in Iraq deteriorated under attacks by ISIS, voters were evenly divided over whether it was the actions and policies of Bush or Obama that had contributed more to the new crisis there.

Obama’s daily job approval numbers took a slight turn for the worse at week’s end. Follow our Daily Presidential Tracking poll to see if that’s the start of a trend or just a statistical hiccup. 

George Stephanopoulos, a senior ABC News anchor, has been caught hiding $75,000 in donations to the Bill and Hillary Clinton Foundation just after he grilled on air the author of a book critical of the foundation and Mrs. Clinton. He also was scheduled to moderate a presidential campaign debate before the media found out about the donations.

Forty-six percent (46%) of voters think ABC News should ban Stephanopoulos from any programming related to the presidential campaign since Hillary Clinton is running. 

Most voters already expect the majority of reporters to slant their coverage of the 2016 presidential campaign.

Check out Kyle Kondik’s analysis of Republicans’ most vulnerable Senate seats next year.

Americans are slightly less negative about the job prospects for the latest batch of college graduates but still aren’t very confident these graduates have much to offer prospective employers.

No wonder two-out-of-three voters don’t think they’re getting a good return on their investment in the public schools.

Most also don’t feel that more government spending on transportation infrastructure will help prevent incidents like the recent Amtrak train derailment near Philadelphia that killed eight people.  

In other surveys last week:

— Twenty-nine percent (29%) of Likely U.S. Voters now think the country is heading in the right direction.

— The president last Monday announced a ban on the federal provision of some military-grade equipment to local police departments, a practice nearly half of Americans oppose.

— Americans will be hitting the road in record numbers this weekend, and most admit they’ve been in a traffic accident while behind the wheel.

— They aren’t overly optimistic that taking the human element out of driving with driverless cars will reduce the number of accidents. 

— For most Americans, the Memorial Day weekend marks the beginning of summer.


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