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August 8 2015

August 11, 2015



8 August 2015


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China Tightens Controls on Export of Drones, Supercomputers

Agence France-Presse 4:23 p.m. EDT August 2, 2015


BEIJING — China is tightening controls on exports of some drones and powerful computers and will require firms to register to ensure they do not “compromise national security,” state media reported Sunday.

From Aug. 15, manufacturers of certain powerful drones and computers will have to give technical details to the authorities to obtain a license prior to export, Xinhua news agency said.

The new regulations from the Ministry of Commerce and the General Administration of Customs are aimed in particular at drones which can fly for more than one hour and at heights of more than 15,420 meters (50,000 feet).

In the first five months of 2015, China exported some 160,000 civilian drones, a jump of 70 percent year-on-year, worth more than $120 million, the official China Daily newspaper reported last month.

Leading Chinese maker DJI dominates 70 of the global market. But this manufacturing giant has ensured its products “were not involved in these (new) export controls,” according to a statement reported by Chinese media, suggesting the government was mainly interested in restricting exports of military technology.

The tightening of regulations comes two weeks after an incident in disputed Kashmir in which the Pakistani army claimed to have shot down an Indian “spy drone,” reportedly Chinese-made.

China is also likely tightening controls on exports of powerful computers as it looks to maintain its edge in the global supercomputer battle long dominated by US-Japanese rivalry.

Since June 2013 China’s Tianhe-2 has headed the Top 500 list of the world’s most powerful computers, with the machine capable of 33.86 petaflops (quadrillions of calculations per second).



Congress, Iran and ‘side deals’: What you need to know


By Kristina Wong – 08/02/15 09:00 AM EDT


So-called ‘side deals’ have become a big problem for the White House in its efforts to sell skeptical lawmakers on the Iran nuclear agreement.

The White House is characterizing the deals as “standard” yet confidential. But Republicans say the administration is required to submit them under a law passed by Congress that gives lawmakers authority to review the deal.

White House officials says that despite the confidentiality of the understandings that have been reached, they also “know their contents,” and would be happy to share them with all members of Congress in closed settings. They have not yet done so, however.

At the same time, cabinet officials admitted this week that they’ve only been briefed on the side-deals, rather than having examined the wording — and that they only know of one administration official who’s actually seen the agreements. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) described that state of affairs as “absolutely astounding.”

Republicans are seizing on the confusion — which is sowing unease even among Democrats — to drive opposition to the overall deal.

As lawmakers prepared to leave for the August recess, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) introduced a resolution that seeks to reset the 60-day clock for Congress to consider the deal until the text of the side deals are submitted.

And Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) mocked the administration Friday in a video statement posted to YouTube.

“Secret side deals? Not-so-secret side deals?” the video’s text asks. “The only mystery is why this administration can’t keep its story straight.”


What are the “side deals”?

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Iran agreed on a “roadmap” on July 14 to resolve a key U.S. concern. From the American perspective, Iran needs to “come clean” on any prior work on a nuclear weapon, so officials know how close Tehran is to getting a nuclear bomb.

The roadmap mentions two documents to address those concerns. These documents are what Republicans refer to as the “side deals” or “side agreements.”

One of the documents details the arrangements under which Iran will answer questions on its past weaponization work, and the other sets out the access IAEA inspectors will have to Iran’s Parchin military site, where Iran is suspected of having tested detonators for nuclear devices.

After a classified briefing by administration officials last week, Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho) revealed that, under the arrangements, Iranian scientists would provide their own soil samples from Parchin to the IAEA to detect any cheating. Such an agreement is certain to be met with deep skepticism by Republicans.

Administration officials have not disputed Risch’s remarks, but say the IAEA would have access to any site where there is a suspected violation, including Parchin, after a 24-day process.



Do these “side deals” fall under the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act?

The administration rejects the view that the documents in question fall under the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015 — which allows Congress to evaluate, and vote on, the deal. But Republicans argue that the act’s provisions specifically say the side-deals do indeed come under its remit.

The provisions of the act state: “Not later than 5 calendar days after reaching an agreement with Iran” relating to its nuclear program, President Obama “shall transmit to the appropriate congressional committees and leadership” the agreement as defined in the law, including all related materials.

The law then defines “agreement” as including any “joint comprehensive plan of action entered into or made between Iran and any other parties, and any additional materials related thereto,” including annexes, appendices, codicils, and side agreements.

Kerry said the documents were not “side agreements,” but “separate” comprehensive safeguards agreements (CSA) that the IAEA normally creates with Non-Proliferation Treaty signatories — and which are expected to remain confidential.

“It’s a confidential agreement, which is the standard procedure of the IAEA,” he said.


Who has seen the “side deals” so far?

Amb. Wendy Sherman, a lead negotiator for the United States, said Thursday she has seen the arrangements, but was not allowed to keep the text.

“I saw the pieces of paper, but was not allowed to keep them. All of the members of the P5+1 did in Vienna, and so did some of my experts who certainly understand this better than I do,” she said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

(The “P5+1” is the group of nations that negotiated the deal with Iran. The name is derived from the fact that the group is comprised of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council — the United States, Russia, China, the United Kingdom and France — plus one other nation, Germany.)

However, a day before, Secretary of State John Kerry had said he was not sure if Sherman saw the final version, or just a draft or summary of the deals.

Sherman said she briefed House leadership — “chairs and ranking members” — on the arrangements on Wednesday, and was trying to organize a briefing for senators in the coming days.

The White House argues that since Sherman was not allowed to keep the text, “Congress has everything that the Obama administration has.”


Could the U.S. request to see the “side deals”?

One nuclear expert and former IAEA official said the U.S. could request to see the documents.

IAEA rules and practices dictate that the IAEA secretariat cannot disclose its agreements to other member states on its own initiative. But there are ways for U.S. diplomats to access them, the expert told Business Insider.

Iran can make them available by asking to distribute them to all IAEA member states, said Olli Heinonen, a senior fellow at Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.

Or, any member state that sits on the IAEA’s 35-member Board of Governors could request their distribution, Heinonen said. An objection could be overridden by a simple majority vote of at least 18 members.

The U.S. is a member of the board, as are the other P5+1 members, except for China.

And although IAEA policy on such agreements states that the agency “shall not publish or communicate to any State, organization or person any information obtained by it in connection with the implementation of the Agreement,” “summarized information” may be published upon decision of the Board if the nations directly concerned agree.


How do the side deals affect the JCPOA, or the main agreement?

White House officials say if Iran does not fulfill its commitments under the side deals, sanctions will not be lifted.

“The whole deal won’t go forward — none of it will go forward — unless Iran complies with the requests that have been put forward by the IAEA for access and information to write their report,” White House press secretary Josh Ernest said earlier this week.

The documents require Iran to address IAEA concerns by October 15. The IAEA director general will then provide a final assessment on the resolution of those concerns by December 2015.

Iran’s compliance “is a prerequisite” to sanctions relief, Kerry said at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Tuesday. “If they haven’t complied with the IAEA and lived up to the dates that are laid out in the program, August and October, they will not get relief.”

However, he said, the “outcome” of the IAEA’s assessment wouldn’t matter, just whether Iran complied with the IAEA.

“We know what they were doing. We’ve already drawn our conclusion about 2003. We know they were engaged in trying to make a weapon,” he added.


U.S. Decides to Retaliate Against China’s Hacking


JULY 31, 2015


The Obama administration has determined that it must retaliate against China for the theft of the personal information of more than 20 million Americans from the databases of the Office of Personnel Management, but it is still struggling to decide what it can do without prompting an escalating cyberconflict.

The decision came after the administration concluded that the hacking attack was so vast in scope and ambition that the usual practices for dealing with traditional espionage cases did not apply.

But in a series of classified meetings, officials have struggled to choose among options that range from largely symbolic responses — for example, diplomatic protests or the ouster of known Chinese agents in the United States — to more significant actions that some officials fear could lead to an escalation of the hacking conflict between the two countries.

Network specialists at the Department of Homeland Security’s National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center in Arlington, Va., during an unclassified tour for members of the news media last week. Classified information was excluded from screen displays.

That does not mean a response will happen anytime soon — or be obvious when it does. The White House could determine that the downsides of any meaningful, yet proportionate, retaliation outweigh the benefits, or will lead to retaliation on American firms or individuals doing work in China. President Obama, clearly seeking leverage, has asked his staff to come up with a more creative set of responses.

The home of the Office of Personnel Management headquarters in Washington. The Obama administration has decided that it must retaliate against China for the theft of personal information from the office. Credit Mark Wilson/Getty Images


“One of the conclusions we’ve reached is that we need to be a bit more public about our responses, and one reason is deterrence,” said one senior administration official involved in the debate, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal White House plans. “We need to disrupt and deter what our adversaries are doing in cyberspace, and that means you need a full range of tools to tailor a response.”

In public, Mr. Obama has said almost nothing, and officials are under strict instructions to avoid naming China as the source of the attack. While James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, said last month that “you have to kind of salute the Chinese for what they did,” he avoided repeating that accusation when pressed again in public last week.

But over recent days, both Mr. Clapper and Adm. Michael S. Rogers, director of the National Security Agency and commander of the military’s Cyber Command, have hinted at the internal debate by noting that unless the United States finds a way to respond to the attacks, they are bound to escalate.

Mr. Clapper predicted that the number and sophistication of hacking aimed at the United States would worsen “until such time as we create both the substance and psychology of deterrence.”

Admiral Rogers made clear in a public presentation to the meeting of the Aspen Security Forum last week that he had advised President Obama to strike back against North Korea for the earlier attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment. Since then, evidence that hackers associated with the Chinese government were responsible for the Office of Personnel Management theft has been gathered by personnel under Admiral Rogers’s command, officials said.

Admiral Rogers stressed the need for “creating costs” for attackers responsible for the intrusion, although he acknowledged that it differed in important ways from the Sony case. In the Sony attack, the theft of emails was secondary to the destruction of much of the company’s computer systems, part of an effort to intimidate the studio to keep it from releasing a comedy that portrayed the assassination of Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader.

According to officials involved in the internal debates over responses to the personnel office attack, Mr. Obama’s aides explored applying economic sanctions against China, based on the precedent of sanctions the president approved against North Korea in January.

“The analogy simply didn’t work,” said one senior economic official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal White House deliberations. North Korea is so isolated that there was no risk it could retaliate in kind. But in considering sanctions against China, officials from the Commerce Department and the Treasury offered a long list of countersanctions the Chinese could impose against American firms that are already struggling to deal with China.

The Justice Department is exploring legal action against Chinese individuals and organizations believed responsible for the personnel office theft, much as it did last summer when five officers of the People’s Liberation Army, part of the Chinese military, were indicted on a charge of the theft of intellectual property from American companies. While Justice officials say that earlier action was a breakthrough, others characterize the punishment as only symbolic: Unless they visit the United States or a friendly nation, none of them are likely to ever see the inside of an American courtroom.

“Criminal charges appear to be unlikely in the case of the O.P.M. breach,” a study of the Office of Personnel Management breach published by the Congressional Research Service two weeks ago concluded. “As a matter of policy, the United States has sought to distinguish between cyber intrusions to collect data for national security purposes — to which the United States deems counterintelligence to be an appropriate response — and cyber intrusions to steal data for commercial purposes, to which the United States deems a criminal justice response to be appropriate.”

There is another risk in criminal prosecution: Intelligence officials say that any legal case could result in exposing American intelligence operations inside China — including the placement of thousands of implants in Chinese computer networks to warn of impending attacks.

Other options discussed inside the administration include retaliatory operations, perhaps designed to steal or reveal to the public information as valuable to the Chinese government as the security-clearance files on government employees were to Washington.

One of the most innovative actions discussed inside the intelligence agencies, according to two officials familiar with the debate, involves finding a way to breach the so-called great firewall, the complex network of censorship and control that the Chinese government keeps in place to suppress dissent inside the country. The idea would be to demonstrate to the Chinese leadership that the one thing they value most — keeping absolute control over the country’s political dialogue — could be at risk if they do not moderate attacks on the United States.

But any counterattack could lead to a cycle of escalation just as the United States hopes to discuss with Chinese leaders new rules of the road limiting cyberoperations. A similar initiative to get the Chinese leadership to discuss those rules, proposed by Mr. Obama when he met the Chinese leader at Sunnylands in California in 2013, has made little progress.

The United States has been cautious about using cyberweapons or even discussing it. A new Pentagon strategy, introduced by the secretary of Defense, Ashton B. Carter, in the spring, explicitly discussed retaliation but left vague what kind of cases the United States viewed as so critical that they would prompt that type of retaliation.

In response to the Office of Personnel Management attack, White House officials on Friday announced the results of a 30-day “cybersecurity sprint” that began in early June after the federal personnel office disclosed the gigantic theft of data.

Tony Scott, the government’s chief information officer, who ordered the review, said in a blog post that agencies had significantly ramped up their use of strong authentication procedures, especially for users who required access to sensitive parts of networks.

By the end of the 30th day, officials said that more than half of the nation’s largest agencies, including the Departments of Transportation, Veterans Affairs and the Interior, now required strong authentication for almost 95 percent of their privileged users.

For Mr. Obama, responding to the theft at the Office of Personnel Management is complicated because it was not destructive, nor did it involve stealing intellectual property. Instead, the goal was espionage, on a scale that no one imagined before.

“This is one of those cases where you have to ask, ‘Does the size of the operation change the nature of it?’ ” one senior intelligence official said. “Clearly, it does.”



Hacking Critical Infrastructure: A How-To Guide

July 31, 2015 By Patrick Tucker


Cyber-aided physical attacks on power plants and the like are a growing concern. A pair of experts is set to reveal how to pull them off — and how to defend against them.

How easy would it be to pull off a catastrophic cyber attack on, say, a nuclear power plant? At next week’s Black Hat and DEF CON cybersecurity conferences, two security consultants will describe how bits might be used to disrupt physical infrastructure.

U.S. Cyber Command officials say this is the threat that most deeply concerns them, according to a recent Government Accountability Office report. “This is because a cyber-physical incident could result in a loss of utility service or the catastrophic destruction of utility infrastructure, such as an explosion,” the report said. They’ve happened before. The most famous such attack is the 2010 Stuxnet worm, which damaged centrifuges at Iran’s Natanz nuclear enrichment plant. (It’s never been positively attributed to anyone, but common suspicion holds that it was the United States, possibly with Israel.)

Scheduled to speak at the Las Vegas conferences are Jason Larsen, a principal security consultant with the firm IOActive, and Marina Krotofil, a security consultant at the European Network for Cyber Security. Larsen and Krotofil didn’t necessarily hack power plants to prove the exploits work; instead Krotofil has developed a model that can be used to simulate power plant attacks. It’s so credible that NIST uses it to find weakness in systems.

The idea is to help cybersecurity professionals understand what to look for and design intrusion detection software to prevent attacks from taking place. You can’t guard an asset until you know what weak spots your enemy will use to grab your prize. And when it comes to online attack, the weak spots in U.S. infrastructure are many. But Larsen hopes he doesn’t get “crucified” for his presentation.

When asked if there was a single error or issue that was common across the various installations accounted for in the model, perhaps a single unlocked back door that made power plants, chemical plants, and other pieces of infrastructure vulnerable, Larsen replied, “The answer to that is, which one?”

A hacker bent on destruction might try various methods. There are “water hammers,” a method of destroying piping structures by closing valves too fast. There are three-phase attacks that cause gears to spin too quickly, too slowly, or out of sync with other vital pieces of equipment. (The so-called Aurora vulnerability is one of these.) And there are collapse attacks, where the hacker fills a round tube or container with hot liquid, rapidly closes the lid and waits for the liquid to cool to create a vacuum. “A lot of the round stuff we build doesn’t hold up to vacuums very well. Whole valves that you can drive trucks through can collapse like a beer can,” Larsen told Defense One.

Still, it remains far easier to get online access to a computer or network than it is to cause physical damage to infrastructure. Such attacks a very specific understanding of a physical event playing out — creating a vacuum, turning a valve, rotating a piston, etc. — and specific knowledge of a particular plant or facility.

“For instance, the attacker probably needs the point database because he needs to know that Point 16 operates the oil pump and Point 17 is the light in the bathroom…Without it, it’s hard to launch an effective attack,” said Larsen.

The attack on the Natanz enrichment plant is illustrative. “When Stuxnet came out, the very first version had a payload. It went over there and the effective process broke a whole bunch of stuff. But the actual creation of the payload…a lot of people had to work hard behind the scenes trying to figure out, ‘Oh, there’s a spinning apparatus. I can go damage the spinning apparatus. What information do I need to know to do that?'” asked Larsen. In general, he said, “We don’t have the roadmap for an attacker once he gets in, where he gets to the final payload” that does the damage.

Still, it’s time to start beefing up cyber defense, he said. Defenders need a comprehensive overview of plant cyber security, better sensors inside the facility, better control processes, and much better sensitivity to small abnormalities. This is what Krotofil calls process security — protecting the overall plant. Traditional IT security is insufficient, she said.

“People say, [supervisory control and data acquisition] systems are vulnerable because there is not enough traditional IT security put in place,” she said. “Well, that’s rubbish, because we just presented two attack possibilities where you can control the process at will even if it’s password-protected and encrypted. We also show that you can exercise the process at will despite all the IT security you put in place. And we can spoof process states, to make the operator believe that everything is fine.”

This sort of research can reveal the most likely vulnerabilities in a target — but turning keystrokes into physical damage requires more, says Larsen. “If you’re hitting a nuclear reactor, you really have to know what the estimates they’re using for flux and fluids are. That might not be really obvious. One of the ways to do that is tweak the process a little bit and see how it responds. If you can figure out how people would normally go about doing these little tweaks and responses to tune their cyber weapon, we can actually go look for those and develop signatures for them. We can say, ‘Oh, someone might be tweaking a process’ before someone launches a full-blown attack.”

For policymakers, Larsen offers this advice: create a place for engineers to share data, and then butt out so they can do it. “There’s been a lot of information-sharing things that have sprung up,” including the Cybersecurity Framework the White House put out last year, he said. “What we need is information sharing between engineers at various facilities in order to improve. But sharing information is dangerous because eventually you are going to share the information for how to attack somebody else. So the programs for information sharing have started off with lofty ideas and ended up with a very conservative, to the point of not being useful, implementation because no one wants to be the guy who leaked the information that somebody used to go attack something,” he said. “On the policy decision, I would say that the government’s role should be to mandate and facilitate the information sharing, but not be a member of the information sharing.”

Of course, there also some vulnerabilities that are easy to fix. “Putting in a pressure relief valve in place is actually way cheaper than all the cyber work you have to do,” he said


America Holds Massive Anti-Drone Drills

Zachary Keck

August 3, 2015


The U.S. military is holding a two-week anti drone drill, according to numerous media reports.

From July 26 through August 7, the U.S. military is holding its annual Black Dart drill, which it calls its ” largest live-fly, live-fire joint counter-UAS technology demonstration.” The drills, which are being run by the Joint Integrated Air and Missile Defense Organization, or JIAMDO, are being held at the Naval Base Ventura County in California.

Navy Cmdr. David Zook, chief of the Capabilities Assessment Division at JIAMDO, said that Black Dart 2015 provides “a unique and very valuable window for us to come together for two weeks here and practice in a littoral environment, a land-based environment and a deep-sea environment in many different scenarios.”

This is the 14th edition of Black Dart, which is held annually, but only the second time part of the exercise is open to media. Previously, the U.S. military tried to keep the exercises largely secret in order to deny adversaries the knowledge of how the U.S. military planned to counter drones.

Air Force Major General Scott Gregg told the New York Post that the decision to open up the drills was “just to let everybody know that the Department of Defense is aware of this problem [with drones], we’re concerned about it and that we’re working on it.”

In the wake of a number of incidents involving small drones, including a drunk hobbyist crashing a quadcopter on the White House’s South Lawn earlier this year, this year’s Black Dart will focus on what the military calls Group 1 drones. Group 1 drones weigh under 20 pounds and fly below 1,200 feet.

“Even though we’ve been looking at [the small drone threat], it’s taken on a new sense of urgency,” Gregg told NYP.

Similarly, Zook at JIAMDO said “Small manned and unmanned aircraft have always been hard to find…. It’s hard to tell the difference in the radar cross section from that and other small airborne vehicles or even birds.”

Black Dart will feature representatives from all four branches of the U.S. military, as well as partner nations serving as observers and members of the industry. In fact, industry members will provide many of the anti-drone systems that Black Dart will test, while JIAMDO will provide the drones these systems will be tested against.

All in all, some 55 different counter-drone systems will be tested at Black Dart last week and this week.

The greater attention Black Dart is receiving in recent years is emblematic of the growing problem that the U.S. military faces from the proliferation of drones. While the United States has had a near-monopoly on drones over the last decade-plus, this is no longer the case.

More than 70 nations now operate unmanned vehicles in some capacity, and some non-state actors like Hamas and Hezbollah also operate drones.

The United States has adopted numerous systems to counter the threat posed by these drones. For example, it has equipped the USS Ponce in the Middle East with laser guns to deal with swarms of Iranian drones.

Another enticing new weapon is the one created by SRC, a non-profit formerly affiliated with Syracuse University. SRC wrote new software to tie together the Humvee-mounted AN/TPQ-50 counter-fire radar and the CREW Duke counter-IED system, along with a small armed-drone called Switchblade.

Together, the SRC system can jam, take control of or destroy kinetically any small drone. Gregg says that it stands “one of our greatest success stories from Black Dart.”



Why Don’t Defense Contractors Do Cyber?

For all but Raytheon, a whole new realm of conflict seems disinteresting to industry.

August 2, 2015

By James Hasik


Going on eight years now, Raytheon has been mounting a strategic campaign in cyber security. This past April, the company spent $1.7 billion on Austin-based Websense, the 13th cyber business it has purchased since October 2007 (Defense Mergers & Acquisitions Daily, 20 April 2015). In Forbes, defense industry booster Loren Thompson called the transaction “bold“—the value roughly matched that of the 12 preceding deals. That pattern suggests that Raytheon has been learning along the way how to build a successful business. More recent evidence was Raytheon’s selection this month as a finalist in DARPA’s Cyber Grand Challenge, in which some of the top teams in the US have been working to create self-healing code. As Byron Callan of Capital Alpha Partners wrote, that alone “suggests it’s doing something right,” whatever misgivings investors and their analysts may have had about Raytheon’s long-running strategy.

But as the Wall Street Journal recently headlined, Raytheon is getting in “as rivals bail.” Just this year, several large defense contractors have announced exits from at least commercial cyber. ManTech just sold its operations to CounterTack (seeDM&AD, 15 July 2015). CSC is splitting into government and commercial halves. Thompson recently reported how BAE Systems will retain cyber capabilities related to its own weapons, but will otherwise “sell most service lines“. TheWashington Post observed this week that Lockheed Martin is keen on healthcare, but on 20 July, the company announced “a strategic review” of its information technology business. And just this past Thursday, Doug Cameron reported in theWSJ that L-3 Communications “may also sell or spin off its $1 billion cybersecurity unit.”

Plenty of big defense contractors sell products meant for land, sea, air, and space. Lockheed, for one, is bidding on the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, is a prime contractor for Littoral Combat Ships, runs the massive Joint Strike Fighter program, and builds GPS satellites. This last item is the closest it comes to a commercial product. Marketing acumen in one military realm, however, is arguably portable to others. In Buying Military Transformation (Columbia University Press, 2006), Peter Dombrowski and Eugene Gholz argued that the big exisiting contractors would continue to “lead military-technology development, even for equipment modeled on the civilian Internet.” With cyber security per se, that’s clearly not happening.

Raytheon thought enough of its contrarian position to make a major marketing fuss over cyber at the Paris Air Show. As Raytheon CEO Tom Kennedy toldBreaking Defense that week, other “CEOs are shaking in their boots” about their companies’ vulnerabilities—regardless of their line of work. Michael Daley, Raytheon’s CTO for cyber, explained that “80 percent of critical infrastructure is in the hands of private companies, and the government customer is leaning toward buying commercial solutions”. There’s clearly technical overlap. 

As Byron Callan noted after the Websense announcement, Raytheon’s leadership also “seemed well aware of the cultural differences between defense and commercial” markets. That might explain Lockheed’s allergy: healthcare is heavily regulated, but cyber moves far faster than fighter jets. The clock-cycle of the commercial customers and the miscreants attacking them every day may be too much for management at many big contractors, which have spent decades developing not just technology, but bureaucratic structures to match those of their customers. 

Regardless, if the innards of electronic networks constitute a fifth and fierce domain of conflict, then it’s remarkable how many big contractors are surrendering their positions. In the long run, as Callan went on, commercial needs “may prove a bigger driver of change in cyber markets, and that dynamic could degrade defense-only strategies”. That would be bad for business. But if rapid adaptability and flexibility are the surest guarantors of technological superiority in any domain, then America’s big contractors are departing the field. We’ll wait to see if that’s good or bad for security.

James Hasík is a senior fellow at the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security.

This article originally appeared in Atlantic Council.




Exodus: Big Defense Companies Are Exiting Federal Services

Washington 8/04/2015 @ 10:27AM 7,001 views

Loren Thompson



When Lockheed Martin disclosed last month that it would divest information and technical service lines with annual revenues of $6 billion while acquiring Sikorsky helicopters, many observers assumed that CEO Marillyn Hewson was trying to limit any increase in corporate revenues to ease regulatory approval of the Sikorsky transaction. Sikorsky’s projected sales of $6.5 billion in 2015 are similar in scale to the services businesses destined to be sold or spun off, so it was a logical conclusion that Hewson was moving to preempt any concern on the part of regulators that the Pentagon’s biggest supplier might become too big.

However, that interpretation of her actions is essentially wrong, because Hewson had been contemplating options for scaling back her company’s exposure to the federal services market long before Sikorsky became available. Most of the service lines targeted for divestiture are concentrated in a business unit called Information Systems & Global Solutions — IS&GS – which has seen faltering sales and declining profits since Pentagon spending peaked in 2010. Sales fell $479 million (5%) in 2013 from the previous year and $579 million (7%) in 2014; operating profit fell 6% in 2013 and 8% in 2014 (Lockheed Martin contributes to my think tank and is a consulting client).

With further decreases forecast for 2015 and the unit’s operating margin consistently lagging behind returns in Lockheed Martin’s military hardware units, IS&GS wasn’t measuring up to the financial performance standards Hewson had set for her company. The crux of the issue was laid out in Lockheed Martin’s most recent 10-K filing:

IS&GS has a portfolio of many smaller contracts as compared to our other business segments. IS&GS has been impacted by the continued downturn in certain federal agencies’ information technology budgets and increased re-competition on existing contracts coupled with the fragmentation of large contracts into multiple smaller contracts that are awarded primarily on the basis of price.

About 80% of Lockheed Martin’s business mix is already in products rather than services and the product lines typically generate much higher margins than services, so the logic of buying Sikorsky while divesting what analyst Byron Callan calls a “grab-bag” of services was pretty obvious. But if Sikorsky hadn’t become available, Hewson still would have taken steps to get rid of service lines with operating margins averaging in the 7% range. There was a time when holding on to an extensive technical-services portfolio might have been justified by the rapid revenue growth it was delivering, but that story is over. So the plan now is to only retain services that are closely related to the company’s product lines such as space launch and cybersecurity, and even those services will be subject to continuous scrutiny.

Providing launch services to the federal government might seem like a no-brainer for aerospace companies like Boeing and Lockheed Martin, but a combination of high risks and eroding profitability are making other lines of work look more attractive. (Image: Wikimedia)

Providing launch services to the federal government might seem like a no-brainer for aerospace companies like Boeing and Lockheed Martin, but a combination of high risks and eroding profitability are making other lines of work look more attractive. (Image: Wikimedia)

It appears that many of Lockheed Martin’s biggest competitors have come to similar conclusions. BAE Systems, the British military behemoth, disclosed in April that it was contemplating the sale of many service lines owned by its U.S. arm, with an eye to focusing the business mix more on military hardware and technology. Another top-ten Pentagon contractor, L3, spun off much of its federal services portfolio years ago, as did Exelis, the former defense subsidiary of ITT that now has been acquired by Harris (its spinoff of services was probably a prerequisite for any merger). Computer Sciences Corporation is in the process of separating its federal IT business from the rest of the company. And while Raytheon has recently made a big bet on commercial cybersecurity services, the company stresses that it has never been involved in what it calls “commodity” IT and technical services for federal customers.

So although the prevailing narrative right now among investors is that the federal services sector is consolidating, the reality is that some of the biggest defense companies are clearing out. They don’t see the revenue growth or profit potential in federal services that would justify a continued commitment to the space. Deals will continue to be done as service spinoffs seek better positioning in the marketplace — several have recently acquired service providers that do business with the intelligence community — but from the viewpoint of the biggest system integrators, federal services just isn’t an attractive story. Companies like Lockheed Martin and Raytheon are putting more emphasis on international sales of military hardware and commercial ventures, since that’s where they think the returns are likely to justify investing their resources.

This is a curious development, because over half of the Pentagon’s contract dollars now go to services, and a 2014 McKinsey & Company survey of global aerospace and defense executives found that most companies expect services to make up an increasing share of their revenues. But the moves by Lockheed Martin and others are easier to understand if you look at trends within the federal services market, particularly the segment that addresses military needs and represents most of federal demand. Analyst Callan and the advisory firm Avascent have recently released notes identifying developments during the Obama years that make the space less appealing.

For starters, the Obama Administration took office determined to tighten up on potential conflicts of interest in the federal services business. Although the impetus for that initiative originated mainly in stories about price gouging in Iraq and Afghanistan, it spilled over into contracting actions on the home front. Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman ended up selling some of their most lucrative technical-services businesses because of government resistance to buying engineering advice on space systems from the same companies that were building the systems. Meanwhile, the government began making much greater use of contracting strategies that emphasized price over technical proficiency, favoring “lowest price, technically acceptable” (LPTA) offerors.

In the words of the Avascent note, “LPTA has been incredibly disruptive because it largely neutralized the technical and scale advantage that the largest government contractors had spent years developing in the services market.” Byron Callan blames the increasing emphasis on price-based selection criteria, to the exclusion of other considerations, for the fact that operating margins in defense services have declined 100-200 basis points over the last three years. Companies that allocated considerable resources to acquiring deep technical expertise in areas like cybersecurity found it had little bearing on who was awarded contracts — except in the sense that carrying all that expertise added to overhead costs and thus made those companies’ bids less price-competitive.

While the contracting environment was becoming harsher, federal demand for services was softening. The U.S. exited Iraq and began drawing down in Afghanistan, greatly reducing the sales of some service companies. For instance Vectrus, the service company spun off from Exelis, saw its work in Afghanistan plummet from about $500 million in 2013 to $270 million in 2014 to an estimated $160 million this year. Demand was further dampened by the imposition of congressionally-mandated spending caps on defense and domestic discretionary spending – a process likely to persist through the end of the decade. As a result, even the most tightly run service companies, such as L3 spinoff Engility, have seen revenues erode due to weak demand.

The situation is not uniformly bleak. Leidos has just won a huge contract to modernize the military’s electronic health records, and Boeing’s Global Services & Support unit appears to be outperforming other parts of its defense portfolio, largely by providing aftermarket support to fielded aircraft. In general, though, the growth outlook and margin profile for federal services is not as promising as other areas in which big defense companies can focus their efforts. So more and more of those companies are voting with their feet to pursue other opportunities. Lockheed Martin’s planned divestiture of $6 billion in service lines thus is a harbinger of things to come.



Why the Next Fighter Will Be Manned, and the One After That

Mike Pietrucha    

August 5, 2015 · in Commentary


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Sometimes a technology is so awe-inspiring that the imagination runs away with it — often far, far away from reality. Robots are like that. A lot of big and ultimately unfulfilled promises were made in robotics early on, based on preliminary successes.

– Daniel H. Wilson


The F-35 should be, and almost certainly will be, the last manned strike fighter aircraft the Department of the Navy will ever buy or fly.

– Ray Mabus, Secretary of the Navy


If ever a technology was awe-inspiring, robotics is it. Robots have a long, storied past in literature, dating back at least to the Iliad — and possibly further back depending on your definition of a robot. Robots have long been widely used in the government and commercial sectors — more so now than ever. But as promising as the technology is in a wide range of areas, air combat is not one of them. The Department of Defense’s interest in unmanned weapons and weapons delivery platforms is understandable, but their actual potential for combat operations is the subject of wild hyperbole. Absent technological breakthroughs in machine sensing, artificial cognition, and machine learning, the unmanned aircraft is going to remain a very limited craft indeed. An unmanned replacement for the manned fighter is often believed to be just over the horizon, but the reality is that it is nowhere close and may not even be possible. Combat aircraft that actually have to operate in contested airspace are just the wrapper — it is the aircrew that really matters. An artificial replacement will have to solve three major aviation challenges now readily and regularly surmounted by the human aircrew: basic aviation (flying the aircraft), tactical execution (rapid adaptation of the plan under combat conditions), and weapons employment (shooting the right weapon, at the right target, at the right time, for the right reasons).

Beyond that, an artificial replacement will have to learn and teach the next generation. There are certainly applications for unmanned and autonomous aircraft; a fighter replacement is not yet one of them, and might never be.

The most fundamental challenge in combat aviation is that the mission must be accomplished in a hostile environment that is both changing rapidly and unforgiving of error. There is a simple mental test to determine if the first major technological step (basic aviation) of three has been achieved. When you personally are willing to hop on an unmanned airliner from New York to Edinburgh in the depth of winter, with all of your loved ones and irreplaceable personal treasures, that airplane’s technology will be almost a third of the way there.


A Look Back

The first attempt to make an aircraft unmanned followed the first flight of the Wright Flyer by 15 years. The Kettering Bug was an unmanned biplane designed to carry 180 pounds of explosive into enemy territory. It was shrouded in secrecy, was costly, and tied up development efforts for years after the war. It had questionable military utility to begin with — a cautionary tale that should resonate today. No warfighting technology should be pursued without a deep understanding of its utility in the real world.

I am an experienced fighter aviator, with a reasonable amount of combat time, doing just about every type of combat mission type the Air Force flies with a fighter (excepting nuclear strike). Like many other fighter aviators, I have a monumental ego, an unwavering faith in my own abilities, and a healthy doubt for the assessments made by those who have never flown fighters in combat. The vast majority of people — even in the community of defense experts — lack the experience to make a reasoned judgment about what fighter aircraft do, or more accurately, what the aircrew makes the airplane do. A fighter aircraft is just a tool, and it’s the tool-user that matters. It’s not about the airplane.

There is an awful lot of writing about the benefits of removing a person from the cockpit. Risk to the aviator is one issue. Endurance requirements, airframe size, and other physical limitations are others. Those are real issues, but they miss the point. The aviator is in the airplane because the aviator is necessary for the airplane to be used in combat to its best potential. Warfare is a human enterprise and combat even more so. The reasons for removing humans from the cockpit are offset by the reasons for keeping them in — humans are superior sensors and decision-makers, are the foundation of the combat aviation enterprise, and are a well of aviation knowledge and experience. Aircrew are not perfect, but in a combat environment they are immeasurably better than any other non-organic option.


Unmanned Aircraft

Today’s unmanned aircraft come in two flavors: those that are remotely piloted, like the Predator, and those that are autonomous, like the Tomahawk cruise missile. Remote pilotage requires a two-way communications link to operate the aircraft, often with a time lag (up to three seconds). Our remotely piloted aircraft (RPAs) are employed only in areas where the threat from air defenses and enemy aircraft is practically zero. We call this uncontested airspace. Still, RPAs drop like flies because aviation is an inherently hazardous enterprise that is often too complex for a remote operator to manage successfully. Even in peacetime, the aircrew at the far end of a radio link often has a difficult time determining what is wrong and necessitates corrective action. In combat operations, a pilot at the end of a three-second time lag is in the wrong place, and those communications links are subject to attack.

Autonomous aircraft are severely limited and often used on one-way missions. The Air Force successfully flew thousands of combat reconnaissance missions over Vietnam, China, and North Korea with fully autonomous, recoverable aircraft called Fireflies in the ’60s and ’70s. These aircraft made no decisions and did not fluidly react to conditions — they executed a preprogrammed plan as best they could, given limited navigational aids, and were snatched out of the air by helicopters at the end of the mission. Air vehicle autonomy has advanced little since Vietnam, although navigation certainly has. To replace manned fighters, a fully autonomous — not remotely piloted — aircraft is necessary, and this will remain a showstopper for the foreseeable future.


Basic Aviation

Of the three challenges, basic aviation is the easiest for automation to overcome, but still comes with major challenges that we have been unable to figure out. Autopilots are fairly old technology, and can fly an aircraft from point A to point B. We can also ask the autopilot to avoid fixed objects, terrain, and cooperative aircraft, and possibly to take off and land. Airbus has embraced a computer-centric cockpit architecture in its design philosophy, which in many respects puts the aircrew in the role of a systems monitor. But no Airbus aircraft has ever been asked to do anything more than transport a load of passengers and cargo on a preplanned schedule and route.

One of the greatest limitations with the flight computer is that it cannot rapidly diagnose systems failures and initiate corrective actions. Not everything that goes wrong is indicated by flashing lights or failure codes. Indeed, some system failures can leave an aircraft perfectly airworthy while disabling the onboard processors, or feed false data to the computer. Air France 447 crashed because the air sensors feeding the flight computers froze over and gave false readings. Similarly, there is no shortage of drone mishaps caused by an inability to diagnose a failure mode from instrument readings alone. This summary of an Air Force Mishap Report for an MQ-1 Predator lays out a common story:

On 26 October 2012 MQ-1B tail number 99-3058 departed Jalalabad AB, Afghanistan. At approximately 2200Z, the crew completed their assigned mission and steered towards Jalalabad. Six minutes later the crew received a “Variable Pitch Propeller (VPP) servo high temperature” caution. This message was the first indication of a problem. While attempting to resolve the problem, the pilot momentarily commanded the propeller pitch to an angle that produced reverse thrust, and the prop froze in this position. The pilot shut down the engine to eliminate the reverse thrust and increase the glide distance, which remained insufficient to make it to a suitable landing location. The pilot deliberately crashed the aircraft into empty terrain to avoid potential injuries on the ground.

The Accident Investigation Board (AIB) found the cause of the mishap was a combination of a mechanical failure of the VPP servo motor and unnecessary movements of the propeller pitch control lever. Furthermore, the AIB President found that incorrect and insufficient checklist guidance, reinforced by incorrect simulator training, were substantially contributing factors to the mishap.

In this case, a mechanical failure combined with incorrect checklist guidance and incorrect simulator training resulted in the loss of this RPA. The contributing causes are critical because the checklist for dealing with the problem was wrong. Had this been an autonomous aircraft, the checklist programmed into the computer would likewise have been wrong, and the flight computer’s attempt to remedy the problem would also have been incorrect, likewise resulting in a crash. As it was, a pilot located on the other side of the world was reliant on limited information and set up for failure when he followed procedures that were faulty from the outset.

Humans have an entire sensory system designed to tell them about threats and conditions — one that is effectively impossible to replicate in a machine, even at great expense. I can recall times where cockpit data was incomplete, contradictory, or outright deceptive. Aviators undergo extensive training to teach them how to deal with contingencies, including when aircraft instrumentation is unreliable. A review of published Air Force mishap data will illustrate how difficult it is for unmanned aircraft to fly with minor mechanical problems.


Tactical Execution

A combat mission involves more than flying to coordinates and releasing a weapon. We can build a system that is a reusable cruise missile, useful only for dropping weapons on fixed targets. Building a system that can handle all of the tasks and coordination involved in a dynamic combat mission will require technological leaps that may not be possible. The successful accomplishment of the mission is the responsibility of every crewmember, led by the flight lead. Command at the strike package level is typically in the hands of the mission commander, a fighter, or bomber aviator flying the mission who deals with delays, changes, and plan shifts on the fly. Subordinate flight leads and individual aircrew will execute based on the mission commander’s intentions, without micromanagement. Sometimes mission accomplishment happens under the most trying conditions. A summary of one such event, drawn from the citations awarded to the airmen involved, dates from Vietnam:

On 8 February 1968, Hornet flight streaked low over North Vietnam. The two F-4D Phantoms were on their way to the airfield at Phuc Yen. Two days earlier, three IL-28 Beagle bombers had attempted to bomb US positions around Khe Sanh — a rare foray into South Vietnam. The commander of 7th Air Force wanted those bombers destroyed ASAP, and the previous day’s strike had been called off for clouds, which extended all the way to 300 feet from the surface. Capt. John Corder and Capt. Tracey Dorsett were in the lead jet of a lonely, unsupported flight, armed with cluster bombs, smoking across the rice paddies at 600 knots and as low as thirty feet. Phuc Yen was heavily defended; yesterday Capt. Corder had assessed the chances of losing at least one of the two Phantoms at 100 percent.

One minute out, the lead Phantom was hit. Part of the left wing was shot off, the left engine seized up, both fire lights illuminated, and Capt. Corder was wounded. Their airspeed dropped from 600 knots to 180, barely above landing speed and too slow for the cluster bombs to be effective. The wingman inadvertently pulled into the clouds and had to abort the attack. It was all down to two 20-something fighter aviators in a crippled aircraft. Capts. Corder and Dorsett pressed the attack, using the jettison button to drop the weapons and fuel tanks from the left wing on top of the first bomber. Circling the airfield, still under fire, they spotted the second bomber, made a second attack run, and jettisoned their remaining weapons, racks and air to air missiles from an altitude of 40 feet, just 19 feet above the Beagle’s tail. Both bombers were disabled. Limping away from the airfield, they flew to Laos before ejecting. Both were rescued, and awarded the Air Force Cross.

Someday, a machine might be able to accomplish that mission. More likely, the mission would be aborted because no conceivable level of programming would enable a robot to accomplish that mission in that fashion.

The need to modify the plan in flight is a common event, although not to the extreme level outlined above. Times change often, targets change occasionally, aircraft “fall out,” systems fail, the weather interferes — these events are routine. There is a pre-briefed “fallout plan,” which can be modified in real time. An acceptable “risk level” is briefed along with current rules of engagement and the basic execution plan. But the execution plan is just that — a common foundation from which to depart. There are no discrete events that a machine might accept as programming parameters. Audibles are expected to be called inflight based on changing conditions — not based on the conditions that might be anticipated before takeoff. Aircrew are not organic computers programmed at launch to execute a preplanned routine. In over 150 combat missions over ten deployments in six named operations, I have never actually seen an American aircrew abort a mission because the risk level exceeded the briefed limits, but I have seen them pull off high risk tasks and make it look easy, although it most assuredly was not.


Weapons Employment

Aircrew are the “fighter” in “fighter aircraft.” They are also a fully integrated sensor system, a marvelous biological processor, a communications node, and — most importantly — a living, learning being that can make good decisions on incomplete information and predict likely outcomes in real time. They tend to not be personally risk-averse and are experienced in working as a team. For many missions, including all counterair and some missions such as armed reconnaissance and Close Air Support (CAS), the aircrew have to detect, identify, and engage moving targets which emerge during the mission, often in proximity to friendlies or neutrals and at some substantial risk to themselves. Assessing and mitigating risk is a uniquely human trait. Unlike machines, aircrew can estimate likely consequences beyond the next decision tree, including “strategic consequences” borne from tactical actions. Combat video from ALLIED FORCE illustrates one such case:


On 17 April 1999, two F-15E Strike Eagles, Callsign CUDA 91 and 92, were tasked to attack an AN/TPS-63 mobile early warning radar located in Serbia. The aircraft carried AGM-130, a standoff weapon that is actually remotely flown by the weapons system officer (WSO) in the F-15E, who uses the infra-red sensor in the nose of the weapon to detect the target. CUDA 91, flown by two captains (Phoenix and Spidey) from the 494th Fighter Squadron, launched on coordinates provided by the Air Operations Center. As the weapon approached the suspected target location, the crew had not yet acquired the TPS-63. At 12 seconds from impact, the picture became clearer. “Looks like a tower. That’s a tower, dude, that’s a tower.” “Tower?” “Nah, that’s a church, dude.” “What’s that right there?” Three seconds out, the WSO makes the call: “I’m ditching in this field” and steers the weapon into an empty field several hundred meters away. In a mere nine seconds, the aircrew identified an unexpected object, scanned the surroundings, and made the decision to ditch the weapon in as safe a manner as possible. Postflight review of the tape revealed no object that could be positively identified as a radar, but the profile of a Serbian Orthodox church was unmistakable.

This example illustrates another reality of weapons employment — sometimes the planned target isn’t there. Hitting the wrong target can have significant effects on the conduct and outcome of a conflict. The implications of hitting a Serbian church with a 2000-lb. general-purpose warhead were worked through in real time. The aircrew not only determined that they could not find the assigned target, but identified what they could find and assessed the consequences. It is likely that had they found the radar system in close proximity to the church, they would have ditched the weapon anyway, because the consequences of hitting the church overrode the positive consequences of hitting the radar. This is not a reasonable expectation for a machine, but a routine demand we place upon fighter aircrew.


The Enterprise

The final issue that needs to be addressed is the fighter aviation enterprise. The truly irreplaceable role that the fighter aviator plays is in the accumulation of experience and knowledge, and the transfer of lessons learned to the next generation. No unmanned airplane is going to land, debrief its mistakes, and tell stories at the bar afterward. I know about the Phuc Yen strike because Maj. Gen. John Corder told me and a bunch of other Phantom Phlyers about it over dinner one night. John Corder knew that he could fly a burning aircraft as long as the flight controls held together because by then it was well known that Phantoms, unlike Thunderchiefs, did not explode without warning after taking battle damage. They just burned. That piece of knowledge, not found in any technical or tactical manual, entered our bags of tricks through word of mouth.

Similarly, I know about Phoenix and Spidey’s weapon ditch because I was one of the many aircrew in the weapons shop who reviewed the tape, hoping that we could tell if there was actually a radar system there or if this was simply a monumental foul-up by our own command and control. That debrief paid off on a mission I led two weeks later when our entire flight of four aircraft found a church in the crosshairs and again ditched the weapons. Forewarned, a second 4-ship in the same strike package found “a POV (personally-owned vehicle) and a busload of nuns” at their target location and brought their weapons home. Every generation of fighter aviators has built on the often-painful lessons learned by the previous generation, and every generation has passed down its own lessons.

If you have no fighter aviators, you have no fighter aviation. In order to have an effective unmanned fighter, aircrew functions have to be replicated by a machine. In order to have a fighter aviation enterprise, all of the staff, design, developmental, and training tasks that underpin that enterprise need experienced aviators. It is scary to think that DoD could be one bad program mistake and half a generation away from throwing away a century of accumulated fighter aviation experience.


Wrap up

The future of fighter aviation might someday include autonomous or semi-autonomous combat aircraft. The use of unmanned “consort” aircraft that act as very literal wingmen for manned aircraft is nearly within our technological grasp. But those wingmen will not be an adequate replacement for a real wingman; the aviator is too important to both fighter operations and the fighter enterprise. Any air arm which actually contemplates replacing its manned fighters with unmanned ones is surrendering to a technological fantasy and abandoning the ranks of countries which can generate effective combat airpower. Today, no credible aviation expert will advocate the widespread introduction of unmanned airliners, which do little more than fly gingerly from one point to another. To attempt to make the leap to unmanned fighters would be a triumph of misplaced faith in technology over experience, disregarding the fact that combat aviation is substantially more complex than commercial aviation. Meeting the challenges of tactical execution and weapons employment, and maintaining the ability to learn and improve the fighter aviation enterprise are essential ingredients and remain entirely human endeavors. The leap to unmanned fighter aviation will be a long and challenging effort that is some distance in the future. When an unmanned airliner is a safe and reliable transport vehicle, we’ll be almost a third of the way there.

Col. Mike “Starbaby” Pietrucha was an instructor electronic warfare officer in the F-4G Wild Weasel and the F-15E, Strike Eagle, amassing 156 combat missions over 10 combat deployments and sharing credit for 2.5 SAM kills with free-fall munitions in Iraq and Serbia. As an irregular warfare operations officer, Colonel Pietrucha has two additional combat deployments in the company of U.S. Army infantry, combat engineer, and military police units in Iraq and Afghanistan. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Air Force or the U.S. government.



Steeper punishment for drone violators?

by Press • 5 August 2015

By Joshua Stewart


High winds, dry vegetation and steep terrains have always worried firefighters battling flames in the backcountry. Now they also have to worry about drones.

Hobbyists and aficionados have taken to flying small, unmanned aircraft with small cameras above wildfires in an attempt to capture dramatic aerial photos or video of an unfolding natural disaster. The footage is red meat for YouTube and Facebook, but firefighters and lawmakers are worried that these drones could get sucked into air tankers’ jet engines, collide with cockpits or get tangled in a helicopter’s rotor and cause a crash.

“For a lot of people, it’s a YouTube mission. My job, I want to get people to go home safely,” said Cal Fire Battalion Chief John Francois, head of the service’s aviation department.

Federal, state and local officials are pushing legislation that would impose steeper penalties on people convicted of using drones that interfere with firefighting efforts. On Tuesday, for example, the county Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to support such bills in Sacramento and Washington, and to make the issue a priority when lobbying state and federal lawmakers.

“Lives and properties are at stake here, and we don’t need looky-loos,” said Supervisor Bill Horn, the board member behind the resolution.

Nationwide, drones are a concern not only among firefighters, but also aviators and emergency-response crews in general.

Take this example from New York on Monday: Commercial aircraft spotted three drones flying near John F. Kennedy International Airport, putting pilots on high alert.

Francois said whenever a drone is spotted aloft near a wildfire, he has to order his fleet of tankers away from the blaze. There’s no way to communicate with the drone’s owner by radio, and Cal Fire can’t override control of the aircraft. Ground crews have to find the operator and ask the person to land the drone. If this search takes too long, Francois said, he has to ground his fleet.

“You’re causing people on the ground to have their lives jeopardized unnecessarily,” he said.

Horn said June’s Lake fire in San Bernardino County and July’s blaze in the Cajon Pass made clear to him the risk of drones, prompting him to propose the resolution. Aircraft in both fires were grounded after small, unmanned aircraft were seen nearby — giving the flames time to advance.

More than 31,300 acres burned in the Lake fire, while the Cajon Pass blaze destroyed 20 vehicles and damaged 10 that were stopped on Interstate 15.

Firefighters in Northern California also have been impeded by drones. The incidents included a July 2014 confrontation between a law-enforcement officer and a drone operator near the city of Plymouth.

And the run-ins are not an exclusively American phenomenon. On Aug. 1, crews in British Columbia, Canada, had to ground a firefighting helicopter after drones were spotted near a wildfire. In Australia, firefighters have reported similar problems while battling infernos in bush country.

In Sacramento, some lawmakers have introduced measures designed to punish drone operators who get in the way.

State Sen. Ted Gaines, R-El Dorado, and Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Glendale, wrote legislation that includes fines of $200 to $2,000 for people whose drones interfere with firefighters. The penalties rise for individuals who “knowingly, intentionally or recklessly” violate the policy. These serious offenders can be jailed for six months, fined $5,000 or both.

Gaines and Gatto also have announced that they intend to introduce a companion bill that offers immunity to emergency responders if they damage an unmanned aircraft while combating fires, evacuating patients or conducting search-and-rescue missions.

In the House of Representatives, a similar bill would likewise fine violators — the amount hasn’t been specified — or send them to prison for up to five years, or both.

For at least the past year, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has pressed the Federal Aviation Administration to quickly move ahead with regulations that would restrict unmanned aircraft operations. He has highlighted near-collisions between drones and standard aircraft near John F. Kennedy airport as evidence that the agency and others shouldn’t wait any longer to take action.

“It’s clear that commercial drone use has crossed over from unregulated to potentially deadly,” Schumer said in a statement released Nov. 23, three days before the Thanksgiving holiday, the busiest travel day of the year.

Federal agencies including the Department of the Interior, the Forest Service and the FAA are engrossed in a marketing campaign to discourage people from flying drones above wildfires.


“The FAA’s top priority is safety. If you endanger manned aircraft or people on the ground with an unmanned aircraft, you could be liable for a fine ranging from $1,000 to a maximum of $25,000,” FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said in a statement. “Know the rules before you fly. If you don’t, serious penalties could be coming your way for jeopardizing these important missions.”

Federal officials often place temporary flight restrictions around wildfires to designate airspace that’s open only to firefighting aircraft, at the exclusion of all other aircraft and vehicles — manned or unmanned. The zones vary between fires, but they often extend several thousand feet above the ground.

The FAA prohibits commercial use of unmanned aircraft without government permission, including flights for aerial photography, video and film and television production.

Experts encourage recreational users to follow safety guidelines that include flying the drone no higher than 400 feet, keeping the aircraft within line of sight, flying away from manned aircraft and, unless authorities are notified, staying at least 5 miles away from airports.

– See more at:



Mini Drones Spark Heightened Interest in Countering Threat

By Andrew Chuter 1:17 p.m. EDT August 4, 2015

Threat From Small, Cheap UAVs Sparks Industrial Response–combating-threat/28977373/


PARIS — They may only cost a few hundred dollars to buy but the growth of incidents involving micro-UAVs has given birth to a potentially multimillion dollar industry to protect people and infrastructure from these threats.

You would have struggled to find much counter-UAV technology on public view at previous Paris Air Shows. Last week’s exhibition, though, was different; there was plenty of evidence military, security forces and even industry organizations have turned their attention to the threat posed by mini and micro machines in the wrong hands.

Controp, MBDA and Thales Nederland were among the companies marketing equipment ranging from electro optical/imaging infrared turrets to radars and laser attack weapons.

Nor was it individual systems on offer. Thales briefed reporters on how its capabilities as an air defense systems integrator might find a role in counter-UAV, pulling together options such as ground surveillance radars, direction finders, acoustic sensors, command and control, electronic support, jamming, smart munitions and even drone interceptors into mini-air defense systems.

Although not at the show, British technology companies Blighter Surveillance Systems, Chess Dynamics and Enterprise Control Systems last month combined to launch an anti-UAV defense system to detect, classify and disrupt micro, mini and larger drones.

Mark Radford, the Blighter CEO, said the companies “were acutely aware of the urgent operational requirement from our customers for an effective and affordable anti-UAV system.”

Governments in Europe are exploring what technology has to offer. British, French and German governments have held trials in recent months.

The French government ran multi-supplier trials in Captieux in March and there are a series of 18-month studies on various aspects of counter-UAV technology being undertaken by the French aerospace research laboratory ONERA and industry under a program known as Project Angelas.

Thales is leading on three of those studies.

A lot of the systems making their debut at Paris are already in service.

Controp marketing director Lori Erlich said, ” I have to be careful what I say. It was in use but we weren’t allowed to talk about it. So, I can’t tell you where it has been used. You can say it’s been operationally proven. Proven to a tee. But I don’t want to tell you where and for what purpose.”

Erlich said the system had been used in a “defense application” rather than in a security role.

Larry Dickerson, an analyst at Forecast International, reckons most of the technology depicted in today’s counter-UAV sales brochures results from a repackaging of existing equipment to meet a new role.

“This technology has been around for many years. Companies are repurposing systems and slapping ‘counter UAV’ on them to gain attention,” he said.

In some respects that’s what Thales Nederland is doing with the introduction of new capability on its multipurpose Squire man-portable radar tuned to include the counter-UAV role.

Wim Schuttert, the executive responsible for sensor business development at the Dutch arm of Thales, said the new system has been operational for about six months in the Netherlands with the military and the police.

The clever bit in Squire is not being able to detect a small UAV, but classifying whether it’s a bird or a plane, he said.

“Detection is not the issue. Everybody can detect an object. The big trick is discriminating small UAVs from birds. We have invested a lot in developing the algorithms to detect and discriminate a UAV from birds smaller than a blackbird,” he said.

Countering the threat of covert aerial intrusions using cheap and unconventional means is not new.

The Israelis have been working in this area at least since 1987 when two Palestinian guerrillas seeking to infiltrate an Army base by flying hang gliders from south Lebanon killed six soldiers in the attack.

More recently, the availability of a new generation of small, cheap UAVs, often quadcopters or some other form of rotorcraft, have emphasized the growing threat posed by these machines.

And they have been grabbing headlines.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel had one land close by during a public appearance.

“The air defense system in that case was her [Merkel’s] bodyguard, who picked up the UAV,” according to Markus Martinstetter, an official at European weapon systems maker MBDA.

Other incidents recently have included a quadcopter crash on the grounds of the White House, and in France government buildings and nuclear energy plants are being overflown without the security forces being able to track down the culprit.

A cheap recreational machine costing a few hundred dollars can be turned into an aerial equivalent of an improvised explosive device while a spy UAV with a camera, video recorder and downlink might cost around $1,500 — although more sophisticated platforms can cost more than $25,000.

“You can buy these things on the Internet and easily put explosives on them but there is no efficient protection against them,” said Martinstetter.

It’s not just the threat posed by terrorists and others that the counter-UAV systems are aiming at. Defense forces are being offered ever more capable machines in the micro and mini sectors, which also need countering.

Example: Israeli firm Aeronautics was promoting a new drone bomb at Paris.

The Orbiter IK – the K stands for Kamikaze – is a loitering mini-drone with a wingspan of 2.2 meters and can carry 2.2 kilograms of explosives in its nose, as well as a camera.

Martinstetter, who briefed reporters at the show on work MBDA Germany had been doing testing the destruction of small UAVs using a laser weapon technology demonstrator, said the Orbiter is just the sort of target you would use the weapon on.

The laser, which produces a 40-kilowatt beam, will be able to destroy mini-UAVs at a range of five kilometers once it reaches operational status, potentially within five years, Martinstetter said.

Test firings with a 20-kilowatt beam have caused a micro-drone flying 500 meters away to burst into flames and crash.

Dickerson reckons lasers might provide an answer even though the years of work on anti-air applications have yielded little interest in fielding such a system. Mainly, the technology needs more work.

“There is potential for lasers to eliminate the need for man-portable and other types of surface-to-air missiles in the future. Offering a ‘counter-UAV’ capability helps gain these programs attention and perhaps win them additional financial support,” he said.

But lasers are an expensive way of solving the problem.

Radio frequency disruption, GPS jamming, small guided missiles, cannon-fired smart munitions, even a UAV deploying a net are among other solutions being looked at.

Executives here said part of the problem is that blowing up, or in the case of a laser, burning, even a small UAV in urban areas or over critical infrastructure may be unacceptable, hence ideas like the net.


Hacker Cracks Satellite Communications Network

Aug 6 2015 1:33 AM ET

By Patrick Tucker


LAS VEGAS, Nev. — A researcher says he can eavesdrop on — and even alter — data flowing through a satellite network operated by Globalstar, which provides communications services and equipment to militaries, oil companies, and many other organizations. “I can say with 100-percent confidence I did inject data back into the network,” Colby Moore, who works for a network security company called Synack, told reporters at the Black Hat cybersecurity conference here.

Many organizations use Globalstar products to monitor assets in remote locations — say, equipping a fleet of trucks deep in the wilderness with satellite modems that periodically send their locations and operating conditions back to headquarters. The modems use the STX3 transmitter chip to send the data up to Globalstar’s orbiting Simplex constellation, where it is sent around the globe and back down to the proper ground station.

The STX3 doesn’t encrypt the data before it sends it. For less than $1000, Moore bought a simple software-defined radio system and a few other components to assemble a transceiver that allowed him to sniff the data as it headed into space.

He discovered that not only could he read the GPS coordinates that told him exactly where the GlobalStar-equipped assets were, but he was able to add his own fake information to the stream.

So far, he’s only been able to hack the uplink, not the downlink, but the data is the same, so stealing from the downlink doesn’t present a particularly tough challenge, he says.

Moore said he told company officials about the vulnerability more than a month ago. He says they responded with concern, said Moore. Since that time But patching the Simplex network is likely impossible.

How big a problem is this? If you rely on Globalstar’s Simplex network, your communications may be far more naked — and changeable — than you realize. A lot of military personnel use satellite phones and satellite tracking to communicate back home from dangerous deployments. Oil and gas companies use satellite-based geo-tracking to keep tabs on multimillion-dollar oil shipments. A lot of aviators use satellite tracking to reassure air traffic control that their plane isn’t deviating from course. Journalists and relief workers operating in dangerous locations often use satellite tracking so that they can be found in case they are kidnapped or go missing.

So what if an outsider can change your data in transit? Consider how the military might react if a small private plane appeared to be deviating from its flight path, making a beeline toward the White House. Or how the Navy might react if supertankers in the Strait of Hormuz suddenly vanished. Or how the Army might react if an enemy somehow knew just where to find U.S. soldiers lying in wait.

Globalstar has responded to repeated media inquiries with a statement offering assurance (but no real proof) that the situation was largely under control “Our engineers would know quickly if any person or entity was hacking our system in a material way and this type of situation has never been an issue to date. We are in the business of saving lives daily and will continue to optimize our offerings for security concerns and immediately address any illegal actions taken against our company.”

Then there are the vulnerabilities in infrastructure. Globalstar’s satellite tracking is “used heavily in [supervisory control and data acquisition] systems, water pipeline monitoring,” said Moore. And in June, the company announced that they would integrate its services with Lockheed Martin Flight Services to provide satellite location data to non-commercial pilots.

It’s not immediately clear just how many militaries rely on the company’s Simplex network. Pentagon officials could not immediately respond to requests for comment. But Spain and other NATO allies have well-publicized business contracts with the company.

And Globalstar’s testimonial page offers this note from a U.S. Army captain who was operating in Iraq: “I can’t even begin to tell you what a lifeline your phone has been for us. You should know that one of my fellow soldiers was able to hear the cry of his newborn son thanks to your system. It is much appreciated.”

Not all lifelines are perfectly secure.


The “Re-pivot” To Europe Is Underway

July 27, 2015

Daniel Gouré, Ph.D.


Back in 2009, as part of its new security strategy, the Obama Administration announced its intention to focus more of its diplomatic and security energies on the Asia-Pacific region. As explained by one of the architects of this strategic pivot, then-assistant secretary of state Kurt Campbell,

“The “strategic pivot” or rebalancing launched four years ago, is premised on the recognition that the lion’s share of the political and economic history of the 21st century will be written in the Asia -Pacific region. To benefit from this shift in global geopolitical dynamism and sustainably grow its economy, the United States is building extensive diplomatic, economic, development, people-to-people and security ties with the region.”

In 2009 this all seemed to make sense. The incoming Administration was confident that it could forge a new relationship with Russia, a “reset.” The few irritants to cordial U.S/European relations with Russia, such as deployment of missile defenses in Eastern Europe, could be dealt with. The new President also was determined to extricate the nation and the military from the unpopular conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

An essential piece of the strategic pivot was a rebalancing of U.S. military power from a legacy Europe/Middle East orientation towards the Asia-Pacific region. This didn’t seem to be much of a problem given the Administration’s foreign policy. Thus, peace would reign in Europe and the Middle East and U.S. forces could be reapportioned towards the new “Old World.”

So much for predicting the future. Today the United States finds itself focusing not on the Asia-Pacific region but back to Europe and the Middle East. While China may constitute the future threat to U.S. security and that of our allies, as General Joseph Dunford opined in his hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Russia is the number one threat today. U.S. air power has conducted tens of thousands of sorties over Iraq and Syria in the past year alone, continuing a pattern of operations in the region that began with the first Gulf War nearly a quarter of a century ago.

The reality is that there never really was a rebalancing to the Asia-Pacific region, at least in terms of rebalancing military forces. Yes, the Administration did achieve its goal of having 60 percent of Navy ships deployed in that region. But this was achieved by decommissioning more ships from those based in the Atlantic, not by increasing the number in the Pacific. With a few exceptions there has been virtually no substantive change in the deployment of U.S. military forces to this region.

As it turns out, this may be a good thing. The Pentagon doesn’t have to figure out how to bring large Army contingents back from Asia or re-rebase Navy ships from San Diego or Pearl Harbor to Norfolk or Jacksonville. Air Force units such as F-22 squadrons that were positioned at West Coast bases can be rebased to the East Coast if necessary. The bomber and tanker fleets are inherently global.

The re-pivot to Europe is already underway. Responding to naked Russian aggression against Ukraine and overt verbal threats to its NATO allies and European friends, the U.S. military began moving forces eastward. U.S. fighters have been participating in so-called Baltic air policing missions. As part of Operation Atlantic Resolve, U.S. forces are involved in a new and robust series of training activities, exercises and rotational troop deployments in Europe. Part of a Stryker Brigade Combat Team was sent on an 1100 mile trek through six eastern NATO states. Since Russia seized Crimea, U.S. missile destroyers have been routinely patrolling the Black Sea. Plans are in place to pre-position the equipment for a U.S. Heavy Brigade Combat Team in Eastern Europe and rotate personnel to man the Abrams tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles. This is nominally the U.S. contribution to NATO’s new Quick Reaction Force. In reality, it is a clear signal to Moscow of Washington’s commitment to the Alliance.

Equally important, the U.S. and NATO are beginning to build the infrastructure needed to support expanded deployments of land and air power eastward. U.S. Army engineers, largely from the National Guard, are helping to build training sites and logistics facilities across Eastern Europe. Construction of the first Aegis Ashore missile defense site in Romania is also nearing completion.

The re-pivot is not limited to Eastern Europe. The growing threats of instability in North Africa and insurgencies in the Middle East have necessitated the repositioning of U.S. and NATO forces along the Mediterranean littorals. A Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force is now permanently based in Morón, Spain. U.S. naval forces are making increased use of allied bases such as Souda Bay in Crete to support operations throughout the region. Just recently, Turkey gave permission for U.S aircraft to fly missions against ISIS from a NATO base in that country.

This is just the beginning of the re-pivot to Europe. Much more needs to be done, particularly by the Europeans themselves in order to deter Russian aggression and deal with the ongoing violence to their south and southeast. As the recent flood of refugees across the Mediterranean shows, Europe cannot stand aloof from these threats. But neither can the United States. – See more at:


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

Bottom of Form

Saturday, August 08, 2015

The presidential season is officially open with last Thursday night’s Republican debates, and for many GOP voters, at least, it couldn’t come too soon.

Ninety percent (90%) of Republicans told us they are likely to watch some of the GOP candidate debates, and if the early numbers are any indicator, a lot of them tuned in Thursday. Republicans are planning at least 11 debates in all.

The Democratic National Committee announced on Thursday that six debates are scheduled for Hillary Clinton and her opponents, some of whom are already complaining that that’s not enough. We’ll find out next week what voters think about the number of Democratic debates.

Republicans, with 17 announced major candidates for the party’s nomination, actually started with two debates on Thursday, but it was the 9 p.m. Eastern primetime lineup that was the one the vast majority was watching. Fox News late Tuesday announced which 10 candidates would be in that debate, based on the five most recent polls. But Rasmussen Reports had the same list a week earlier.

As expected, illegal immigration was a hot topic at the debates. After all, voters favor deportation of illegals a lot more than the federal government does these days.

All the GOP candidates called for defunding Planned Parenthood because of its sale of the body organs of aborted babies, but are voters ready to go that far?  [Conservatives complain that the killing of Cecil the Lion in Africa has gotten more attention from the media than Planned Parenthood’s sale of fetal body organs, although both stories are being widely followed.]

Are Republicans already losing the presidential race because of their outspoken social conservatism?

Donald Trump was less emphatic about social issues than some of his rivals on the stage Thursday night and was the one participant who refused to say he wouldn’t run as a third-party candidate if he didn’t get the GOP nomination. Could Trump put a crimp in Republican hopes to reclaim the White House?

Democratic voters are closely divided over a Joe Biden presidential bid, but voters in general think Biden would make a better president than Hillary Clinton.

Most voters like Clinton’s ambitious plan to combat global warming  but admit the issue isn’t of high importance to their voting decisions.

President Obama earlier this week announced an even more ambitious plan to cut carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, but voters see more costs than rewards. Republicans view the plan as an economy-killer.

Obama and the Republican-controlled Congress don’t agree on much, though, and voters blame partisan politics more than an honest difference of opinion

Seventy-nine percent (79%) think it is more important for Congress and the president to work together to achieve what’s best for the country rather than to stand for what they believe in.

Senator Charles Schumer of New York, the Democratic senator the New York Times describes as “the most influential Jewish voice in Congress,” announced Thursday that he will oppose the president’s deal to limit Iran’s nuclear program. Voters aren’t enthusiastic about the deal that ends some economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for verifiable cutbacks in the Iranian nuclear program and think Congress needs to approve it first.

Are Americans worried that terrorism is coming closer to home?

The president’s monthly job approval rating was up two points in July but remains in the negative mid-teens.   Obama’s daily job approval ratings remain where they have been for most of his presidency. 

In other surveys last week:

— Twenty-eight percent (28%) of Likely U.S. Voters now think the country is heading in the right direction.

— Americans may be going out to eat less, but does that mean you’ll be waiting less time to be seated?

— Many regard the 1960 novel “To Kill A Mockingbird” as one of the most significant American literary achievements of the 20th Century. Who’s read it, and who plans to read its just-released sequel, “Go Set A Watchman”?


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