Posts with «military & defense» label

FAA's NOTAM computer outage affected military flights

On January 11th, the Federal Aviation Administration paused all domestic departures in the US after its Notice to Air Missions (NOTAM) system failed. The agency later revealed that the outage was caused by a database file that was damaged by "personnel who failed to follow procedures." Now, according to a new report from The Washington Post, the database failure also created issues for tools used by US military pilots. 

One of the affected systems was the Defense Internet NOTAM Service (DINS), which typically comes with FAA alerts regarding flight hazards. During the outage, military pilots were either getting NOTAMs in duplicates or not getting any at all. The Post said an FAA bulletin notified military users that the system had become "impaired and unreliable." Unlike civilian flights, which had to be grounded, military flights can proceed in situations like this. An Air Force spokesperson told the outlet that the military branch's pilots had to call around to ask for potential flight hazards themselves. 

The outage had also erased all NOTAMs submitted to the system starting on Tuesday afternoon, so airports and air traffic controllers were asked to re-submit them. Further, the FAA had to deal with delays and other challenges after the system went back up due to a "high system load."

The FAA is still verifying what caused the outage, but The Post said it's looking like the contractors truly made mistake and that there was no malicious intent behind their actions. Lawmakers are using this opportunity to put a spotlight on the FAA's outdated technology and to seek funding for upgrades. The computer system that failed and led to the outage is already three decades old, and according to CNN, it's also at least six years away from getting an upgrade. It remains to be seen if the incident will change that timeline.

Biometric devices sold on eBay reportedly contained sensitive US military data

German researchers who purchased biometric capture devices on eBay found sensitive US military data stored on their memory cards, The New York Times has reported. That included fingerprints, iris scans, photographs, names and descriptions of the individuals, mostly from Iraq and Afghanistan. Many worked with the US army and could be targeted if the devices fell into the wrong hands, according to the report.

A group of researchers called the Chaos Computer Club, led by Matthias Marx, bought six of the devices on eBay, most for under $200. They were spurred by a 2021 report from The Intercept that the Taliban had seized similar US military biometric devices. As such, they wanted to see if they contained identifying data on people who assisted the US Military that could put them at risk.

They were "shocked" by the results, according to the report. On the memory card of one device, they found the names, nationalities, photographs, fingerprints and iris scans of 2,632 people. Other metadata showed it had been used near Kandahar, Afghanistan in the summer of 2012. Another device was used in Jordan in 2013 and contained the fingerprints and iris scans of a small group of US military personnel. 

Such devices were used to identify insurgents, verify local and third-country nationals accessing US bases and link people to events, according to a 2011 guide to the devices. "It was disturbing that [the US military] didn’t even try to protect the data,” Marx told the NY Times. “They didn’t care about the risk, or they ignored the risk.

One device was purchased at a military auction, and the seller said they were not aware that it contained sensitive data. The sensitive information was stored on a memory card, so the US military could have eliminated the risk by simply removing or destroying the cards before selling them.

"Because we have not reviewed the information contained on the devices, the department is not able to confirm the authenticity of the alleged data or otherwise comment on it," Defense Department press secretary Brig. Gen. Patrick S. Ryder told the Times. "The department requests that any devices thought to contain personally identifiable information be returned for further analysis."

Given the sensitivity of the information, the group plans to delete any personally identifiable information found on the devices. Another researcher noted that any individuals found on such devices aren't safe even if they changed their identities, and should be given asylum by the US government. 

Pentagon unveils B-21 Raider aircraft with advanced stealth technology

The US military has unveiled the B-21 Raider, its first new stealth bomber in 30 years. Northrop Grumman, which developed the aircraft, first showed us a silhouette of the plane covered by a shroud way back in 2015. Now, the Pentagon has officially presented the B-21 at an event at Northrop Grumman's plant in Palmdale, California, but most of its details still remain a secret. Prior to the event, though, the company called it the "world’s first sixth-generation aircraft," which means it's a lot more technologically advanced than the military jets in service today.

According to ABC News, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said during the event that "no other long range bomber can match [the B-21's] efficiency." Austin also said that "fifty years of advances in low observable technology" have gone into the aircraft and that even the most sophisticated air defense systems will have a hard time detecting a B-21 in the sky. 

The aircraft was designed using next-generation stealth technology so that it can remain undetectable even to advanced radars and air defense systems, Northrop Grumman said in a previous announcement. A Northrop Grumman official also said that the B-21 can fly in full stealth mode every day, according to Air and Space Forces Magazine, unlike the current model that needs hundreds of hours of maintenance between missions. The aircraft will use a cloud-based digital infrastructure that's cheaper and easier maintain, and the military can also roll out rapid upgrades for separate components so that it's always protected against evolving threats. 

Northrop Grumman is currently working on six B-21 units, which are in various stages of production, but the Air Force is expected to order at least 100 of them. The military will start testing the stealth bomber in California sometime next year before the first units go into service by mid-2020s.

Take a closer look at the B-21 Raider — the world’s first sixth generation aircraft. This changes everything. #DefiningPossible#RiseoftheRaiderpic.twitter.com/rZIINucOug

— Northrop Grumman (@northropgrumman) December 3, 2022

Ukraine lost access to 1,300 Starlink terminals over a funding issue

As recently as October 24th, Ukraine’s military suffered a partial internet outage after 1,300 Starlink terminals went offline due to a funding shortage, reports CNN. The blackout occurred amid ongoing talks between SpaceX and the Department of Defense that continue despite Elon Musk having said his company would continue to foot the bill for the country’s Starlink usage.

“Negotiations are very much underway. Everyone in our building knows we’re going to pay them,” a senior Pentagon official told the network, adding that the Defense Department wants to get something in writing “because we worry he’ll change his mind.”

In September, SpaceX sent a letter to the Pentagon, asking the Defense Department to take over paying expenses related to Ukraine’s usage of its Starlink internet service. On October 15th, following public outcry, Musk appeared to backtrack on the decision to ask the US government for assistance. “To hell with it… we’ll just keep funding Ukraine govt for free,” Musk tweeted, later telling The Financial Times the company would do so “indefinitely.”

According to CNN, last month’s outage was a “huge problem” for Ukraine’s military. In March, the country purchased the 1,300 terminals from a British company. SpaceX reportedly charged Ukraine $2,500 per month to keep each unit operational. The country eventually couldn’t afford to pay the $3.25 million monthly bill anymore and asked for financial aid from the British Ministry of Defence. After some discussion, the two agreed to prioritize other military expenses.

“We support a number of terminals that have a direct tactical utility for Ukraine’s military in repelling Russia’s invasion,” a British official told CNN. “We consider and prioritize all new requests in terms of the impact contributions would have in supporting Ukraine to defend its people against Putin’s deplorable invasion.”

Should SpaceX and the US Department of Defense eventually sign an agreement, it’s unclear if the Pentagon will have greater control over Starlink service in Ukraine. The company currently decides where Ukrainian troops can use the terminals.

Microsoft's HoloLens headsets are giving US Army testers nausea

Microsoft's HoloLens headsets for the US Army have some teething troubles. Bloomberg and Insider say a recent unclassified report reveals the current Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS) iteration is creating problems for soldiers in tests. Some testers suffered nausea, headaches and eyestrain while using the augmented reality goggles. Others were concerned about bulk, a limited field of view and a display glow that could reveal a soldier's position even at long distances.

A Microsoft worker talking to Insider claimed IVAS failed four out of six elements in one test. The Defense Department's Operational Test and Evaluation Director, Nickolas Guertin, also said there were still too many failures for essential features. Soldier acceptance is still low, according to the report.

The tests are part of a "Soldier Touch Point" program that helps the Army collect real-world feedback and help Microsoft refine the customized HoloLens gear. Ideally, the headsets will provide crucial battlefield information and night vision to infantry.

The military appears to be aware of and addressing issues. In a statement to Insider, Brigadier General Christopher Schneider said IVAS was successful in "most" criteria, but that there were areas where it "fell short" and would receive improvements. Army assistant acquisition secretary Doug Bush cleared the acceptance of an initial batch of 5,000 HoloLens units in August, but that the armed forces branch was modifying its plans to "correct deficiencies." Microsoft told Bloomberg it still saw IVAS as a "transformational platform" and was moving ahead with delivery for the initial headsets.

The findings don't necessarily mean the existing IVAS design is deeply flawed. However, they add to a number of difficulties stemming from the 10-year, $21.9 billion contract to supply 120,000 devices. The project created an uproar at Microsoft, where employees objected to working on 'weapons.' The Army also delayed the rollout late last year to allow for more development time. It may take a while longer before the technology is ready for combat.

Frontline Ukraine troops are reportedly enduring Starlink outages

Ukrainian forces have reportedly been dealing with Starlink outages as they try to take back Russian-occupied areas. Some of the outages, which are said to have caused a severe loss of communication over the last several weeks, occurred as troops broke through the frontline into territory controlled by Russia as well as during battles, a Ukraine government official told The Financial Times.

The cause of the apparent outages are not yet known. Engadget has contacted Starlink owner SpaceX for comment.

Starlink outages were reported in the four regions that Russia annexed last month following referendums, the legitimacy of which have been disputed. As the Financial Times notes, there's a significant Ukrainian counteroffensive in those areas.

Some terminals are said to have not been working in areas near Khariv, which Ukraine has almost entirely liberated, amid a push into Luhansk, one of the regions that Russia has claimed. However, military officials claimed this week that Starlink terminals were working in freshly liberated areas east of Izyum and in southern Kherson, according to the report.

Ukrainian troops have been using the terminals to stay in contact, operate drones and receive intelligence while stationed in parts of the country that don't have other secure networking options. Soon after Russia's invasion, SpaceX, with the help of American taxpayers, sent thousands of Starlink terminals to Ukraine for both military and civilian use.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk warned Ukrainians to exercise caution while using Starlink. Researchers pointed out that Russia may be able to use signals from the terminals for targeting purposes. Meanwhile, Musk this week caused anger and concern in Ukraine and among the country's allies when he suggested that referendums should be held to determine the Russia-Ukraine border. He also claimed SpaceX has spent $80 million to support Ukraine through Starlink.

GM will make an Ultium battery pack prototype for the US military

General Motors, through its GM Defense subsidiary, will build a battery pack prototype for the Department of Defense to test and analyze. The agency's Defense Innovation Unit is seeking a scalable design that can be used in electrified versions of tactical military vehicles.

The battery pack will be based on GM's Ultium platform, which it's using to power its own electric vehicles. Due to the type of battery cells it employs, Ultium is billed as a modular and scalable system that can be adapted to different needs, so it may just fit the bill for the military.

GM said the military wants a light- to heavy-duty EV for use in garrison and operational environments in order to reduce fossil fuel use. As a result, that should reduce the military's carbon emissions.

This isn't the first partnership that GM Defense has forged with the military. In July, the company secured a deal with the US Army to provide an electric Hummer for testing. Last year, GM Defense president Steve duMont said the company would build an electric military vehicle prototype based on the Hummer EV.

The US Space Force's new anthem proves it's just another boring government entity

Three years after becoming the newest branch of the US Armed Forces, the Space Force has an official song. Titled “Semper Supra” (or “Always Above,” if you’re not a fan of Latin), the tune made its debut on Tuesday at the 2022 Air, Space and Cyber Conference in Maryland. Now, before I say anything else about it, I think it’s best you hear the song for yourself.

If you ask me, it’s jauntier than I expected, particularly for a song that is supposed to embody a 21st-century military branch. According to Chief of Space Operations John Raymond, the Space Force wanted a song that “spoke to our Guardians” – and, no, he’s not talking about Destiny 2 players.

The eight lines of lyrics you hear were the result of “years of research and revisions.” Former service and US Air Force Band member James Teachenor wrote "Semper Supra" with General Raymond’s help. "The song was a long work in progress because I wanted it to encompass all the capabilities that the Space Force offers and its vision," Teachenor said. Once the two settled on the song’s lyrics, they recruited Sean Nelson of the US Coast Guard Band to create an arrangement, with the USCG Band providing the instrumentation. 

If you ask us, the final product sounds a bit too similar too to other Armed Forces tunes like “The Army Goes Rolling Along.” Personally, I think the Space Force should have gone down a prog rock route and made the song sound, you know, spacey

Hitting the Books: Newfangled oceanographers helped win WWII using marine science

Lethal Tides tells the story of pioneering oceanic researcher Mary Sears and her leading role in creating one of the most important intelligence gathering operations of World War II. Languishing in academic obscurity and roundly ignored by her male colleagues, Sears is selected for command by the godfather of climate change, Roger Revelle, and put in charge of the Oceanographic Unit of the Navy Hydrographic Office. She and her team of researchers are tasked with helping make the Navy's atoll-hopping campaign in the Pacific a reality through ocean current analysis, mapping for bioluminescence fields and deep-water crevasses that could reveal or conceal US subs from the enemy, and cartographing the shore and surf conditions of the Pacific Islands and Japan itself.  

Harper Collins

From Lethal Tides by Catherine Musemeche. Copyright © 2022 by Catherine Musemeche. Reprinted by permission of William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.


— Washington, D.C., 1943 —

Four months into her job at the Oceanographic Unit, Sears had learned a lot about what the military needed from oceanographers. She had learned it from meeting with Roger Revelle and his cohorts on the Joint Chiefs Subcommittee on Oceanography where she listened to concerns about what the navy was lacking and took detailed notes. She had learned it from answering requests from every branch of the military for tidal data, wave forecasts, and currents to support tactical operations overseas. She had learned it from gathering all the known references on drift and drafting an urgently needed manual to help locate men lost at sea. The more she took in, the more she understood exactly how dire the lack of oceanographic intelligence was and how it could undermine military operations. And now she was going to have to do something about it.

Sears was no longer at Woods Hole, where she had been sidelined by her male colleagues who sailed on Atlantis and collected her specimens while she stayed onshore. For the first time in her life, she was in charge. It was now her responsibility to set up and direct the operations of an oceanographic intelligence unit researching vital questions that impacted the war. She had never been asked to set agendas, call meetings, or give people orders, much less make sure they carried them out, but she was going to have to do those things to get the military the information they needed to win the war. She was going to have to take the lead.

To assume the role of leader, Sears would need to push through her innate reserved tendencies and any thoughts racing around in her head that screamed you don’t belong here. Taking charge of a team of oceanographers did not come naturally to a bench scientist who worked alone all day staring into a microscope, especially if that scientist was a woman, but Sears had learned from watching Revelle. He had started as an academic in a tweed jacket with elbow patches, but when the navy made him a lieutenant he took on the persona of “the man in charge.”

When Revelle walked into the conference room of the Munitions Building—tall, broad shouldered, and uniformed—he was in complete control. He spoke in a booming, decisive voice. He had an answer for every question. He solved problems. Now, thanks to the overly confident Revelle, Sears was wearing the uniform too. She had stepped into his shoes at the Hydrographic Office. She was not going to let anyone think she couldn’t fill them.

During the first year of the war there had been a mad scramble in Washington to gather information about the countries where troops might be fighting, especially distant locales like New Guinea, Indochina, Formosa, and all the tiny islands dotting the sixty-four million square miles of the Pacific Ocean. World War II spilled across the globe into places most Americans had never heard of and where the military had never been. It was unlike any other war Americans had fought.

Getting to these places would be the easy part. The navy could navigate its way to just about any far-off target anywhere in the world, thanks to the nautical charts maintained by the Hydrographic Office, but what would it find when it got there? Were the beaches flat and wide or would they be narrow, steep, and difficult to land on? Was the terrain mountainous, volcanic, or swampy? Would high winds and waves impede a smooth landing? Would they land during the rainy season? Who were the native people and what language did they speak? Were there drivable roads once troops got across the beaches?

All these details mattered because going to war was more than hauling men, tanks, rifles, and ammunition to a designated site and attacking the enemy. The troops needed to come prepared for whatever they might find, which meant knowing everything they could about an area in advance.

The military searched their files for background materials. They found spotty reports scattered among files of government agencies but no comprehensive references that spanned the globe and nothing that left them with a sense of what to expect when they went to war. The years between World War I and World War II stretched across the lean budgets of the Depression years. The military had languished along with the rest of the country—training soldiers with Springfield rifles manufactured in 1903 and using borrowed cruise liners to transport troops. With Congress keeping the purse strings tight, there had been no money to spend gathering intel for wars that might pop up one day in some remote corner of the world. The file cabinets were all but empty. As one intelligence official summed it up, “We were caught so utterly unprepared.”

What would the armed forces do now to catch up in the midst of an ongoing war?

It was a problem that had vexed Roosevelt even before the war. To help remedy the intelligence gap, he had appointed General William Donovan in mid-1941 as coordinator of information, a role that morphed into the director of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) during World War II. But Donovan too was getting a late start, and his mission was focused on espionage and sabotage, not foreign terrain.

The logical source of information for the military was its own intelligence agencies. The Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI), the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the Army Corps of Engineers, and G-2, the army’s intelligence unit, had all started spinning out their own internal intelligence reports, duplicating effort and expense. But like jealous siblings guarding their toys, the agencies kept their reports to themselves, which only hampered preparations in the long run. Furthermore, these groups had not anticipated the massive landscape this war would cover and there were still many gaps to fill.

“Who would have thought, when Germany marched on Poland, that we would suddenly have to range our inquiries from the cryolite mines of Ivigtut, Greenland, to the guayule plants of Yucatan, Mexico; or from the twilight settlements of Kiska to the coral beaches of Guadalcanal. Who even thought we should be required to know (or indeed suspected that we did not know) everything about the beaches of France and the tides and currents of the English Channel,” a CIA official later mused.

That was exactly the problem: there was no predicting just what information might be needed in a war of global proportions. Whether it was knowing where to collect an essential mineral or finding the latest tidal data, the need for information, beyond just estimating enemy troop strength or weaponry, was enormous. The military leaders trying to plan the war—where to send troops first and what operations to execute when they got there—were particularly hindered. Their information needs were unfolding in real time, and without a centralized forum for gathering, collating, analyzing, and disseminating information, the United States found itself at a disadvantage in war planning.

Roosevelt began to realize the extent of the problem when he started meeting with Churchill and the British Chiefs of Staff in a series of war planning conferences. At the Arcadia Conference held two weeks after World War II began the British had the edge in strategic planning. They had operated under a system for almost two decades where the British Chiefs of Staff served as a supreme, unified command, reaping the benefits of cooperation between the Admiralty and the British Army. The United States had no such corresponding body.

Weeks after the first conference Roosevelt formed his own Joint Chiefs of Staff, a unified, high command in the United States composed of Admiral William D. Leahy, the president’s special military adviser; General George C. Marshall, chief of staff of the army; Admiral Ernest J. King, chief of Naval Operations and commander in chief of the U.S. Fleet; and General Henry H. Arnold, deputy army chief of staff for air and chief of the Army Air Corps. This impressive array of leaders could draw up battle plans, but it would take time to turn themselves into a truly cooperative body.

At the next war planning conference, at Casablanca in January 1943, Roosevelt noticed yet another fault in the American war planning apparatus—the information gap between the British and the Americans. No matter what subject came up in any corner of the world, the British had prepared a detailed analysis on the area at issue and pulled those reports out of their briefcases. The Americans weren’t able to produce a single study that could match the quality of the British reports, a failing that frustrated and embarrassed the president.

“We came, we listened and we were conquered,” Brigadier General Albert C. Wedemeyer, the army’s chief planner, shared with a colleague following the Casablanca Conference. “They had us on the defensive practically all the time.”

The British had a two-year start on the Americans in this war and they had learned the hard way about the need to collect reliable topographic intelligence. During the German invasion of Norway in 1940 the Royal Air Force Bomber Command had been forced to rely on a 1912 edition of a Baedeker’s travel guide for tourists as the sole reference in planning a counterattack. In the same offensive, the Royal Navy had only scanty Admiralty charts to guide an attack on a major port, an intelligence deficiency that could have easily doomed the mission. The British had gotten away with one in their Norway mission, but they knew they had to do better.

So they had formed the Interservices Topographical Department to implement the pooling of topographical intelligence generated by the army, navy, and the Allies, and tasked it with preparing reports in advance of overseas military operations. This was where Churchill’s reports came from and why his aides could pull them out of their briefcases when the most sensitive joint operations were being planned. To be on an equal footing with the British, the Americans needed to be able to do the same, which meant they were going to have to find a way to rectify the lack of information and fast.operations were being planned. To be on an equal footing with the British, the Americans needed to be able to do the same, which meant they were going to have to find a way to rectify the lack of information and fast.

China's military scientists call for development of anti-Starlink measures

China must develop capabilities to disable and maybe even destroy Starlink internet satellites, the country's military researchers said in a paper published by the Chinese journal Modern Defense Technology. The authors highlighted the possibility of Starlink being used for military purposes that could aid other countries and threaten China's national security. According to South China Morning Post, the scientists are calling for the development of anti-satellite capabilities, including both hard and soft kill methods. The former is used to physically destroy satellites, such as the use of missiles, while a soft kill method targets a satellite's software and operating system. 

In addition, the researchers are suggesting the development of a surveillance system with the ability to track each and every Starlink satellite. That would address one of their concerns, which is the possibility of launching military payloads along with a bunch of satellites for the constellation. David Cowhig's Translation Blog posted an English version of the paper, along with another article from state-sponsored website China Military Online that warned about the dangers of the satellite internet service. 

"While Starlink claims to be a civilian program that provides high-speed internet services, it has a strong military background," it said. Its launch sites are built within military bases, it continued, and SpaceX previously received funds from the US Air Force to study how Starlink satellites can connect to military aircraft under encryption. The Chinese scientists warned Starlink could boost the communication speeds of fighter jets and drones by over 100 times. 

The author warned:

"When completed, Starlink satellites can be mounted with reconnaissance, navigation and meteorological devices to further enhance the US military’s combat capability in such areas as reconnaissance remote sensing, communications relay, navigation and positioning, attack and collision, and space sheltering."

Between hard and soft kill, the researchers favor the latter, since physically destroying satellites would produce space debris that could interfere with China's activities. The country previously filed a complaint with the United Nations about the Tiangong space station's near-collision with Starlink satellites. Apparently, the station had to perform evasive maneuvers twice in 2021 to minimize the chances of collision. Destroying a few satellites also wouldn't completely take out the Starlink constellation, seeing as SpaceX has already launched over 2,500 satellites at this point in time.