Prepared by the CyberWire (Tuesday, January 2, 2018)—Developments in Signals and Space, from December 1st through December 31st, 2017.
Cyber threats and attribution raise tensions with the DPRK.
The US, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand this month joined the earlier UK attribution of WannaCry to North Korea, an allegation which the DPRK has angrily and foreseeably dismissed as provocation and warmongering. The Five Eyes see Pyongyang as increasingly involved, through its Lazarus Group and similar threat actors, in efforts to raise cash through cybercrime. WannaCry is viewed as an instance of this tendency.
The Five Eyes have been relatively coy and general in their account of the evidence of North Korean responsibility, but they're showing unusual unanimity and certainty in their attribution. North Korea's ambassador to the UN has demanded that the US in particular put up or shut up, but the US shows little disposition to do so.
North Korea continues its round of missile tests.
Western services have now had an opportunity to think over the DPRK's Hwasong-15 ICBM, tested at the end of November, and several observers have called it a "game-changer." It changes the game in at least three respects: range, payload, and launch system. It is assessed at having the range to reach any target in the continental United States. It appears to be able to deliver a 1000-kilogram payload (and North Korea is believed to have nuclear devices weighing under 700 kilometers—weights far lower than that have long been achieved by major declared nuclear powers). It's apparently launched from a mobile transporter-erector-launcher (TEL), which is likely to render it more difficult to identify and target for preemptive strikes.
Preparations against North Korean missile threats.
Japan has moved to increase both its missile defense and long-range strike capability, both of which are clear hedges against the regional threat of strikes from the DPRK.
The US and South Korea have conducted exercises with Japan and one another. China and Russia have warned that such exercises themselves could constitute provocation, but in the case of China at least there seem to be growing signs that Beijing realizes it may be nearing the limits of its ability to influence the DPRK. Chinese provinces near North Korea have begun civil defense preparations against nuclear strikes (or accidents) and there are signs that China may be readying itself to receive a large influx of refugees from North Korea should war break out on the peninsula.
Discussion of defense against a potential North Korean nuclear strike has tended to focus on deploying and using missile interceptor systems (like THAAD), but other considerations are also entering the conversation. The new US National Security Strategy features one: hardening of infrastructure against electromagnetic pulse (EMP). EMP has come to be regarded as among the likelier North Korean nuclear strike options—a very high altitude burst that could destroy critical electronics without blast, thermal, or lethal radiation effects.
Other concerns being voiced involve frustration over the time it takes to deploy missile-launch detection satellites. And the US Air Force may have an EMP weapon of its own that could be used to disable a North Korean missile at the point of launch. Most observers have expressed skepticism that this is a real operational capability as opposed to a technical possibility, so conventional kinetic interception or preemptive strike look like the likeliest options on the table.
Missile strikes and interceptions in the Gulf.
Saudi Arabia has remained under threat of attack by missiles fired from Yemen by Houthi rebels. The Kingdom has claimed successful intercepts by its Patriot air defense missile systems. US intelligence sources claim that the Houthi forces are being supplied with surface-to-surface missiles by Iran.
Secretary of the Air Force worries about GPS security.
Space is no longer a benign environment, according to US Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson. The GPS constellation is essential to the military's day-to-day operations, but it's also vulnerable. The Los Angeles Times reported Wilson as saying, "We’re the strongest space-faring nation in the world, and we’re heavily dependent on space. And our adversaries and potential adversaries know it. So we need to be able to defend what we have and to be able to take a punch and keep fighting through. In some ways, we built a glass house before the invention of stones and now we have to be able to defend."
In the near term the solution to this vulnerability is to train for operations under conditions of GPS denial, which Secretary Wilson says is the Service's policy and practice.
US Army looks to rapid acquisition for better electronic warfare capabilities.
In the throes of one of its periodic bouts of sensing inferiority to Russia in electronic warfare (a sense that Cold War veterans will find all too familiar) the US Army is turning to rapid acquisition vehicles to redress the shortfalls it perceives in its capabilities. The basic goal of such procurement policies is to transition rapidly advancing technologies into the hands of warfighters as quickly as possible. Since cyber operations and electronic warfare have converged in Army doctrine and organization, the Service will be looking for swift acquisition of cyber tools as well.
Such efforts may do well to bring their own cautions along with them. Drone technology is one example: it appears that soldiers in the field tend to mistrust drones, particularly as they become increasingly lethal. The possibility of friendly fire casualties is never far from field soldiers' minds.
Another round in the perennial attempt at acquisition reform.
The Congressionally chartered Section 809 panel continues its efforts to identify outmoded and counterproductive regulations that cumber the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) and its daughter, the appended Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement (DFARS). Together they run to somewhere around 3500 pages, and they're widely regarded as embodying a system designed to avoid fraud, waste, and abuse in large, long-duration contracts. (Think shipbuilding, circa 1960.)
And of course this sort of regulatory regime is not conducive to swift acquisition and fielding of rapidly advancing technologies. Recognition of this lies behind the many rapid and alternative acquisition authorities the Army and the other Services constantly seek.
But most observers hope for some more general reform. To that end the panel has asked people in the Defense Industrial Base and elsewhere to nominate their "50 Worst!" (emphasis in the original) acquisition regulations. It's an opportunity to let the government know what it should consider fixing.
There are some related concerns being expressed about the health of the Defense Industrial Base itself. A combination of onerous contracting, drawdowns, and budgetary uncertainty is believed responsible for the recent erosion of that Base, particularly among smaller suppliers. About 17,000 vendors left the market between 2011 and 2015, a drop of around twenty percent.
SpaceX appears to have closed out 2017 strongly.
The Falcon Heavy may not have made the company's goal of a launch in 2017, but the company's new heavy-lift system has been moved into its launch position at Cape Canaveral.
SpaceX's successful launch, recovery, and reuse of its Falcon family of boosters seems to have proven that the company is a reliable partner in the launch business, and the Government has shown itself disposed to trust increasingly valuable payloads to the Falcons. They have, for example, not only flown classified payloads, but have conducted resupply missions to the International Space Station. SpaceX anticipates a fifty-percent increase in launches during 2018.
US National Security Strategy prioritizes cyber ops, names adversaries.
The US National Security Strategy, published earlier in December, makes a point of addressing the ability to defend the national interest in cyberspace, putting strong emphasis on the importance of securing critical infrastructure. It also names adversaries ("competitors"): China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea. There is a perhaps novel emphasis on economic competition.
A return to the moon, and on to Mars?
With his Space Policy Directive 1, issued early in December, President Trump joins the last two Republican Presidents in calling for a US return to the moon. The Directive also envisions a human mission to Mars.
Of particular interest to industry is the Policy Directive's commitment to ending US dependence on Russian launch vehicles for operation in near-earth orbit. Also noteworthy is the continued revival of the National Space Council, which met this past October for the first time since its disestablishment in 1993.
Today's edition of the CyberWire reports events affecting China, Japan, the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea, the Republic of Korea, Poland, Romania, Russia, Saudi Arabia, the United States, and Yemen.
Analysis: Reported link between Houthi and Iranian ballistic missiles(FDD's Long War Journal) At the strategic level, if Iran's provision of ballistic missiles to the Houthi rebels is confirmed, it could be seen as an indicator Tehran's increased tolerance for risk in a distant conflict theater, one which has sought to weaken Saudi Arabia by any means possible.
NetCentrics awarded DISA Encore III Contract Vehicle(Business Insider) NetCentrics Corporation, a leading provider of infrastructure, cloud, mission applications and cybersecurity for the U.S. government, has won a position on the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) Encore III contract vehicle for IT services across the Department of Defense (DoD).
Romania agrees to purchase Raytheon’s Patriot missile defense system(Homeland Preparedness News) Romania agreed to purchase Raytheon Co.’s Patriot integrated air and missile defense system from the U.S. Army on Wednesday, a move that sets the stage for contract negotiations between Raytheon and the U.S. government. Under the letter of offer and …
Lockheed Unit Wins $154M Deal for Navigation System Upgrade(NASDAQ.com) Lockheed Martin Corp .'s LMT Rotary and Mission Systems (RMS) segment recently secured a contract for providing U.S. and U.K. Trident II (D5) Strategic Weapon System Shipboard Integration Increment 8 as well as Columbia and Dreadnought efforts for the navigation subsystem. Work related to the deal is scheduled to be completed by Dec 31, 2020.
Mercury Systems Receives $2.3M Order for Advanced GPS SAASM Devices(NASDAQ.com) Mercury Systems, Inc. (NASDAQ:MRCY), (www.mrcy.com) announced it received a $2.3M follow-on order from a leading electronics manufacturer for state-of-the-art GPS Selective Availability Anti-Spoofing Modules (SAASM) devices for an undisclosed application.
Our Chips, Code Are More Secure Than Silicon Valley’s: Northrop Grumman(Breaking Defense) The Pentagon has fallen in love with Silicon Valley — though it’s largely unrequited — but traditional defense firms argue there are some things only they can do. One striking example: this Northrop Grumman factory, where the company makes its own microchips “from sand” with unique security features that are not available from commercial vendors.
BAE Systems readies new data link system for USN(Jane's 360) BAE Systems is developing a new capability that will enable US Navy (USN) ships to simultaneously transmit and receive intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) data from multiple sources.
New Alerting Technology Stops Airplane Hackers at System Level(Avionics) For veteran F-18 fighter pilot Brooks Cleveland, it’s not the obvious things that can go wrong in the cockpit that worry him, it’s the unseen attacks that can affect aircraft systems without being aware of them. “The threats that sci-fi novelists write about are not what I’m worried about as a pilot — of the …
National Security Strategy of the United States of America(The White House) My fellow Americans: The American people elected me to make America great again. I promised that my Administration would put the safe , interests, and well-being of our citizens first. I pledged that we would revitalize the American economy, rebuild our military, defend our borders, protect our sovereignty, and advance our values.
The Korean Missile Crisis(Foreign Affairs) The North Korean nuclear threat is more dangerous than the Cuban Missile Crisis, and it is time for the U.S. government to pursue diplomatic options.
US military to send cyber soldiers to the battlefield(The Straits Times) The US Army will soon send teams of cyber warriors to the battlefield, officials said Wednesday (Dec 13), as the military increasingly looks to take the offensive against enemy computer networks.. Read more at straitstimes.com.
Here’s What the New NDAA Means for Missile Defense(Atlantic Council) The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) passed by the US Congress in November prioritizes investments in homeland missile defense. US President Donald J. Trump has called for a “state-of-the-art” missile defense system and this new defense...
Navy swears in new acquisitions chief(Defense News) James Geurts, a long-time civilian senior executive, takes the position long occupied by former RD&A chief Sean Stackley, who started during the George W. Bush Administration.