Prepared by the CyberWire (Friday, September 1, 2017)—Developments in Signals and Space, from August 1st through August 31st.
Rising tensions over North Korean missile tests.
July ended with North Korean missile tests that indicated the country had developed systems with sufficient range to reach American targets—certainly Guam, probably the West Coast of the Continental United States. August saw sharper diplomatic talk from both sides of the dispute (the sides being, essentially, North Korea and the rest of the world) increasingly tough sanctions, and heightened readiness on the part of the US, South Korea, and Japan. The situation now amounts to a war scare.
The month ended with the most provocative test yet. On the morning of August 29th, North Korea fired a test shot over Japan and into the Pacific. Japan and South Korea have both begun moving to deploy more extensive missile defense systems, with the US contributing both Aegis ashore and THAAD systems into the theater. There has been some domestic controversy over the deployments in all the countries involved.
It's easy to regard North Korea's leadership as irrational, the country as a whole as more cult than polity. It would be facile to accept that presentation at face value, however. Recorded Future offers an assessment of Kim's motivations, and those of his regime, based on observation of the DPRK's behavior online. The study offers an interesting take on what Kim values and how his regime sees its place in the region and the world.
Joint US and South Korean exercises proceeded as planned. South Korea is reported to have exercised a decapitation strike that would destroy North Korea's leadership. The exercise is as much (if not more) a demonstration to signal a possibility to Pyongyang as it is practice for an operation.
Hopes that US cyberattacks might be able to cripple North Korean missile launches appear to have faded. At the very least, if such capabilities offer realistic options, those options haven't been exercised to disrupt this month's series of increasingly aggressive and provocative tests. The US has instead concentrated on good-cop/bad-cop diplomacy (which represents more continuity with past Administrations than it does departure), tighter sanctions (including sanctions against third-parties, mostly in China, caught trading with North Korea), and military preparations (both missile defense and strike capability).
State of North Korean missile development.
Observers have long suspected that North Korean engineers had foreign assistance in developing their missiles. Most suspicion had been directed toward Russia, but this month saw allegations that the DPRK's program was helped by a Ukrainian rocket manufacturer, KB Yuzhnoye. The firm has denied, with some heat, that it's had any dealings with North Korea.
The missiles seem to have the range and throw-weight to justify the international concern they've attracted. They don't, however, have solid propellant. The missiles use liquids, inherently more difficult to handle. Observers think it unlikely the North Koreans are close to fielding solid propellant long-range systems.
Cyber conflict follows international conflict.
The Lazarus Group, cyber threat actors generally regarded as associated with North Korea's government, have stepped up the pace of their operations. The Group's has lately concentrated on US defense and aerospace targets.
Pinched as it finds itself by tighter sanctions, Pyongyang also appears to have increased its attempts to generate revenue through cybercrime. Bitcoin and other currencies are receiving the attentions of North Korean hackers.
North Korea's adversaries have for their part increased their cyber offensive and defensive capabilities in what's being characterized as a cyber arms race. That race is not prompted solely or even primarily by North Korean activities—Russian hybrid warfare, particularly against Ukraine, remains a principal driver of Western scrambling to increase cyber capabilities.
Japan's government has begun to increase its own cyber capability, and that move is prompted by fear of North Korea. North Korea has denounced Japanese attempts at capacity building as "aggressive" and an unwarranted threat.
Questions about North Korean nuclear capabilities.
North Korea has long had a nuclear program, and has tested several devices. It's long been thought that the DPRK had not yet been able to engineer a weapon that could be reliably delivered to a target by missile—its devices were too large, and it seemed unlikely they would be able to withstand the stress of reentry. That may no longer be the case. There are reports that North Korea has been able to develop weapons light and compact enough to be fitted to a missile. Whether they could withstand reentry is not yet known. (They may not need to be able to withstand reentry. If Pyongyang wants to disrupt electronic devices with electromagnetic pulse, observers note that a high-altitude burst would suffice.)
Teheran may be following Pyongyang's template.
Iran is also considering stepping up its missile development program. The US suspects that Tehran is cheating on existing nuclear non-proliferation agreements and wants more extensive inspection of potential weapons development sites. Iran has refused, and accused the US of violating its own undertakings under those agreements. Should the agreements end, Iran says, it would be capable of very rapidly producing sufficient fissile material for nuclear weapon production.
The destroyer USS John S. McCain collided with a merchant tanker off Singapore. Speculation immediately turned to cyber attack as at least a partial cause of the collision—it was the fourth collision or grounding in the US 7th Fleet over the course of less than a year. Those speculations appear to have proven groundless, as a US Navy investigation has so far found no indication of a cyber attack.
Worries about what happened to the USS McCain were also shaped by a June incident, little noticed at the time, in which Russian GPS spoofing was observed to affect ship navigation systems in the Black Sea. The spoofing looked more like a demonstration and a proof-of-concept than an attack mounted for any specific operational purpose, but it did show a disturbing capability. GPS jamming is no novelty, but the Black Sea incident showed that more insidious and hitherto unremarked meaconing was now a realistic possibility.
Concerns about GPS vulnerability are reviving terrestrial alternatives, essentially modernized LORAN systems.
Commercial space operations.
SpaceX had another good month. It's succeeded in delivering cargo to the International Space Station, in recovering a launch vehicle to its seaborne platform, and in achieving mission rates that are comparable to, if not better than, Russia's.
International satellite operations and onboard spacecraft computing.
BAE has announced a radiation-hardened computer designed for spacecraft use. HPE and NASA are also experimenting with a supercomputer in the International Space Station. That one is being flown without its hardware being specially hardened: NASA and HPE want to see whether "software hardening" could be sufficient to permit reliable deep space computation.
One of this month's successful SpaceX missions placed a Taiwanese earth-observation satellite into orbit.
Brazil's new military communications satellite is operational, and Italy's Ministry of Defense launched an optical observation satellite from the EU's facility in French Guiana.
Ghana has placed a cubesat into orbit: Ghana's first foray into space.
Blockstream says it's solved the last mile problem, for Bitcoin, anyway: the company is now delivering the cryptocurrency from a satellite network, thereby reaching people who otherwise wouldn't have reliable Internet connectivity. Given Bitcoin's utility in remittances and other international funds transfers, the delivery system may have more point than the "Well, OK then" ledes in the media might suggest.
Satellogic announced plans to provide hyperspectral imaging worldwide.
Opinions differ on quantum computing.
China's demonstration that it can maintain quantum entanglement from earth orbit prompts debate over just how soon this breakthrough will result in "unhackable computation" or "unbreakable encryption" as the promise (or bugaboo, depending on the commenter's point-of-view) is described. Skeptics don't doubt the ultimate potential the experiment represents, but they do think very significant scientific and engineering problems need to be solved before the technology reaches anything remotely approaching its hype.
US Government policy notes.
Some churn this month in senior Defense cyber, intelligence, and IT leaders, with both arrivals and departures.
The most significant development was the President's decision to elevate US Cyber Command to the status of a Unified Combatant Command. This separates the organization from US Strategic Command, where it had formerly been housed. It does not, yet, remove the dual-hatted leadership the Director, NSA, exercises over Cyber Command, but it's generally believed that an organizational break with NSA is the next step.
Congressional interest in creating a Space Corps within the Department of the Air Force (the analogy would be to the Marine Corps' status as a distinct service within the Department of the Navy) appears to be waning. Neither the Air Force nor the Administration really liked the idea anyway.
Best job ever.
Interested in a job with one of the best titles ever? NASA has an opening for Planetary Protection Officer. The pay's not bad, either, for a government job.
Today's edition of the CyberWire reports events affecting China, Ghana, Iran, Italy, Japan, the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea, the Republic of Korea, the United Nations, Russia, and the United States.
N. Korea's nuke development hits tipping point: Ban(Korea Herald) Former United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon said Friday that North Korea's nuclear development is now at a "tipping point," calling on the international community to keep up pressure to stop its provocations...
US detects 'highly unusual' North Korean submarine activity(CNN) The US military has detected "highly unusual and unprecedented levels" of North Korean submarine activity and evidence of an "ejection test" in the days following Pyongyang's second intercontinental ballistic missile launch this month, a defense official told CNN on Monday.
DIUx, SCO given special hiring and contracting authorities(Defense News) Two of the Pentagon’s innovation offices have been granted special authorities to help speed the hiring of staff and awarding of contracts in a move that could allow the groups to flow commercial technology into the department quicker.
Mercury Systems Receives $8.5M Order from US Navy for DRFM Jammers(NASDAQ.com) Mercury Systems, Inc. (NASDAQ:MRCY) (www.mrcy.com), announced that it received an $8.5 million follow-on order against its recently announced $152 million 5 year sole source basic ordering agreement (BOA) to deliver advanced Digital RF Memory (DRFM) jammers to the U.S. Navy.
Northrop to upgrade JSTARS radio terminals(Shephard) Northrop Grumman has received a contract from the US Air Force to upgrade radio terminals aboard the E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) fleet, the company announced on 8 August.
USAF Picks Lockheed, Raytheon For LRSO(Aviation Week) In its second major decision on the future of the nuclear triad in two days, the U.S. Air Force has selected Lockheed Martin and Raytheon to mature technologies for the next-generation nuclear-capable cruise ...
BAE's most powerful space computer yet(Electronics Weekly) BAE Systems has announced a radiation-hardened single-board space computer. Called RAD5545, it has a quad-core 32/64bit QorlQ Power Architecture processor
Falcon 9 rocket fired up for launch of military mini-shuttle(Spaceflight Now) Running through a practice countdown and hold-down engine firing at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket passed a key checkpoint Thursday ahead of liftoff next week with the U.S. Air Force’s fifth X-37B spaceplane flight, a mission that will come with several firsts.
Lockheed debuts next-gen missile defense radar ahead of Army competition(Defense News) Lockheed Martin brought a brand-new next-generation air-and-missile defense radar to the Space and Missile Defense Symposium this week that it hopes will help the U.S. Army finalize its requirements for a new 360-degree radar for the service’s future Integrated Air-and-Missile Defense system.
Raytheon’s new GPS ground stations delayed again(Defense News) The Air Force’s OCX program to procure new ground control stations for the service’s next-generation GPS satellites has been delayed by another nine months, meaning the technology will not be ready until April 2022, the Air Force confirmed Monday.
Harris pivots from hosted payloads to small satellite(SpaceNews.com) The company that played a leading role in promoting hosted payloads and sold excess space on Iridium Communications satellites, is turning its attention to small satellites “because that’s where the market is."
Lockheed delivers GPS signal receivers(Shephard) Lockheed Martin has delivered three of six satellite signal receivers to the US Air Force as part of efforts to update the service's GPS ground control system, the company announced on 7 August.
Lockheed Sees New Uses For Thaad, Patriot Interceptors(Aerospace Daily and Defense Report) Lockheed Martin remains committed to the development of its dual-stage Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) endoatmospheric interceptor, saying an extended-range version of Thaad has applications against maneuvering hypersonic glide ...
DoD beefing up missile systems’ cyber defenses(Fifth Domain) A tenant of the internet of things industry is that anything connected to the internet is connected to hackers. But when you’re talking about a trillion-dollar ballistic missile system, that possibility is unacceptable.
OMB: Pentagon should emphasize dual-use R&D spending(Defense News) The White House wants the Pentagon to emphasize technology developments with both military and civil uses in its next budget, according to a new guidance from the Office of Management and Budget.
Chinese quantum satellite sends 'unbreakable' code(Reuters) China has sent an "unbreakable" code from a satellite to the Earth, marking the first time space-to-ground quantum key distribution technology has been realized, state media said on Thursday.
DIUx reports surge in pilot program funding(Defense News) The Pentagon’s Defense Innovation Unit-Experimental (DIUx) awarded $71 million in funding for 37 pilot programs over the last year, and the group expects to transition its first demonstrator program to higher-rate production.
ICF wins cybersecurity contract(Fifth Domain) Under the contract, valued at up to $93 million, ICF will support Army Research Laboratory’s Defensive Cyber Operations (DCO) and Defensive Cybersecurity Research.
North Korea’s Not So Crazy After All(Recorded Future) In this episode we explore unique insights into how North Korean leadership and ruling elite use the internet and what that tells us about their intentions.
Bill Entails Coordinated Response to US Anti-Iran Measures(Tasnim News Agency) An anti-US bill Iran’s lawmakers turned into law on Sunday urges the country’s military, diplomatic and security organizations to devise plans on countering the United States’ terrorist measures in the region and its threats against Iran.
Air Force names space operations officials(SpaceNews.com) The U.S. Air Force has named Shawn Barnes to be assistant deputy chief of staff for space operations directorate, and Maj. Gen. Pamela Lincoln to be mobilization assistant to the deputy chief of staff for space operations.
Iran ridicules US push for inspecting its military sites(ABC News) Iran has mocked the U.S. push for inspections of the country's military sites, calling it a "ridiculous dream that will never come true." This comes after U.S. officials said last month that the Trump administration is pushing for inspections of suspicious Iranian military sites in a bid to...
DIA gets new director(C4ISRNET) Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley was confirmed as the new head of the Defense Intelligence Agency.
Aerospace Combat Command Instead of Space Force?(Breaking Defense) Over the past two years, America’s near-peer competitors have reorganized and integrated their air, deterrent, missile defense, cyber and space forces to make them more effective.
Opinion: Iran's risky nuclear deal threat(Deutsche Welle) Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is under pressure from Washington and conservative forces in Tehran. Threats of revitalizing the nuclear problem actually diverge from his interests, says DW's Matthias von Hein.