Archive for the ‘radar’ Category

The fact that a majority of this year’s graduates from USAF basic pilot training are assigned to drone squadrons has got quite a bit of play in the blogosphere. Here, via Jamie Kenny, John Robb (who may still be burying money for fear of Obama or may not) argues that the reason they still do an initial flight training course is so that the pilot-heavy USAF hierarchy can maintain its hold on the institution. He instead wants to recruit South Korean gamers, in his usual faintly trendy dad way. Jamie adds the snark and suggests setting up a call centre in Salford.

On the other hand, before Christmas, the Iranians caught an RQ-170 intelligence/reconnaissance drone. Although the RQ-170 is reportedly meant to be at least partly stealthy, numerous reports suggest that the CIA was using it among other things to get live video of suspected nuclear sites. This seems to be a very common use case for drones, which usually have a long endurance in the air and can be risked remaining over the target for hours on end, if the surveillance doesn’t have to be covert.

Obviously, live video means that a radio transmitter has to be active 100% of the time. It’s also been reported that one of the RQ-170’s main sensors is a synthetic-aperture radar. Just as obviously, using radar involves transmitting lots of radio energy.

It is possible to make a radio transmitter less obvious, for example by saving up information and sending it in infrequent bursts, and by making the transmissions as directional as possible, which also requires less power and reduces the zone in which it is possible to detect the transmission. However, the nature of the message governs its form. Live video can’t be burst-transmitted because it wouldn’t be live. Similarly, real-time control signalling for the drone itself has to be instant, although engineering telemetry and the like could be saved and sent later, or only sent on request. And the need to keep a directional antenna pointing precisely at the satellite sets limits on the drone’s manoeuvring. None of this really works for a mapping radar, though, which by definition needs to sweep a radio beam across its field of view.

Even if it was difficult to acquire it on radar, then, it would have been very possible to detect and track the RQ-170 passively, by listening to its radio emissions. And it would have been much easier to get a radar detection with the advantage of knowing where to look.

There has been a lot of speculation about how they then attacked it. The most likely scenario suggests that they jammed the command link, forcing the drone to follow a pre-programmed routine for what to do if the link is lost. It might, for example, be required to circle a given location and wait for instructions, or even to set a course for somewhere near home, hold, and wait for the ground station to acquire them in line-of-sight mode.

Either way, it would use GPS to find its way, and it seems likely that the Iranians broadcast a fake GPS signal for it. Clive “Scary Commenter” Robinson explains how to go about spoofing GPS in some detail in Bruce Schneier’s comments, and points out that the hardware involved is cheap and available.

Although the military version would require you to break the encryption in order to prepare your own GPS signal, it’s possible that the Iranians either jammed it and forced the drone to fall back on the civilian GPS signal, and spoofed that, or else picked up the real signal at the location they wanted to spoof and re-broadcast it somewhere else, an attack known as “meaconing” during the second world war when the RAF Y-Service did it to German radio navigation. We would now call it a replay attack with a fairly small time window. (In fact, it’s still called meaconing.) Because GPS is based on timing, there would be a limit to how far off course they could put it this way without either producing impossible data or messages that failed the crypto validation, but this is a question of degree.

It’s been suggested that Russian hackers have a valid exploit of the RSA cipher, although the credibility of this suggestion is unknown.

The last link is from Charlie Stross, who basically outlined a conceptual GPS-spoofing attack in my old Enetation comments back in 2006, as a way of subverting Alistair Darling’s national road-pricing scheme.

Anyway, whether they cracked the RSA key or forced a roll-back to the cleartext GPS signal or replayed the real GPS signal from somewhere else, I think we can all agree it was a pretty neat trick. But what is the upshot? In the next post, I’m going to have a go at that…

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25 years ago today I was a three year old boy, living in a village in the Yorkshire Dales, from where you could see the golfball aerials at the NSA’s Menwith Hill base. Later, people I knew well would protest it for ages, and a man who was supposedly an engineer for LockMart there lived next door.

Via Charlie Stross, today is Stanislas Petrov day. As a Soviet air defence forces colonel, he was in charge of monitoring their satellite early warning system when it indicated five incoming missiles. But he was well aware of the system’s possible failings, and the strategy the US was expected to pursue – after all, what on earth would be the point of firing only five missiles, on a polar trajectory that the Molniya satellites would detect?

And so he declined to give the warning, knowing that if he was wrong, the radar line would light up with panic soon enough. The phones certainly did; they complained he hadn’t filled in the station log right, to which he said that he couldn’t because he’d had a phone in each hand all night. Of course, the radars didn’t go off because there were no missiles – when the ideologues and bureaucrats handed the issue to serious scientists, they worked out that it was an inherent flaw in the system’s design, connected with the unusual orbit of the satellites and rare conditions in the upper atmosphere. A false positive could have happened at any time.

That didn’t wash with the Karlo Rovskis; they sacked Petrov, who had anyway had a nervous breakdown (who wouldn’t?) not long afterwards.

Petrov’s heroic success was based on a few things; the first was his sound understanding of the machines. He didn’t need to ask the experts or believe the big computer. The second was that he understood the political and grand strategic situation. It made no sense to send five rockets. The third was that he feared what the buggers might do anyway; yes, it might be clear that nobody would send five rockets, and anyway the radars would give enough time to press the button, but who knew what the politicians (of every kind) would do under the effect of fear?

The fourth was that he acted, not letting the fools take the wheel. The Soviet Union was in the hands of a middle-ranking air force colonel, as in so many science-fiction horrorshows; but no-one could have been better. I can’t help but think of the lowborn Model Army men of the civil war; Colonel Hewson and Cornet Smith against the Duke of Godknows.

I liked this comment from Chris “Chris” Williams regarding Arthur C. Clarke:

What future? A better one than we’ve got: a worse on than we’d have had without him. Several million fanboys and girls grew up exposed to clear prose, opposition to nationalism, scepticism about organised religion, faith in technology, faith in humanity, and some great comedy.

“The guest of honour pressed a button (which wasn’t connected to anything). The chief engineer threw a switch (which was).” – or thereabouts. From Travel by Wire. All there at the start.

Which amused me; especially as the same post got linked by the Adam Smith Institute. Ha, I can’t imagine two technologies that got commercially deployed whose development had less to do with Teh Market than satellite communications and GSM. Even though there is fierce competition in both fields, a lot of it is down to the fact that the GSM founding engineers designed it in, working for ASI-tastic organisations like nationalised Nordic telcos and the European Commission.

Satellites, well…you do know Bell Labs (itself hardly the most Thatcherite operation, and one Reaganism killed off pretty sharpish) actually considered launching the first comsat on a Soviet rocket? Beyond mockery, what I’m driving at is that Clarke delivered a solid disrespect for ideology as well as religion and nationalism and Western arrogance – surely, the Indian-engineer archetype must have something to do with all his Dr Chandras, next to the IITs and the unintended consequences of IBM being kicked out of India in the 70s? (And what would the ASI make of *that*?)

The political landscapes he delivered were always nicely sceptical of state bureaucracies (2001: A Space Odyssey can be read as an attack on the security-bureaucratic complex) and also of big business. He missed the revival of small business, but then, who didn’t. And his major political flaw was that he was too optimistic about technocratic cooperation – he seemed to believe that politics stopped in low earth-orbit, and Space Station One is essentially the European Union at L-5. Just as you can’t have non-political bread, you certainly can’t have non-political spaceflight; but of all the political mistakes you could make, it’s a pretty minor one compared with some of the others on offer during his career.

From the 1930s to today, he could have variously believed in die-hard opposition to Indian autonomy, to say nothing of independence, that Stalin was an honourable gentleman, that what we really need is a strong leader to discipline the feminine masses, that white people were smarter than other people, that the US intelligence services were engaged in a conspiracy to downplay Soviet power and that therefore we need many more nuclear weapons, that burning the North Sea oil reserves in order to support sterling at an exchange rate high enough to flatten the export sector was a good idea, that the UN is a secret Zionist conspiracy to take your guns, that what we really need is a restored Caliphate, or that invading Iraq was wise. And this is far from an exhaustive list. Literally no other period of human history has offered a richer cornucopia of delusions; as George Orwell said, no ordinary man could be such a fool.

The Clarkean vision was that perhaps, we might be able to imbue reality with the inspiration and excitement various groups of us applied to the list of ideological manias above. Rather than pluricontinentalism or bimetallism or conservatism, we might consider the renal parasites of cephalopods, the neurological basis or otherwise of psychoanalysis, or viewing the surface of Venus in the infrared. Nothing is mere; so said Richard Feynman. It finally poses the question; is a sceptical utopia possible?

Yet more stupid giant floating radar news. Not only can’t it keep the sea if the weather turns bad, not only is there no sea boat, and no security – but its support vessel won’t be able to go alongside it most of the time, according to the US Coast Guard. This really is one of the poster children for Stupid Defence Procurement, no?

Speaking of stupid defence procurement, Richard North has issued a Christmas list of stuff he thinks the armed forces need. Predictably, all but one item on it comes from either BAE or the United States, and it’s all very expensive, electronic and Rumsfeldesque, not to mention tactically defensive. For example, he advocates we buy a “system” (a word that is usually the key indicator of useless expensive kit) whose manufacturers claim it can shoot down mortar rounds in flight.

Well, when it’s working, if the enemy chooses to shoot at the camp that got the scarce gadget, and until they invent a countermeasure (like chaff stuffed in the tail of their 107mm rockets, say). This is a classic example of cheap, highly available 4GW that entrains incredibly expensive technofixes on the part of conventional armies. Far better to take the money Northo wants to give Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Boeing, Rockwell, Raytheon and Co and pay a large bonus to recruit more linguists and agent handlers for the Intelligence Corps, so there might be a chance of finding out who is firing the mortars. And that way, perhaps we wouldn’t just have discovered that General Richards’ interpreter was an Iranian spy.

(Seriously, the guy is a nightclub owner and salsa instructor as well as a TA I-man. How could he not be a spy of one persuasion or the other?)

In other North-related news,
HRW picks up the “ambulance hoax” bullshit and hoofs it into Row Z.
Bloggers were said to be collapsing with asphyxia awaiting Dick’s apology.

Yet more stupid giant floating radar news. Not only can’t it keep the sea if the weather turns bad, not only is there no sea boat, and no security – but its support vessel won’t be able to go alongside it most of the time, according to the US Coast Guard. This really is one of the poster children for Stupid Defence Procurement, no?

Speaking of stupid defence procurement, Richard North has issued a Christmas list of stuff he thinks the armed forces need. Predictably, all but one item on it comes from either BAE or the United States, and it’s all very expensive, electronic and Rumsfeldesque, not to mention tactically defensive. For example, he advocates we buy a “system” (a word that is usually the key indicator of useless expensive kit) whose manufacturers claim it can shoot down mortar rounds in flight.

Well, when it’s working, if the enemy chooses to shoot at the camp that got the scarce gadget, and until they invent a countermeasure (like chaff stuffed in the tail of their 107mm rockets, say). This is a classic example of cheap, highly available 4GW that entrains incredibly expensive technofixes on the part of conventional armies. Far better to take the money Northo wants to give Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Boeing, Rockwell, Raytheon and Co and pay a large bonus to recruit more linguists and agent handlers for the Intelligence Corps, so there might be a chance of finding out who is firing the mortars. And that way, perhaps we wouldn’t just have discovered that General Richards’ interpreter was an Iranian spy.

(Seriously, the guy is a nightclub owner and salsa instructor as well as a TA I-man. How could he not be a spy of one persuasion or the other?)

In other North-related news,
HRW picks up the “ambulance hoax” bullshit and hoofs it into Row Z.
Bloggers were said to be collapsing with asphyxia awaiting Dick’s apology.

Remember this post regarding the US military’s gigantic floating X-band radar installation? Well, it turned out that the 282 foot long, 50,000 tonne beast that is meant to be a key part of the ballistic missile defence scheme wasn’t in position during the North Korean missile scare because it was in need of dockyard attention in Hawaii.

It turns out that the problems with it are worse than we thought. Essentially, as you could have guessed by looking at it, it’s desperately unseaworthy, and its planned station is in one of the stormiest seas on earth. Not just that, but it can’t be towed in waves of more than 8 feet and therefore can’t move if the sea gets up, and it doesn’t have a sea-boat that could be launched to rescue a man overboard. Not to mention the total lack of any self-defence capability (although the sea ought to see to that tolerably well).

Yours for $815 million.

Remember this post? Not only did it have rockets, plausible deniability and much more comments-rocking stuff, it also had a gigantic sea-going radar station. Chris Williams remarked in comments that

“We only need a submarine and a glamorous lady spy and we’ve got an Alastair Maclean thriller.”

I disagree. The giant floating radar turned up off Hawaii, the Hawaii Star-Bulletin reports, in need of dockyard assistance after spending the last few months on its sea trials around the islands (so it certainly wasn’t anywhere near its station off Alaska when the missile crisis-ette was going on). And it’s not Alistair MacLean it calls to mind. Take a look.

Mr. Bond - I've been expecting you..

If that isn’t the spitting image of deranged shipping tycoon Karl Stromberg’s secret submarine base in The Spy who Loved Me, I dunno what is. It’s 28 storeys high, 282 feet long and displaces 50,000 tons.

Remember this post? Not only did it have rockets, plausible deniability and much more comments-rocking stuff, it also had a gigantic sea-going radar station. Chris Williams remarked in comments that

“We only need a submarine and a glamorous lady spy and we’ve got an Alastair Maclean thriller.”

I disagree. The giant floating radar turned up off Hawaii, the Hawaii Star-Bulletin reports, in need of dockyard assistance after spending the last few months on its sea trials around the islands (so it certainly wasn’t anywhere near its station off Alaska when the missile crisis-ette was going on). And it’s not Alistair MacLean it calls to mind. Take a look.

Mr. Bond - I've been expecting you..

If that isn’t the spitting image of deranged shipping tycoon Karl Stromberg’s secret submarine base in The Spy who Loved Me, I dunno what is. It’s 28 storeys high, 282 feet long and displaces 50,000 tons.