Here's a little tidbit to impress your friends this weekend: Bloomberg Government just published a report on the Pentagon's and Intelligence Communities' classified spending and found that the vast majority of classified weapons development money goes to the U.S. Air Force.
That's right, the flyboys get the most cash to develop everything from super-secret stealth bombers and spy planes to space and cyber weaponry, according to the report.
"Almost all classified procurement money and two-thirds of the research and development funds were allocated to the Air Force," reads the B-Gov report. "About $17 billion of Air Force classified funds are labeled ‘Other Procurement,' which probably includes money for space and cyber programs."
The report points out that big chunk of cash in the Air Force's classified budget is for the service's new bomber (I took the iPhone photo above of Northrop Grumman's concept design for the bomber a couple of years ago at a trade show. It apparently rides rainbows of doom).
The Air Force requested $292 million for fiscal 2013 to develop a new strategic bomber. The funding for it will quickly rise to $2.7 billion in fiscal 2017, making it the largest special access program in that year.
The bomber is a stealth jet that's supposed to work hand in hand with a "family" of other stealthy spy planes and fighter jets, along with satellites, to go out and hunt down targets in heavily defended airspace, Air Force leaders have repeatedly said.
The planned fleet of 80 to 100 new stealth bombers will be built using existing technology in order to get them into service by the 2020s (some think that the planes are already flying over the Nevada desert) and will be designed to be "optionally-manned."
This means that the aircraft doesn't need pilots aboard for the most dangerous conventional strike missions (it can also help for incredibly long missions that would be too long for pilots to endure.) However, for less risky sorties or nuclear strike missions, the plane would be manned.
While Iran's got a somewhat less than "Epic" new propeller-powered UAV, China might be jumping on the stealth drone bandwagon sooner than you thought.
Until now, we've seen photos of Chinese-made versions of propeller-driven drones that strongly resemble their American counterparts like the MQ-9 Reaper.
China has been developing what amount to mock-ups and model airplanes of stealth drones for years now. But it's unclear whether the plane shown above is an actual production jet, or just another mock up. (It might also be a fake, like this false image of a Chinese stealth jet that was circulating the Internet in 2011.)
While there's no way of verifying these grainy photos show a plane that could actually fly, Wired's Danger Room points out that the Pentagon's latest report on Chinese military capabilities says that the PLA is working to field "Unmanned Combat Air Vehicles [that] will increase China's ability to conduct long-range reconnaissance and strike operations." The Pentagon usually describes stealth drones like the X-47B and others with very similar language.
Some online forums claim the aircraft is being built for use by the Chinese air force and navy and that it conducted ground tests in December 2012 and is being readied for a flight test later this year. The introduction of such a weapon would make sense given the PLA's desire to project greater power throughout the Western Pacific. A partial list of platforms to support this strategy includes the J-20 and J-31 stealth fighters, aircraft carriers, and strategic jet transport planes.
The U.S. Navy is hoping to have a fleet of carrier-launcher stealth jet drones that can perform long-range surveillance and strike missions by the early 2020s. The Navy sees these jets as key to its strategy of operating in the Pacific Ocean, particularly since China's development of weapons aims to keep U.S. ships far from its shores. The battle for unmanned aerial supremacy is definitely heating up.
The stealth arms race is spreading. This image, snapped by a Flight Global reporter, Tolga Ozbek, at this year's International Defense Industry Fair in Istanbul, Turkey, this week, is apparently one of three proposed stealth fighter designs for the Turkish Air Force.
The new jets are being developed under a program called TFX aimed at producing a locally made fighter (with a little help from Swedish jet-maker, Saab) to replace Turkey's fleet of F-16s. The plan is that they will be operational sometime in the early 2020s and compliment Turkey's fleet of 116 U.S.-made F-35 Joint Strike Fighters.
If TFX gets past the design phase, Turkey will join the United States, Russia, and China as the sole developers and operators of manned stealth fighter jets. Japan may be Turkey to the Punch with its stealth fighter program called ATD-X. (South Korea is trying to develop its own stealth jet by the 2020s, but that effort has been put on hold.)
But a big question remains for nations developing manned stealth jets: Are they even needed given the advent of stealth drones like the U.S. Navy's X-47B, France's nEUROn and Britain's Taranis that can perform reconnaissance and ground attack missions -- and even land on aircraft carrier decks? One can only imagine what unmanned planes under development 10 years from now will be capable of doing.
The Pentagon's latest report on the capabilities of the Chinese military mentions an important aspect to its buildup: China's efforts to develop advanced technologies that have both civil and military use. This means that China is trying to acquire tech that can be used to drive modern aerospace, computing, and transportation industries -- as well as 21st-century military equipment.
How does it get this information? Everything from outright cyber theft to old-fashioned espionage to legitimate business partnerships.
As the report says:
The Chinese utilize a large, well-organized network to facilitate collection of sensitive information and export-controlled technology from U.S. defense sources. Many of the organizations composing China's military-industrial complex have both military and civilian research and development functions. This network of government-affiliated companies and research institutes often enables the PLA to access sensitive and dual-use technologies or knowledgeable experts under the guise of civilian research and development. The enterprises and institutes accomplish this through technology conferences and symposia, legitimate contracts and joint commercial ventures, partnerships with foreign firms, and joint development of specific technologies. In the case of key national security technologies,
controlled equipment, and other materials not readily obtainable through commercial means or academia, China has utilized its intelligence services and employed other illicit approaches that involve violations of U.S. laws and export controls
Here's a look at a handful of interesting cases of Chinese efforts to get a hold of technology -- both military and civilian -- that could help its military catch up with its Western counterparts.
First up is China's biggest chunk of modern military hardware, its sole aircraft carrier, the Liaoning. Chinese investors bought the Soviet-built ship -- sans engines, electronics, or weapons -- from Ukraine in 2001 with the stated purpose of turning it into a floating gambling den. We all know how that worked out. Instead of becoming a casino (or luxury hotel like the former Soviet carrier Kiev) Liaoning was commissioned into the PLA Navy last year and it'll serve as China's starter carrier, a floating lab where the navy can master carrier operations before it commissions at least two more carriers in the next decade or so. These ships -- and a crop of modern destroyers and other ships -- are meant to help China project power throughout the Western Pacific.
Then, there's its development of stealthy jets that strongly resemble (on the outside, at least) U.S.-made F-22 Raptors and F-35 Joint Strike Fighters. Remember, Chinese hackers reportedly broke into the networks of defense contractors working on the F-35 (including Lockheed Martin, maker of both the F-35 and F-22). In an interesting coincidence, China revealed its J-20 stealth jet in late 2010 boasting a nose section that looks a lot like the F-22's, right down to parts of the canopy design and what might be a 3-D heads up display. Then, last year, China unveiled its second stealthy fighter, the J-31 (below). That plane bears a way-too-close-for-comfort resemblance to the F-22 and the F-35. (Last year, a U.S. Air Force official pointed out that the F-35's computerized maintenance system containing tons of information about the jet had to be redesigned after it was found to be vulnerable to hackers.)
In September 2012, the United States convicted Sixing Liu, a Chinese citizen working for a U.S. defense contractor, of bringing electronic files containing "details on the performance and design of" guidance systems for missiles, rocket target-designators, and even UAVS, the Pentagon's latest report points out. The document also recounts that two Taiwanese nationals were charged in March 2012 with planning to get their hands on "sensitive U.S. defense technology" and passing it to China. The pair, Hui Sheng Shen and Huan Ling Chang, were allegedly going to take pictures of the technology, delete the images from their cameras, and then bring the memory cards back to China where the images would be recovered.
The DOD report also lists the case of aircraft engine-maker, Pratt & Whitney Canada (a subsidiary of U.S. defense giant United Technologies Corporation) illegally giving engine control software to China for use in its latest attack helicopter, the Z-10. UTC and two subsidiaries ended up having to pay a $50 million fine and had some of its export license privileges suspended temporarily as part of a settlement deal with U.S. authorities.
Then there's the case of U.S. defense giant General Electric's partnership with China's state-owned aviation firm COMAC -- a program aimed at developing digital avionics for China's first domestically made jetliner, the COMAC 919 (shown below). GE came under fire from Virginia congressman Randy Forbes, who claimed the technology used to develop next-generation airliner avionics was inked to the same technology used in the U.S. Air Force's premier fighter, the F-22. Forbes worried that sharing information on even a civilian version of these avionics would allow China to develop them for military use. The deal remains on, but given the news we've heard in the last year or so about Chinese hackers, one hopes that GE is being extra vigilant in protecting its most sensitive information.
The predecessor of the avionics deal is GE's partnership with AVIC (COMAC's parent firm) to develop modern jet engines in China. It might seem like decades-old technology, but building jet engines, especially those used in 21st-century fighter jets, are one of the toughest engineering challenges in aviation. AVIC has partnered with GE in an attempt to develop engines capable of powering large aircraft: from civilian jetliners to military transports, radar planes to bombers. As U.S. Naval War College professor Andrew Erickson has said, these joint ventures could "give the Chinese aerospace industry a 100 piece puzzle with 90 of the pieces already assembled. Enough is left out so that the exporting companies can comply with the letter of the export control laws, but in reality, a rising military power is potentially being given relatively low-cost recipes for building the jet engines needed to power key military power projection platforms."
Chinese Internet, Wikimedia Commons
So what's new in the Defense Department's new report about Chinese military capabilities? The biggest news seems to be that the Pentagon is actually saying that Chinese-military hackers are attacking its networks. Not that this should be news to readers of Killer Apps.
The report states that numerous U.S. government computer systems around the world are being "targeted for intrusions, some of which appear to be attributable directly to the Chinese government and military." It goes on to say that China is using cyber espionage to collect intelligence on U.S. diplomatic, economic, and "defense industrial base sectors that support U.S. national defense programs."
The same skills being used by Chinese cyberspies to steal information could easily be used in a destructive attack against U.S. networks, the report points out.
Preventing cyber espionage and cyber attacks is "a consequences calculation and the consequences aren't there," said one Senate staffer who works on cyber issues. For "everybody from your common hacker to your professional hacker to the nation states, the consequences aren't there" to deter these kinds of actions.
He went on to compare the current era of cyber espionage to the "Napster days" of free music downloading.
"There was nothing that was going to deter college-age students from ripping off music until there was a consequence that was associated with it and the RIAA [Recording Industry Association of America] had to go out there and start suing," said the staffer.
Richard Bejtlich, chief security officer at Mandiant, thinks that while it's important for the U.S. government to call out the Chinese government's bad behavior, it's going to take more than harsh language to deter state-backed cyber espionage. (Remember, Mandiant is the firm that published a report in February detailing the exploits of what is believed to be a PLA hacking unit against worldwide targets, including the U.S. government.)
"It's important for noncommercial, government entities like DOD to make definitive statements on Chinese cyber capabilities," Bejtlich told Killer Apps. However, "because the Chinese consider espionage a tool for economic development, and the economy is one of their top national security concerns, they will not change course if the U.S. only complains with words. They are more likely to constrain their behavior if the U.S. imposes specific sanctions and exercises all elements of national power."
Bejtlich's comments echo those of Rep. Mike Rogers, chair of the House Intelligence Committee who has repeatedly urged the State Department to impose sanctions on any foreigner found to aid cyber espionage against the United States government or businesses.
Happy Monday. Here's some drone history being made: This video shows the U.S. Navy's X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System demonstrator (UCAS-D) making its very first arrested landing. On May 4, the stealthy drone landed aboard a mock aircraft carrier flight deck, painted on a runway at the Navy's airbase at Patuxent River, Md.
The Northrop Grumman-made X-47B is meant to prove that the Navy can operate a fighter jet-sized stealthy drone from aircraft carriers -- paving the way for a fleet of similar aircraft to enter service around 2020 under a program called Unmanned Carrier Launched Surveillance and Strike or UCLASS. The Navy is testing the X-47B's ability to do everything from safely taxi around a crowded flight deck to takeoff and land autonomously on a carrier's four-acre deck (a human simply gives the plane clearance to land and then monitors the jet while a computer controls the actual maneuvers).
The X-47B is slated to fly from an actual aircraft carrier for the first time in the next year or so; the whole demonstration program will run until 2015.
Meanwhile, the sea service will soon give Northrop, Boeing, Lockheed, and General Atomics contracts to flesh out their designs for a stealthy, carrier-launched drone capable of flying through advanced air defenses, spying on potential targets, and even dropping bombs on them under the UCLASS program. That program is intended to incorporate the lessons learned from the Navy's experience with the X-47B to field operational jets by the end of this decade.
As the militaries of the United States and Britain purchase more and more of the same networked hardware, most notably the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (above), the two nations are increasing collaboration in cyber warfare, according to a Pentagon official.
"Cybersecurity is a growing area of cooperation between the United States and the United Kingdom," the official told Killer Apps. "We're sharing more information and going deeper into threat analysis and response planning than we ever have before. Both nations firmly agree we need improved multilateral cyber coordination and we're working to do just that. Cyber will also be on the agenda for discussions at the upcoming NATO conference in June."
His comments come a day after British Defence (with a "c") Secretary Phil Hammond was in Washington meeting with U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to discuss the situation in Syria, the war in Afghanistan, how to deal with Iran, and visit U.S. Cyber Command at Fort Meade, MD. (As is sadly the norm, a spokesman for the command could not talk about Hammond's visit to Fort Meade.)
While much of the discussion between the two officials centered current or potential conflict zones and major weapons buys like the F-35, Hagel announced that the two allies will increase their cooperation in the cyber world.
"The United Kingdom's continued commitment to [the F-35] program, and our growing cooperation in new priority areas like cyber, is helping ensure this alliance has the kind of [cutting-edge] capabilities needed for the future," Hagel said during a Pentagon press conference yesterday.
"The U.K. and the U.S. remain in lock step on these projects, and as we take them forward, we will ensure the continuity of those vital capabilities," added Hammond.
It makes sense for the two to discuss F-35 and cyber in the same breath. The F-35 relies on tens of thousands of lines of software code to function. It is perhaps, the most networked plane in history, using software to do everything from fire weapons to beam chunks of data to other aircraft or command centers. Last fall, Killer Apps reported that the jet's computerized maintenance system was found to be vulnerable to hacking -- meaning that, if penetrated by spies, they could see everything from how many pilots were available to fly the jets to the maintenance status of all the airplanes in a squadron.
This comes just after Bloomberg news reported that QinetiQ, a British defense firm (that used to be a Ministry of Defense research agency until it was privatized in 2001 suffered) a series of major cybersecurity breaches at the hands of Chinese government hackers. QinetiQ works on a host of advanced technologies from cyber to robotics with U.S. government agencies such as the DOD and the Department of Energy. In fact, the firm runs Britain's version of Area 51, a site known as MoD Boscombe Down and has been called the inspiration for the workplace of James Bond's gadget-maker, Q.
This week's crash of a civilian cargo jet at Bagram airfield in Afghanistan highlights the fact that the U.S. military relies on a private air force to move enormous amounts of supplies and numbers of people around the globe.
The jet that crashed at Bagram (shown above) was a Boeing 747-400 that had been converted from a passenger jet into a freighter for Florida-based National Airlines, one of the many little-known civilian carriers that keep the U.S. military and intelligence agencies supplied around the globe. The plane was said to be transporting five MRAP armored vehicles (which are incredibly heavy) from Afghanistan to Dubai -- a route the airline had been flying for about a month prior to the crash.
Here are just a few more of the many private airlines that serve the U.S. government on a regular basis:
Spend any time at BWI Airport and you'll see MD-11s sitting on the ramp, painted in the livery of World Airlines, a contractor that flies U.S. troops to Europe and the Middle East. They usually operate out of a terminal reserved for the U.S. Air Force's Air Mobility Command -- the organization that operates more than a thousand cargo and tanker aircraft such a C-5 Galaxies, C-17 Globemaster IIIs, C-130 Hercules, KC-135 Stratotankers, and KC-10 Extenders. Despite all these planes dedicated to moving troops and materiel, the service still contracts with dozens of private airlines.
Frequently sharing ramp space at BWI with World Airlines is North American Airlines, the company that provided a Boeing 767 for Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign. The charter-jet provider operates five 767s that are frequently used to ferry U.S. soldiers around the world.
The Washington state-based Evergreen Aviation is supposedly one of the successors to the CIA's legendary Air America -- famous for hauling everything from chickens to drugs (allegedly) throughout Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. (In 1968, an Air America UH-1 Huey chopper actually shot down a Soviet-made An-2 Cub cargo plane flown by the North Vietnamese air force.) The company has done everything from supporting CIA missions to operating one of the largest aerial firefighting aircraft in the world: the Evergreen Supertanker, an old 747 passenger jet that was converted to carry more than 20,000 gallons of fire suppressant.
Tepper Aviation is a company that operates a fleet of ghost-white Lockheed L-100s (the civilian version of the C-130 Hercules), allegedly conducting missions for the CIA all over the globe, possibly including prisoner transport. As would be expected, Tepper has no website. However, if you search Google Maps for the small airport in Crestview, Fla., where Tepper is reportedly based, you'll find a large facility on the southeast corner of the runway with a U.S. Air Force C-130 parked nearby and a hangar with the logo of defense giant L-3 Communications painted on the roof. (Click here to see apparent pics of the flight deck of one of tepper's planes while it was stopped in Japan with some "diplomatic" cargo aboard.)
And who can forget Presidential Airways. This former Blackwater subsidiary is famous for a 2004 incident in which a CASA 212 ferrying U.S. troops from Bagram to Farah, Afghanistan crashed into a canyon wall after the pilot became disoriented, killing three soldiers and three civilian crew. This incident brought attention to the fact that small carriers were hauling U.S. troops around battlefields even though the U.S. Air Force, Army, and Marines have thousands of planes and helicopters designated for such tasks. Despite increases in the number of military tactical airlifter missions in the Middle East since then, the U.S. military still relies on contractors to support the massive task of keeping its troops supplied via air in Afghanistan.
John Reed reports on the frontiers of cyber war and the latest in military technology for Killer Apps.