One day after Iran claimed to have brought down an advanced U.S. RQ-170 Sentinel drone, Public Intelligence received an Air Force report saying the drone suffers from many electronic vulnerabilities (via Jeffrey Carr at Digital Dao).
The report, Operating Next-Generation Remotely Piloted Aircraft for Irregular Warfare was published “For Official Use Only” (FOUO) in April 2011 by the U.S. Air Force Scientific Advisory Board, and addresses electronic threats to the American drone fleet.
The board found a list of problems, including communications vulnerabilities and lost communication events.
From Digital Dao:
Section 2.4.3 “Threat to Communication Links” expands on the state of vulnerabilities for [drones]:
- Jamming of commercial satellite communications (SATCOM) links is a widely available technology. It can provide an effective tool for adversaries against data links or as a way for command and control (C2) denial.
- Operational needs may require the use of unencrypted data links to provide broadcast services to ground troops without security clearances. Eavesdropping on these links is a known exploit that is available to adversaries for extremely low cost.
- Spoofing or hijacking links can lead to damaging missions, or even to platform loss.
Section 2.4.4 “Threat to Position, Navigation, and Guidance”:
- Small, simple GPS noise jammers can be easily constructed and employed by an unsophisticated adversary and would be effective over a limited RPA operating area.
- GPS repeaters are also available for corrupting navigation capabilities of RPAs.
- Cyber threats represent a major challenge for future RPA operations. Cyber attacks can affect both on-board and ground systems, and exploits may range from asymmetric CNO attacks to highly sophisticated electronic systems and software attacks.
This information is particularly interesting given the exclusive interview of an Iranian engineer by Scott Peterson and Payam Faramarzi at the Christian Science Monitor.
The CSM story says an Iranian electronic warfare specialist, and his team, overrode the drones communications systems based on information gleaned from the previously downed U.S. drones in Iran.
Once in control of the Sentinel, Iran reprogrammed the craft’s GPS coordinates to make the drone think it was landing at its home base, when actually it was setting down deep in Iran.
“The GPS navigation is the weakest point,” the Iranian engineer told the Monitor, giving the most detailed description yet published of Iran’s “electronic ambush” of the highly classified US drone. “By putting noise [jamming] on the communications, you force the bird into autopilot. This is where the bird loses its brain.”
The “spoofing” technique that the Iranians used – which took into account precise landing altitudes, as well as latitudinal and longitudinal data – made the drone “land on its own where we wanted it to, without having to crack the remote-control signals and communications” from the US control center, says the engineer.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta refused, however, to say whether the drone could have been brought down by an electronic attack.
- Exclusive: Iran hijacked US drone, says Iranian engineer – The Christian Science Monitor (csmonitor.com)
- Iran Claims They Hacked US Drone GPS System (inquisitr.com)
- Iran alleges GPS spoofing tricked CIA’s lost stealth drone – Electronista (electronista.com)
- U.S. drone hijacked by GPS hack? (news.cnet.com)
- Iran Hacked, Hijacked U.s. Drone…report (colonel6.com)
- How Iran hacked super-secret CIA stealth drone (rt.com)
Congress pins hopes of securing US border on unmanned drones
The MQ-9 Predator B, an unmanned surveillance aircraft system, is unveiled by US Customs and Border Protection at Libby Army Airfield on Oct. 30, 2006 in Sierra Vista, Ariz. (Gary Williams/AFP/Getty Images)
Teri SchultzDecember 6, 2011 06:21
LUNA COUNTY, New Mexico — Raymond Cobos, the sheriff in these parts, said the horrors of Mexico’s drug war aren’t limited to the big cities of Juarez or Tijuana, and are creeping closer and closer to the United States everyday.
Just across the border sits Puerto Palomas, a Mexican town where Americans used to go — in relative safety — to shop, eat out and seek low-cost medical procedures.
But last years things began to change. And then, Cobos said, shocking events began happening on his doorstep.
“We saw the violence first-hand: the bodies, the tortures, the decapitations. People going to church found three heads displayed there in the plaza,” he said. “There doesn’t seem to be any single town anywhere of any prominence in Mexico that hasn’t had at one time a series of horrible criminal events in which people have been murdered, tortured, mutilated.”
Now fear is growing that such violence will spill over onto American soil and some officials are hoping that an increased reliance on unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, will help stem the tide.
More from GlobalPost: Complete coverage of the Drone Wars
Although the number of Mexicans illegally crossing into the United States is declining, the potential for drug-related violence — especially as an ongoing war among Mexican drug cartels continues to spiral — has reestablished border security as a hot-button issue, and made the use of drones along the border ever more popular.
The Congressional Unmanned Systems Caucus, commonly known as the Drone Caucus, is a congressional group that works to promote the use of drones both domestically and abroad. It has doubled its membership since January while the number of drones used on the border to track illegal immigrants and drug activity has also steadily increased.
A bipartisan group formed in 2009, the Drone Caucus argues that UAVs are a peerless asset whose use should be amplified not only in weaponized strikes against extremists abroad, but also for the surveillance and tracking of those trying to breach US borders.
Drones now troll the southern border from California to Louisiana, and the northern border from Washington to Minnesota. With a potential flight time of more than 20 hours, the drones make it feasible to cover vast expanses of difficult terrain, while “pilots” split the shifts on the ground.
The first Predator drone was assigned to the southwest border in 2005. Four more soon followed, with the fifth delivered in October to the Naval Air Station Corpus Christi, in the district of Rep. Henry Cuellar, who is a co-chair of the Drone Caucus. A sixth will soon arrive in Sierra Vista, Ariz., and two more monitor the northern border out of North Dakota’s Grand Forks Air Force Base.
More from GlobalPost: Are the drone wars legal?
Maj. Gen. Michael Kostelnik, a retired Air Force pilot who has been working with unmanned technology since the 1990s, said that in his current post as assistant commissioner for the US Customs and Border Protection’s Office of Air and Marine, the drones could prove an invaluable tool.
“If you look at how important the UAVs have been in defense missions overseas,” Kostelnik said from Washington, DC, “it’s not really rocket science to make adjustments for how important those things could be in the homeland for precisely the same reasons.”
Other than the fact that border patrol aircraft do not carry weapons — and despite the presidential campaign rhetoric, Kostelnik said they don’t intend to weaponize them — the units are identical to those used in Pakistan and elsewhere in terms of intelligence collection and real-time interdiction support for agents on the ground.
Tucson Border Patrol Division Chief John Fitzpatrick said it was difficult to put into numbers just how valuable the drones could be for border security.
“Whenever the aircraft shows up, the agents on the ground are more successful and more efficient in what they do,” he said. “It gives us a lot of capabilities we didn’t have before.”
He acknowledged that there was some discomfort with the technology from people living in the area, who worried that the government would be looking into their backyards.
More from GlobalPost: The rationale behind the Drone Wars
“We reassure them there’s accountability in everything we do,” Fitzpatrick said.
For now, supply appears to be outweighing the need and on Capitol Hill, the Drone Caucus appears to be in overdrive. The last three UAVs purchased for border patrol — at a price tag of $32 million from the 2010 budget — were not even requested by Customs and Border Protection, according to an official from the Department of Homeland Security who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Congress sent no extra money for missions or maintenance, despite reports that planes already in service remain grounded at times due to a shortage of pilots, spare parts and other logistical restraints.
Customs and Border Protection reported that drones have been responsible for the apprehension of 7,500 illegal immigrants since they began operating six years ago — a tiny fraction of the total number of arrests that have been made over the same period. Using other means, in six years, the agency has apprehended almost 5 million people.
T.J. Bonner, head of the National Border Patrol Council, a labor union representing border patrol agents, said the low numbers prove that money is better spent on manned aircraft and boots on the ground.
More from GlobalPost: The people behind the drones
“People play with the facts around this stuff,” Kostelnik said with frustration, acknowledging that high-profile, targeted killings overseas have politicized even unweaponized missions.
When asked what help he needed most back in Luna County, Sheriff Cobos said he would prioritize “boots on the ground,” but wouldn’t object to a little unmanned help.
Unlike Texas and Arizona, New Mexico doesn’t have a facility to receive data from drones, so it has had to rely primarily on a low-tech approach — manually tracking known routes with a night-vision scope, searching abandoned houses and sidling along the border, watching for Mexicans climbing and jumping off the 12-foot high border fence.
The other states are “banging their drums while we’re using a popsicle stick,” Cobos said about New Mexico.
“Sooner or later the cartels are going to say, ‘Hey, why aren’t we utilizing this space? Why are we trying to shove it through Arizona and Texas?’” he said. “The possibility [there’s] going to be a catastrophic civil war in Mexico is pretty high, and I have to face the probability that at some point I have to deal with it.”
- US farm drama: Predator drone assists an arrest (mb50.wordpress.com)
- Local cops using Predator drones to spy on Americans in their own backyards | Mail Online (worldwright.wordpress.com)
- Drones cleared for domestic use across the US (rt.com)
- Border Patrol Constructing Unmanned Texas Border Crossing (maboulette.wordpress.com)
- How the Drone Warfare Industry Took Over Our Congress (alternet.org)
- Feds Use More Predator Drones To Secure Southern Border (huffingtonpost.com)
- Prison Planet.com ” Drones Officially Take Flight For Domestic Law Enforcement (gunnyg.wordpress.com)
This week, a member of Iran’s National Security Committee intimated that Iran would soon demonstrate that it could close the Strait of Hormuz to oil tanker traffic. Paryiz Saryari, a member of Iran’s sham parliament, added this bit of rhetorical fire: “If the world wants to make the region (i.e., Iran) insecure, we will make the world insecure.”
The Strait of Hormuz connects the oil-rich Persian Gulf region to the Gulf of Oman and the Indian Ocean. Closing the Strait to shipping effectively imposes a naval blockade on the Arab states along the Gulf’s littoral. That’s grim, for it amounts to waging war on several US allies, including Iraq and Saudi Arabia.
It gets grimmer. On any given day, some 30 percent of the globe’s seaborne oil supply sails through the geographic choke-point; thus closing the Strait threatens international energy security.
Missiles and mines bolster Saryari’s bombast. Iran possesses sufficient military forces to seal the channel. Anti-ship mines, high-speed anti-ship missiles and torpedoes pose the biggest problems. Iran also has a few submarines. Strikes by suicide aircraft and swarm attacks by suicide speedboats are possible.
Yes, this is a grim scenario, and in the looming future grimmer still, once Iran’s Khomeinist despots possess nuclear weapons — which they don’t, not yet … we hope.
Cynics argue that the ayatollahs’ cynicism, which is as amply evident as is their corruption, will keep Hormuz open. Immediately following Saryari’s threat, world oil prices spiked three to four dollars. Iranian government oil traders, given a heads-up that the verbal threat was coming, could have made millions, with the cash lining a Revolutionary Guard officer’s pocket, or an ayatollah’s robe, or going into an account to illicitly purchase nuclear weapon detonators.
An uncertain logic undergirds this cynical read. The ayatollahs know that actually closing the strait amounts to a self-blockade. Iran’s major oil-exporting seaports lie on the Persian Gulf (e.g., Kharg Island). The regime buys what domestic peace it enjoys with oil money. Choke the strait, and the ayatollahs strangle themselves. So they won’t do it, if economic logic overrides theological millenarianism.
Economic logic, however, does not guide the ayatollahs’ nuclear quest. If they ditched their nukes, sanctions would end and the threat of U.S. or Israeli attack would drastically diminish. Yet the centrifuges continue to spin; so do threats to annihilate Israel. Last month, Iran threatened to attack missile defense radar sites in Turkey.
The grim consequences of closing Hormuz are why Western and Persian Gulf Arab militaries are prepared to defend the strait, break any Iranian blockade and clear the strait of mines.
The grim consequences of Iran’s regime acquiring nuclear weapons are why U.S. spy drones scrutinize Iranian nuclear facilities and why mysterious bomb blasts (Mossad at work?) plague Iranian labs. It appears the Obama administration has finally understood that negotiations and sanctions won’t halt the quest and that the Bush administration was right — the ayatollahs are hellbent on nukes. So the Obama Administration has decided to wage a covert war on Iranian nuclear capabilities.
That alone, however, does not explain the desperate quality of Iran’s recent belligerency. Domestically, the regime survives by threatening its people with its street thugs and secret police. Syria’s dictatorship (an Iranian ally) has failed to crush its rebels with these brutal tools.
That seeds desperation in Tehran, but Tunisia may be a bigger source of concern.
As Hussein Ibish noted at NOWLebanon.com, recent “bickering” among Tunisian parliamentarians was delightful because “there was no monarch, no dictatorship, no junta or oppressive military, no killings, no militias, no riots and no hint of civil conflict, foreign interference or invasion” present. Another democracy is emerging in a culturally Islamic society. It’s fragile, but for Iran’s tyrants, it is to be feared
- Iran To Practice Closing Strait Of Hormuz (mb50.wordpress.com)
- Oil surges on speculation of supply disruption, U.S. stimulus (mb50.wordpress.com)
- Iranian Official Threatens Military Drill Sealing Off the Strait of Hormuz (foxnews.com)
- Oil Prices Jump on Threat from Iran (247wallst.com)
- Oil: Iran’s Hormuz Strait Threats Could Wreak Global Economic Havoc (forbes.com)
- Do We Have The Will? (garnetspy.com)