WannaCry malware hits Boeing facility (but to little effect).
Early on March 28th Boeing detected the presence of WannaCry malware on some of its systems in South Carolina. The affected facility is mainly engaged in 777 production. Boeing said it swiftly isolated and remediated the infection, and that production and normal operations were unaffected.
Missile defense test successes and operational failures.
Lockheed Martin announced successful test interceptions by Patriot Advanced Capability 3 missiles at the White Sands Missile Range during the first week of March, but that news has been overshadowed by controversy at month's end over the weapon's effectiveness in Saudi operational use.
Yemen's Houthi rebels fired more ballistic missiles—Scud-derivatives—into Saudi Arabia on March 25th. At least one of the missiles reached Riyadh, killing at least one person on the ground. It's unclear whether the man who was killed was hit by debris from the Houthi missiles or from the Patriot missiles fired to intercept them.
The Houthi forces use the Burkan-2H, a member of the extended family of Scuds that includes the Iranian Qiam 1 and Shahab 2 missiles. In Houthi use it's been equipped with a high-explosive warhead and has a maximum range of between 500 and 550 miles. The source for the Houthi missiles is unclear, but the likeliest supplier would appear to be Iran. The Houthi inventory of Burkan-2H surely does not represent indigenous production.
Saudi authorities said most of the missiles were shot down, claiming that seven of the Patriot Advanced Capability 2 interceptors they fired hit inbound missiles, but this has been widely disputed and is generally disbelieved. Other sources said at least five of the Patriots fired in response to the Houthi barrage malfunctioned. Observers say that two Patriots exploded prematurely during their initial boost phase (within four seconds of launch), and that another three were seen to have veered off-course and downward into the ground during the subsequent target search phase.
The Patriot has been controversial since the air defense system's adaptation to an anti-missile role during the 1991 Gulf War, when the system's apparent successes against Iraqi Scuds were swiftly called into question. Since then it has figured prominently in US and allied ballistic missile defenses, most recently in deployments (with upgrades) to South Korea in response to the North Korean missile threat. The apparent difficulties the system experienced at the end of March will raise questions about the Patriot's effectiveness.
The Patriot continues to attract buyers nonetheless. On March 28th Poland concluded a definitive agreement to acquire two Patriot Configuration 3+ batteries (a total of four fire units) for the country's Wisla air defense program. This system is the latest one deployed by the US Army, which plans to have the Patriot integrated with its other principal anti-missile system, THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Air Defense) within the next two years.
Saudi Crown Prince meets with US President.
Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman began his two-and-a-half week visit to the United States with a White House meeting on March 22nd meeting. The risk of Iranian nuclear proliferation was in the forefront of discussions between President Trump and the Crown Prince. Saudi Arabia is increasingly alarmed by the threat its regional and religious rival Iran poses. The Crown Prince is emphasizing his efforts to modernize the Kingdom and hopes to secure a closer partnership with the United States.
Saudi Arabia has long been especially concerned about the prospect of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons, and is ill at ease with the notion that Iran's weapons program can be restrained through treaties currently in force. In press interviews during his US trip, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman compared Irans leader the Ayatollah Khamenei to Hitler, which in the Crown Prince's usage is not a letter of recommendation. He also suggested that Saudi Arabia could, and would, rapidly acquire nuclear weapons of its own should Iran break its agreement to abandon its own weapons program.
President Trump has long been skeptical of Iranian intentions and has made noises about withdrawing from or at least renegotiating the non-proliferation agreement his predecessor concluded. That skepticism has received its share of criticism, but the President's appointment of the famously Iran-skeptical John Bolton to succeed General McMaster as National Security Advisor suggests that such options remain very much on the table.
North Korean diplomatic moves.
Since its pre-Olympic rounds of alarming missile tests (which Germany's BND this month said demonstrated an ability to hit targets in Europe), North Korea has made irenic gestures toward a diplomatic resolution of tensions on the Korean peninsula. Last week Dear Leader Kim Jong Un visited China for talks with President Xi. These discussions precede by some weeks planned meetings with South Korean President Moon Jai-in and prospective meetings with US President Trump. Observers believe the Chinese leader expressed strong expectations that Kim would commit to working toward denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.
Countries within range of North Korean ballistic missiles, particularly South Korea, Japan, and the United States, have taken various measures to shore up missile defenses. These have included not only upgrades to Patriot batteries and deployment of Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) batteries in South Korea, but also deployment and development of Aegis Ashore SM-3 interceptors to Japan. That country has recently agreed to purchase two Aegis Ashore systems from the United States for approximately $2 billion.
North Korea continues to labor under international sanctions that cripple its autarkic economy and inhibit unconstrained investment in weapons development. Its principal means of working around those sanctions has been online theft. Pyongyang's best-know cyber operations unit, the Lazarus Group, has remained active in cyber theft. The country has also turned to cryptocurrency mining as a way of redressing its financial shortfalls.
Russia tests new missile system during period of heightened tension.
On March 30th Russia made its second test of the new Sarmat ICBM (NATO codename "Satan 2"). President Putin had boasted of the new system's ability to hit targets anywhere in the world and to render defenses "useless" in a speech at the beginning of the month. The Sarmat test flight coincided with diplomatic tensions arising over the attempted assassination by nerve agent of a former GRU officer in Salisbury, England. Russia had earlier in March tested an air-launched hypersonic Kinzhal missile.
The UK and its allies, prominently including the United States, attributed the attack to Russia. Russia has denied involvement, claiming that the incident is either a British or an American provocation (but also suggesting inconsistently that turncoats and spies like the intended victims, Sergey Skripal and his daughter Yulia, deserved whatever they got. The elder Skripal, still unconscious and in critical condition, had been a GRU officer convicted of passing secrets to British intelligence. He was exchanged in a spy swap and became a naturalized British subject. His daughter, now conscious and in stable condition, remains a Russian citizen. In a remarkable display of brass, the Russian consulate has demanded the right to visit her in the hospital so they can attend to her welfare and ensure she's being treated properly.
Missile rattling aside, the greatest concern in the West is of possible Russian cyber attacks against critical infrastructure, particularly power grids.
The normalization of tactical cyber operations.
Cyber operations have been converging with electronic warfare for some years now. They're also on their way to becoming a routine part of US Army tactical operations. Cyber capabilities are being pushed down to brigade-level at least. They're also being integrated in major training exercises, including rotations at the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, California.
US military operations in space.
Extensive US dependence upon space-based assets in military operations have, planners say, exposed US capabilities to disruption. C4ISR is now so thoroughly wrapped up with space operations that the interruption of such operations would severely degrade operational capabilities. (GPS, for example, is so completely embedded in daily operations that the forces deprivation of GPS would render them incapable of many activities now taken for granted.) Planners are considering ways of defending space assets from attack. Such attacks could be either kinetic or, more probably, cyber.
There have also been calls at senior military levels for development of space-based weapons, notably missile defense systems that could operate from orbital platforms.
The US Government continues to mull creation of a Space Corps, probably under the Department of the Air Force but a distinct military service. It would thus be organized roughly the way the Marine Corps exists as a service within the Department of the Navy. The Air Force is said to be cool to the idea, which has supporters in both Congress and the Administration, but speculation about a Space Corps uniform might look like is already, inevitably, in progress.
Commercial launch and satellite operations.
SpaceX continues to demonstrate the reliability of its reusable Falcon 9 launch system as it establishes itself as a viable competitor to the United Launch Alliance. On the afternoon of April 2nd, a recovered and reconditioned Falcon 9 delivered a Dragon resupply capsule to the International Space Station. This marks the eleventh time SpaceX has reused a recovered launch system. The Dragon capsule carrying the supplies (expected to dock with the space station on April 4th) has also flown before. Earlier in March SpaceX reached another milestone, as its fiftieth Falcon 9 flight placed a Hispasat 30W-6 satellite into geosynchronous orbit.
The company announced plans for production of a follow-on to its Falcon Heavy, which was successfully tested on February 6th when it lofted a Tesla roadster into space as a dummy payload. This next family of heavy-lift rockets, the "BFR," bowdlerized as "Big Falcon Rocket," will be built at a Los Angeles facility.
SpaceX also continues testing the first satellites in its projected Starlink broadband Internet system.
Stratolaunch Systems and Orbital ATK continue to work on their plans for using Stratolaunch's very large aircraft as a platform for putting Orbital's Pegasus rockets into space. Another launch venture,
The Space Alliance, a collaboration of European aerospace firms Thales Alenia Space and Telespazio, now has a minority interest in Seattle's Spaceflight Industries. Their intention is to produce and deliver small satellites.
The UK's Space Industry Bill has addressed many of the basics of a commercial space sector: among them spaceflight licensing, insurance requirements, and safety. The UK is also moving toward establishing a commercial astronaut school and, perhaps, the first spaceport to actually be located in Europe.
Chinese space station Tiangong 1 returns to earth.
The Heavenly Palace made its expected, uncontrolled reentry Sunday, its fragments falling for the most part into the Pacific not too far from Tahiti. (No one got hurt. No one got much of a view, either.)
Today's edition of the CyberWire reports events affecting China, the European Union, Germany, Iran, the Republic of Korea, the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea, Poland, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Yemen.
German BND spy agency: North Korean rockets can hit Europe(Deutsche Welle) The disclosure came in a closed-door meeting Germany's foreign intelligence agency held with members of the Bundestag last week, media report. North Korea has pursued missile and nuclear programs despite UN sanctions.
No, Iran Does Not Have an ICBM Program(War on the Rocks) Let’s be realistic: Iran will not surrender its ballistic missile program. Rockets play too central a role in Iran’s defense and deterrence posture, especially given its antiquated and inferior air force. The need for missiles is also deeply embedded in the national psyche, from the days in the mid-1980s when
As UK fires-up private space industry, Space Camp Accelerator launches(TechCrunch) The UK government recently passed the Space Industry Bill, covering the basics like spaceflight licensing, insurance requirements and safety commitments. It didn’t make much of a splash when it was announced, but it’s a huge move for the UK as it laid the regulatory groundwork that will be needed t…
General Dynamics Fights $876M Intelligence System Deal(Law360) The U.S. Army’s $876 million deal to replace its troubled intelligence analysis system has hit a snag, with General Dynamics challenging the decision to hand the award to a Raytheon unit and data analytics firm Palantir after the latter company sued over the service’s alleged failure to properly consider commercial contractors.
SpaceX is making big money moves(TechCrunch) Planning a Mars mission, a global telecommunications network for inexpensive internet service and creating an interplanetary hedge against World War Three isn’t cheap, so it’s no wonder that SpaceX is closing on $500 million in new cash through a financing round led by Fidelity, accordi…
SpaceX and United Launch Alliance land $640 million in Air Force launches(TechCrunch) The U.S. Air Force wants to maintain its options: It awarded a total of $640 million in satellite launch contracts to both SpaceX and the United Launch Alliance (Boeing and Lockheed Martin’s joint space launch venture), with the goal of making sure it has access to at least two options for la…
Iridium Names 6 New Providers of Certus Broadband Service(ExecutiveBiz) Iridium has unveiled the next batch of six companies that will offer the Iridium Certus satellite broadband service for ground-based mobile operations beginning mid-2018. Certus is powered by the Iridium NEXT satellite constellation and will be integrated with Thales‘ MissionLINK terminal to support the off-the-grid missions of public safety, utility, oil and gas, military and non-government...
Thales and Spaceflight Create LeoStella to Manufacture Smallsats(Via Satellite) The Space Alliance formed by Thales Alenia Space and Telespazio announced it has officially taken a minority stake in Seattle-based Spaceflight Industries, having received all government approvals for the transaction. This investment is part of an overall fundraising effort of $150 million from several sources which
Japan launches another reconnaissance satellite(Jane's 360) Japan has launched an H-2A rocket carrying an intelligence-gathering satellite from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s (JAXA’s) launch site at the Tanegashima Space Center in Kagoshima Prefecture, raising the number of such satellites placed into orbit by the East Asian country to
Maybe Nobody Wants Your Space Internet(WIRED) A growing group of companies believes satellites, balloons, and drones can help bring internet access to everyone on Earth. But what if not everybody wants it?
Scientists Hope to Clean Space Junk(VOA) Space scientists say the satellites and other spacecraft orbiting the Earth, including the International Space Station, are in increasing danger of collision with pieces of junk. Engineers are working hard to solve the problem of removing the trash that threatens functioning satellites worth millions of dollars. VOA’s George Putic reports.
The satellite surprise inside the spending bill(C4ISRNET) The new spending plan Congressional leaders unveiled Wednesday unexpectedly includes $600 million for the Air Force to extend its wideband satellite communications program by two satellites.
How the Air Force Changed Tune on Cybersecurity(GovTechWorks) Combining development, security and operations into an integrated process -- DevSecOps in industry parlance -- is the new name of the game. The aim: Build security in during devlopment, rather than bolting it on at the end.
House Approps Chair Promises Pentagon ‘Flexibility’ On O&M Funds(Breaking Defense) Legislators will probably loosen some rules on federal spending to help the Pentagon cope with Congress's failure to pass funding bills until six months into the fiscal year. Budget dysfunction has gotten so bad it's forcing even the famously strict appropriations committees to loosen the reins after years of resistance.