Archive for the 'Communications' Tag

2015-02-15-ALASAConceptImage2From hapless Norwegian coastal battleships in WWII to last decade’s unarmored HUMVEEs, there are things that look good on paper and are highly functional for a nation at peace, that in hindsight do not seem all that great once an enemy gets a crack at them.

There are a few reliable constants to war at; one is that the things you rely on the most, your critical vulnerabilities identified by the enemy will always be targeted first.

A competent commander is self-aware of his own critical vulnerabilities, and makes a reasonable effort to protect them. Understanding the chaotic and dynamic nature of war, no critical vulnerability can be fully protected and needs backups – you need redundancy, especially if you have a critical requirement that is also one of your critical vulnerabilities.

For so long we have assumed access to the electromagnetic spectrum as a given, and access to satellites – those gloriously exquisite linchpins of the modern navy – as a given, then perhaps we should consider how we can provide Carrier Strike Group Commanders and Maritime Component Commanders the ability to replace wartime losses and complicate the enemies targeting our satellites.

Satellite constellations set up in peace are the fixed coastal defenses of the modern age – easy to target and plan against – and most likely first on an enemy’s targeting priority list.

What if a local commander could re-establish capabilities or even create new ones using those units under his command, at his discretion?

What if that capability wasn’t just an idea, but close to making a shadow on a ramp? This is something I pondered while reading about DARPA’s Airborne Launch Assist Space Access program, or (ALASA);

If all goes according to plan, a series of 12 orbital flights would then commence in early 2016 and wrap up by the middle of the year, DARPA officials said.

“The plan right now is, we have 12 [orbital] launches. The first three are fundamentally engineering checkout payloads,” Bradford Tousley, director of DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office, said Feb. 5 during a presentation at the Federal Aviation Administration’s Commercial Space Transportation Conference in Washington, D.C. “The other nine will be various scientific and research development payloads that we’re after.”

The ALASA military space project consists of an F-15 fighter jet carrying an expendable launch vehicle underneath it. Once the F-15 gets up to a sufficient altitude, the rocket releases and ignites, carrying its payload to orbit. The F-15 would then return to Earth for a runway landing, after which it would be prepped for another mission.

Perhaps we are at the point that it is still too big for anything smaller than an F-15E … but … put the engineers on it. Platform or payload, one of them should be able to be modified at a reasonable cost.

Additional satellite communications, ISR, etc – all just a magazine elevator away. Ponder it a bit.

In war, few things are better than for your opponent to think you are blind and helpless and then they move in for the what they think is the quick and easy victory … or that they think that is what you want them to do … but if you don’t have that capability then, well … you don’t. You miss an opportunity to deceive your enemy, or to sow doubt and confusion in the mind of their commander – two things anyone would like to have in their quiver.

… and no, “Call the USAF and have them do it for you from CONUS.” is not the correct answer. To call the USAF from WESTPAC, you need … ahem … satellites – or still have low-baud HF TTY. Oh, and … well … priorities.



The Stuxnet warning

January 2011


In his opening remarks at West2011, VADM Richard W. Hunt brought a topic that’s needs a lot more attention. His comments aren’t directly related to Stuxnet, but when you back away a bit, the connection is clear.

When he was outlining the challenges we are facing – one warning stuck out the most for me, let me paraphrase.

… How will we operate if we lose access to GPS and our satellite systems? If we lose use of our computer systems, we lose our ability to operate today. Space & comm systems include very vulnerable nodes including systems ashore. We should revisit how we are protecting all our C4I beyond cyber…


Let’s take that thought and expand it a bit.

A lot of the discussion about Stuxnet worm and its impact on the Iranian nuclear program has been about the cloak & dagger whodunit and how much, how far, and how long lasting of a delay it caused. Frankly, none of these things interest me as much as what this exceptionally impressive cyber attack is trying to tell us.

No one can see the future, but often times the future gives you little hints of the direction it is going if you are willing to listen. Like Mark Twain said;

History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.

Some times people hear what history is saying, sometimes they don’t.

What is Stuxnet telling us? Step back and ask yourself – what is the most fragile requirement that we need to conduct war at sea? What are we designing our weapon systems, tactics and operational plans around?

It is easy to figure it out, we advertise it – “net.” When we say “net” we are talking about satellite based voice and data communications. Not only is the hardware delicate in the extreme except for very specific, very few systems with little bandwidth – much of it non-mil with the software commercial and accessilble. It relies on a dispersed and unsecured ground infrastructure. It also rides on the electromagnetic spectrum – one that no one owns.

This important foundation stone that we are putting so much on – is it robust? Have we designed the structure properly for anything north of a permissive environment? Are we mitigating risk – or are we taking the savings now and just going on hope? Do we have sufficient back-ups in place? Have we properly managed risk, or have we become complacent towards our own mastery of technology and potential adversaries’ ability?

VADM Hunts comments should given us pause. Listen to him, listen to Stuxnet. Ask the Iranian nuclear scientists what they think, if you can.

2014 Information Domination Essay Contest