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Future Wars

By Kevin Coleman — Defense Tech Cyberwarfare Correspondent

Recently I was conducting some research on critical infrastructure security for the next version of my book, the Cyber Commander’s eHandbook. During that work, I repeatedly encountered a particular threat that increases the risks everyone faces when it comes to critical infrastructure protection and beyond. The issue is the process of publicly disclosing previously unknown vulnerabilities in sensitive or critical systems like SCADA controllers.

SCADA systems were first put into use back in the 1960s. Since then, they have grown dramatically in their use and capabilities. Modern day SCADA controllers are used in everything from relatively simple applications like monitoring the HVAC systems / environmental conditions of small office buildings to highly complex tasks like monitoring and controlling activity in nuclear power plants.

(Remember that the Stuxnet worm went after Siemens-built SCADA systems used at Iranian nuclear facilities. That’s the country’s Bushehir reactor shown above.)

So how big is the exposure? North America, Europe, the Middle East, and Africa make up the most significant users of SCADA products. Their popularity and use is evidenced by the fact that the market for SCADA equipment is experiencing double digit growth. Market analysts believe that the total market for SCADA products is expected to grow at nearly 10 percent for at least the next five years. This shows how common these systems are — something that makes them a top cyber attack target.

In the spring of this year security researchers publically disclosed the existence of 34 SCADA system vulnerabilities. Analysis indicated that 15 were new zero-day (never seen before) threats of which 13 are said to affect eight different SCADA products. The problem is, the security researchers’ actions left organizations using the effected SCADA systems vulnerable to attack/exploitation. We keep doing this. I am all for quick action when a vulnerability is identified, but the process needs to be changed so that we don’t increase the risk and open sensitive systems up to enhanced attacks while patches are designed and tested to fix these holes.

Prompt Global Strike, the Pentagon’s idea for a weapon that can be launched from the United States and hit a high-value target anywhere on Earth in an hour or less has been around for a while.

Some envision this weapon as resembling an ICBM armed with a conventional warhead instead of a nuclear payload. This makes some sense — ICBMs launched from the U.S. can strike their targets on the other side of the world extremely quickly.

The problem with putting a conventional weapon on an ICBM is that nations like Russia might think the U.S. is lobbing a nuke the second an unannounced ballistic missile launch appears on their radar screens. Needless to say, that wouldn’t be a good situation.

So, how do you make it obvious that your ICBM doesn’t have a nuke on board? It’s all in the trajectory, according to Boeing officials.

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Imagine a weapon sailing over an enemy city or military target and effectively paralyzing all electronics in its wake while causing almost no physical damage? Sci-fi writers and military planners have dreamed of such things for years. The problem is, the electromagnetic pulse often associated with cooking electronic systems is usually generated by the detonation of a nuclear warhead — not exactly a low-collateral damage tool.

It’s no secret that the military has been working on weapons that can knock out enemy electronics without causing physical damage for a looong time. Now the Air Force is one step closer to making such devices a reality. Earlier this year the Air Force successfully test fired the Counter-electronics High-powered Microwave Advanced Missile Project (CHAMP) for the first time.

CHAMP is basically a missile containing a microwave emitter that’s powerful enough to scramble electronic systems that it is aimed at. The ultimate goal of the program is to test the feasibility of installing the system — which would fire off microwave beams of various intensity at specific targets — on a larger vehicle. Or, as CHAMP-maker (ha!) Boeing dramatically says, this test “sets the stage for a new breed of nonlethal but highly effective weapon systems.”

Below is the announcement Boeing just released on the successful missile launch:

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Here’s a little update on this fighter design we showed you yesterday. It is indeed Boeing’s concept for a sixth-gen “air dominance” fighter for the U.S. Navy and Air Force, Daryl Davis, chief of Boeing’s Phantom Works division told me today. The plane, which is still just a concept, would have long-ranger range and fly at “higher mach numbers” (faster) than jets like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and be able to supercruise, according to Davis.

Boeing is funding its own research into sixh-gen fighter concepts since neither the Air Force or Navy is moving to kick off a new fighter program in the near future, said Davis. Pumping it’s own cash into advanced fighter R&D means that Boeing will have existing tech ready for a new airplane design when “the balloon goes up,” added Davis.

This is going to be pretty important in the years to come since, as Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz told reporters today that the Air Force is going to focus even more on buying proven, existing technologies that meet the service’s actual combat requirements not its “wants.”

Meanwhile, the Phantom Ray UAV is Going Into Storage:

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Boeing isn’t the only company with some seriously futuristic airplane designs on display with minimal explanation at this year’s Air Force Association conference in National Harbor, Md. I snapped the photo above in Northrop Grumman’s booth last night. I’m told it might be a concept for a long range strike aircraft. It was on a mural featiuring a host of other futuristic designs including what many think is the Next Gen Bomber, something that looks like a stealthy recon UAV, and the design for a tail-less sixth-gen fighter for the Navy. Check them out after the jump.

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