Tag Archives: Military

The British army wants You to drive its new tanks – but only if you’re a gamer

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All is not at it used to be in the British army, who are patiently waiting for its new Scout tank, set to be delivered some time in 2020.

The Scout is a complex machine kitted out with sensors, cameras and all kinds of modern electronics. I haven’t been able to confirm it, but there ought to be rumours flying about that it’s actually comes with an iPod docking station. At least there really ought to be those rumours flying about.

Anyway, all this new sensory equipment means that the olden days where a tank was operated by pulling levers are long gone.

Today’s tank crew needs a set of skills that has much in common with your average teen gamer.

“With the capability in the Scout SV, we’re really looking for the type of people who play Xbox games – tech-savy people who are able to take in a lot of information and process it in the proper way,” Kevin Connell, a vice president at General Dynamics, who is developing the tank for the British forces, told International Business Times.

The article goes on to talk about how easy it is to fire the main gun on the new tank…again, rumours ought to be circulating that foreign powers are so scared of this new weapon’s deadly potential that they have tried to incorporate details in the design that would render it less fearsome….like hacking through using control-alt-delete and / or the installation of Alt – F4 keys on the tank’s outside.

The reason for the jokes is: what place does a tank have on the battlefield of the future, which looks destined to be dominated by drones and semi-autonomous vehicles?

Short range laser takes out missile in midflight – just ’cause it’s cool

Lockheed Martin recently demonstrated the destructive capabilities of its ADAM laser system by using it to target and destroy a total of eight missiles in midflight.

ADAM is a big, square boy, who fits neatly on a truck wagon, meaning you can take him for a spin around the countryside. And this is a very good thing, because ADAM is a bit short-sighted.

He’s basically a 10-kilowatt laser system that can target and disable a moving target up to two kilometres away. This might sound very well and dandy, like the US is close to creating a missile shield akin to the pipe dreams of former president Ronald Reagan, but personally I’m not convinced.

The system has shown that it can track and disarm one sort of missile, one at a time, and at an unknown cost. Then there’s the range. I you have a particularly gargantuan map of the US, you can try drawing a circle with a two kilometre radius on it. That should give you an idea of how many systems you’d need to make an ADAM missilie defence system able of pretecting the US.

On the other hand, lasers are cool. And can be developed to become even cooler. For now, here’s a video of a cool laser shooting down missiles in midflight. Just ’cause, alright?

Can your country kill a hacker in a cyber war?

The frontline of a coming war? Cyber warfare raises a number of questions about  who can be defines as the enemy.
The front-line of a coming war? Cyber warfare raises a number of questions about how you define the enemy.

Wars moving from blowing stuff up to a fight for information, using the internet instead of missiles, has created a marked shift of who is on the front-line in the 21st century. It has also meant that the rules of engagement from previous centuries no longer apply. It created new questions like: can a nation kill an enemy hacker? If your country is a member of NATO, then the answer seems to be…maybe…

Recently, a group of hackers found itself in the midst of a media storm. The group in question is called PLA Unit 61398 and it was identified as being behind cyber attacks on hundreds of companies around the world The revelation came in a recent report by the American information-security company Mandiant .

In their report on PLA Unit 61398, Mandiant stipulated that the Chinese government must to some extent have known what the hackers were up to.

“The details we have analysed during hundreds of investigations convince us that the groups conducting these activities are based primarily in China and that the Chinese government is aware of them,” Mandiant said in the report.

“Either they are coming from inside Unit 61398, or the people who run the most-controlled, most-monitored Internet networks in the world are clueless about thousands of people generating attacks from this one neighbourhood,” Kevin Mandia, founder and chief executive of Mandiant, told The New York Times.

In other words: the hackers were – at least to some extent – working with the blessing of the Chinese Government. The reason could be that PLA Unit 61398’s attacks seemed to have a specific focus: information that could benefit both Chinese companies and the Chinese government.

Of course, China has denied any sort of involvement, saying it itself had been the victim of malicious cyber attacks.

And it might have been. and the attacks might even have come from somewhere deep in the US military system, which has previously been involved in cyber warfare.

As reported by Ars Technica, the US Military were, for instance, partly responsible for developing the Stuxnet virus, which targeted Iranian nuclear facilities.

Until now, the world has (luckily) yet to see a full-out cyber-war between nations, but the possibility has left military commanders throughout the world scratching their heads.

The reason is that a cyber-war is not actually fought in a physical world. It’s a new way of fighting that has given the commanders even more grey hair than the war on terror.

In conventional warfare, someone does something physical to something that’s part of your war machine; say blow up your tank, for example. This is great, because it’s definitely an act of aggression, meaning that you can, in turn, blow up something belonging to them.

You might be tempted to let this ‘something’ be your enemy’s entire country. Luckily, there is a Geneva Convention, which gives you a rough outline of how much you can blow up. It’s the idea of a proportionate response. But the convention was created at a time when enemies usually had countries.

Which is why I personally think the war on terror has given the Americans the problems/oppotunities it has. If your enemy turns out not to have a country, hell, he might not even have a tank, then what are you going to blow up? And if he hasn’t got a country, then how do you treat him?

One possibility is to do what the US did, which was basically to call in their lawyers, create a legal country called ‘Terroristland’, based on a really skewed interpretation of the Geneva convention, give anyone fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan a passport to Terroristland and then sail it straight into the Bermuda Triangle of human rights.

But at least the people in Terroristland had the common decency to blow your stuff up.

That’s not the case when it comes to the front-line soldiers of the 21st centuries potential cyber-wars, the hackers, who are more likely to be looking for information about your stuff that blows stuff up.

So how do you deal with hackers? What sort of rights do they have? Well, the Geneva conventions doesn’t really apply – hell, the convention is from a time long before Alan Turing was being prosecuted by the British Government for being homosexual (included as an example of how all governments – not just the US – have always had a knack for disregarding human rights)

The answer to this question is still in the wind, but some agencies and organisations have tried to come up with something approaching one.

NATO is one of these. As if often the case for NATO, the solution is to make a special division that deals with this sort of thing and then let them get on with writing a really long, ambiguous report. The division in question here is the Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence (for reasons that must surely be an in joke, the acronym for this is NATO CCD COE).

The NATO CCD COE commissioned a group of experts to look at cyber-warfare, which they did in the The Tallinn Manual on the International Law Applicable to Cyber Warfare (TMILACW).

In the TMILACW, the experts offer the following answer to whether or not hackers can be seen as enemy combatants:

“A cyber operation by a State directed against cyber infrastructure located in another State may violate the latter’s sovereignty. It certainly does so if it causes damage.”

So if a cyber attack carried out by agents of country a brings down a plane belonging to country b, everything is clear – it’s definitely a military attack.

So does this merit a military response?

The TMILACW says yes, as long as the response tries to balance “[…] the level of harm inflicted and certain qualitative elements of a particular cyber operation.”

But how about attacks like those carried out by the Chinese hackers, who were after information, not bringing down planes or causing traffic lights to change colour, causing crashes?

“Acts of cyber intelligence gathering and cyber theft,” or “cyber operations that involve brief or periodic interruption of non-essential cyber services,” do not fall into this “armed attack” category.

It’s worth to note that TMILACW is in no way binding, so it’s up to the various members of NATO to decide if they’ll use its recommendation as words of gospel, or if they’ll make their own rules.

But for now, at least, it’s not likely that your country is going to be sending missiles after anyone with a laptop. Which is probably a good thing – especially when you consider how much software you find in an average missile these days.

BigDog robot tosses cinderblocks like tennisballs. What do you mean why?

Boston Dynamics have built the rather famous BigDog walking robot. Originally designed as an equipmnet carrying all-terrain robot, the boys in the lab decided to give it a little add-on. And hey presto, the robot can now fling around cinderblocks in a way that can really be summed up in the words ‘terrifying’ and ‘awesome’. OK, you could add that it looks a bit bambiesque as well 🙂

See it in action here:

Iran want to build the same drone that got shot down?

Recently, reports emerged that Iran had downed a US RQ-170 Sentinel Drone.

According to an article in the Washington Post, the Iranians are now saying that they are in the final stages of extracting data from the drone. The Iranian government said that it planned to use the data to sue the US for infringing on its airspace.

Interestingly enough, the Iranians claimed that they are also planning to replicate the drone aircraft through a process of reverse engineering.

Now several things strike me in this context.

One is the fact that there might be a couple of serious faults with the design of the RQ-170.

One is, of course, tied to the that the Iranians were apparently able to hit it. The RQ-170 is built by Lockheed Martin and most experts agree that it is a stealth drone, built for reconnaissance. In other words, it’s a spy that isn’t supposed to show up on the enemy’s radar.

And it obviously did.

The second problem is the fact that the Iranians are apparently able to extract data from the downed drone. You’d expect that the data in question would be heavily encrypted. making it hard for them to decipher it. You would probably also expect the drone to be fitted with some sort of kill switch, that would try to erase the data, if the craft was damaged. This doesn’t seem to be the case.

Now, perhaps the data the drone in question wasn’t thought to be valuable enough to engage such a kill switch, or perhaps such a device isn’t fitted to the RQ-170. In not, then recent event seem to indicate that it probably be in the future.

All of this does, in some ways, make it less likely for the Iranians to actually be advancing in leaps and bounds as they claim to be. Because if they’re having so few difficulties getting the data and were able to actually hit the RQ-170, then why would they want to build more of them?

It would be like witnessing the first incarnation of the famous/infamous Mercedes A-class failing the security tests and then proceeding to build thousands of them.