Editor’s column: The month in defence – October 2011

24 October 2011 (Last Updated June 10th, 2020 10:58)

This month, AUSA impresses, while a cybersecurity breach at the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries UAV base sets alarm bells ringing. Defence editor Berenice Baker casts an eye over the key military news that hit the headlines over the last month.

Editor’s column: The month in defence – October 2011

Association of the US Army (AUSA) conference

The Association of the US Army (AUSA) annual meeting and exposition took place in Washington, D.C., from 10-12 October. The event presents conferences about current army operations and how it will transform for the future, and showcases new military hardware.

AUSA on US Army cuts

"The Association of the US Army (AUSA) annual meeting and exposition took place in Washington, D.C., from 10-12 October."

Speaking at the event, US Army Secretary John McHugh said defence budget cuts beyond the USD$450 billion planned over the next decade would be "catastrophic."

Countering comments that the Pentagon's strategy may be to cut the Army more than other services, McHugh said he hoped cuts would fall evenly across all military services. He said: "I'm operating under one-third, one-third, one-third. If that changes, it won't be because I suggested it."

The Pentagon is preparing for $450 billion in cuts over ten years, but there is uncertainty over whether a congressional supercommittee formed in August could force deeper cuts from 2013 that have not yet been accounted for.

AUSA - AAI Shadow M2 TUAS

Among the military innovations unveiled at the event, AAI Unmanned Aircraft Systems launched its Shadow M2 Tactical Unmanned Aircraft (TUAS). The Shadow M2 aircraft has an increased wingspan of 25 feet (7.6m), improved endurance during extended military missions and the flexibility to undertake new missions.

The aircraft's payload volume capabilities have been increased by introducing dual payload bays. The new version also has updated external wind hard points for avionics, sense-and-avoid equipment and other communication equipment.

Despite the increased payload, the US Army UAS project office has confirmed it is not planning to weaponise its Shadow fleet.

AUSA - Saab land electronic defence system

Saab showcased its land electronic defence system (LEDS)-150 active protection system (APS), a scalable system for land vehicles designed to destroy ammunition before it hits.

Currently in pre-production and ready for production in 2013, it includes softkill and hardkill options and builds on the company's proven LEDS 50 system, which has been integrated with the CV90 and is an option being considered for the US Marine Corps (USMC) M1A1 main battle tanks.

AUSA - ITT i-Aware night vision goggles

ITT unveiled its new i-Aware network-integrated range of night vision goggles (NVG), which are capable of merging information from other sensors into a meaningful image using COTS technology. Instead of the traditional green image, the NVGs can incorporate a colour image and use information from an inbuilt heat sensor to detect humans, weapons and vehicles that might not be otherwise be visible. The networked capability can send images to the eyepiece, allowing troops to indentify and apprehend wanted individuals, for instance.

Cyber attack on Mitsubishi Heavy Industries

It emerged this month that missile data may have been leaked during a cyber attack on Japanese defence giant Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) which took place in August and left viruses on 80 of the company's servers.

A source close to the incident said information on the Type 80 missile is suspected to have been leaked in one of around 300,000 illegal accesses to the server installed at MHI's Nagoya Guidance and Propulsion Systems Works.

MHI denied any data had been leaked, with a company spokesman saying: "We haven't yet confirmed any data leak on our products and technologies, and we will continue our investigation."

Data suspected to have been leaked is not categorised as sensitive information by the Defence Ministry, but records show that one of the attacks resulted in the transmission of a large volume of data.

The Type 80 ASM-1 is an air-launched defence missile which was placed in service in 1980 after seven years of development by the Defence Ministry.

Key logging virus detected in US armed drone controls

A computer virus which records every keystroke made by operators was detected in the ground control systems (GCS) used by operators to remotely control armed drones on overseas missions.

An initial report by Wired magazine suggested that despite being detected by the host-based security system at Creech US Air Force (USAF) Base in Nevada, the virus had resisted any attempts to remove it. However, a USAF spokesman later stated that the infection was properly and easily contained and the malware was "more of a nuisance than an operational threat."

USAF experts have not yet determined whether the virus was introduced deliberately or by accident, but it appears to have hit both classified and unclassified systems, raising the possibility that secret data typed on the machines, such as passwords, has been transmitted to someone outside the base.

The Creech base controls armed Predator and Reaper drones which have been used in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and Libya. The drones were shown to have security flaws in 2009 when footage which they had captured was found on the laptops of Iraqi insurgents.

The GCS cockpits are not connected to the public internet for security reasons, so it is likely the virus was introduced via a removable storage device, the use of which is severely restricted by the military. Drones have not been grounded as their operation has not been affected by the virus.

Dr Liam Fox resigns as UK Defence Secretary

UK defence secretary Dr Liam Fox resigned after a week of allegations surrounding his friend and self-styled adviser Adam Werrity.

"Fox admitted his friendship with Werrity could have given "the impression of wrongdoing"."

An official report by the Cabinet Secretary confirmed that Fox broke the ministerial code in his dealings with Werrity but did not gain financially from the arrangement.

He has been replaced as Defence Secretary by former Transport Secretary Philip Hammond, who is considered a safe pair of hands by Westminster, but has no specific defence experience. There was initially some concern the shake-up would impact upon the progress of defence reforms Fox had initiated.

However, early indications are that Hammond will progress to schedule the changes laid out in the October 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR). A White Paper on defence technology, equipment and support is due to be published next month, November 2011, and a separate report on the restructuring of the MoD's Defence Equipment and Support division is expected in December.

The ministerial code says ministers "must ensure that no conflict arises, or appears to arise, between their public duties and their private interests". Fox admitted his friendship with Werrity could have given "the impression of wrongdoing" as Werrity had "defence related business interests".