Systemic wars of the third millennium26/06/2008 Written by Roberto Preatoni
Just about a few days ago, an appealing news appeared on the Internet. It regarded the deployment of a new generation of unmanned combat drones on a real battlefield.
We are not talking about aerial drones, here we are talking about ground soldier-drones, the real stuff we were all waiting for. Well, sort of.
The news is about the decision of the US Military to deploy eighteen more of the same combat drones who were already deployed, experimentally, on the Iraqi territory. Three units, to be precise. Are those artificial soldiers anything new? Not really.
If you followed Zone-H in the past years, we gave an extensive coverage of the US Future Combat System military program. We even crafted a speech at Defcon hacker conference a few years ago as well as we produced an episode of our comics based on the F.C.S. concept (Hero-Z - ep. 2: War Games).
The equation in which cyber-military programs and hackers are strictly related was demonstrated by the fact that during our speech on F.C.S., the front row of the Alexis Park Hotel’s conference room was packed with green suits.
At that time, the F.C.S. was a multi-billionaire US military program that was initiated by the US Government under which the way US went at war should have been totally re-designed.
Traditional warfare? Bye bye. Welcome the new concept of a hyper hi-tech army, where aerial, naval, terrestrial drones are connected with the troops thanks to a super-network, based on a mix of satellite and ground microwaves telecommunication system.
All data managed by a militarized Linux version, developed by the Berkeley University.
What happened to the F.C.S., the daring project managed by US Boeing Industries and having a cloud of specialized sub-contractors? Initially went over-budget, then re-funded. Later on on some news papers it appeared the news that the project was stopped, now it’s re-appearing again or at least, excerpts of it…
NETWORKING AND PHILOSOPHY
As explained by the US DoD, the drones deployed experimentally on the Iraqi territory are limited in power and autonomy.Originally the concept was to have fully autonomous A.I. driven drones, a special team of F.C.S. subcontractors was hired to develop the necessary technology in terms of visual recognition, artificial intelligence and networking.Did they succeed? As we expected, apparently not completely. Yet.
In fact, the newly deployed ground combat drones are mere extensions of the body of a remotely located human operator.
There were too many concerns among US Military in terms of rendering the drone fully autonomous by implementing the current status of A.I. technology developed so far by the F.C.S. subcontractors.
To put it simple, they didn’t want to rely on the drone’s A.I. fearing of US troops casualties due to friendly fire. Loosing US soldiers lives because the drone would shoot at the wrong target is something unacceptable from the political and public opinion point of view.
Concerns that Chinese Military authorities might not have, we’ll talk later about that.
At this point, the question from the hacker’s point of view should be: how the combat drone is connected to the remotely located operator? Is it by digital or analogue signaling? Is it through a dedicated or through a standard protocol?
Here we have to speculate, but we’ll try to do it wisely.
Analogue or digital controlling? A combat drone which needs to rely on a complete remote controlling operator has to transmit/receive the following data:
– Audiovisual, the remote operator has the need to rely on a high definition video stream in order to shoot at the right target. Sure, to minimize the risk of shooting against friendly troops US Military declared they employed “special security solutions” such limiting the ground zone in which the drone is fire-ready and avoiding that the shooting turrets could turn toward friendly troops. These “special security solutions” are obviously candies specially crafted for US media and public opinion, nobody here believe they can be any effective.
– Telemetry, you don’t want to loose control of your systems because you weren’t capable to foresee the incoming failures: electric status, engine status, heat status, tire status, gearbox status, ammo status, network status, fuel status.
– Blue Force Tracking system capability, google for it ;)
In this view we can presume they are already relying on a sort of remote digital controlling system.
Cleared that, the next question is: proprietary or standard protocol for such digital controlling system? A proprietary protocol *might* be in place at the current status of the project, but in view of future implementation of the drones in the US combat grid, we can presume that they will adopt a sort of TCP-IP enhanced protocol, standard within the whole US combat grid. Especially because they have big expectations from meshed military telecommunication grids.
And that’s bad.
HACKER’S AND SYSTEMIC WARS
Whenever you have a super military power such US, which is investing a lot of resources (financial, human, political, technological) into improving their war performances, you always end up with a sort of systemic war. Sun Tzu understood it a couple of millenniums ago, why shouldn’t you?
An hypothetical war between two super powers such China and US would end up in a war between systems. Hackers here might come in handy.
Vice-versa, an hypothetical war between a super power and a poor country would end up in a sort of asymmetric warfare, having the super power deploying systems on the battlefield and its poor opponent finding that once again, hackers might come in handy. It would be easier to try to take over (read: hack) your opponent hi-tech warfare systems rather than trying to defy them by traditional war means, make sense?
Don’t be surprised should you discover that nations are already spying each other trying to catch information on their opponents as well as friends’ warfare technology. You are too smart to be such naïve, aren’t you?
Regardless, here we have one of the first drone operators, Sgt. Santiago Tordillos, distributing bonus hacker candies during one of the demonstrations given to the press:
“The thing is not shooting on its own. You’ve got to have these,” he said, waving a set of small, silvery keys, which fit into a lock on the Talon’s briefcase-sized controller. A single switch causes the robot to reboot and return to safe mode.
Thanks a lot, Sgt. Tordillos. I guess marines should attend some basic security courses as well, beside the traditional combat training.
NATIONS STEREOTYPES AND REALITY RANTS
Currently there are only a bunch of nations potentially in possession of the necessary skills to develop an alternative hi-tech war program to the US’s F.C.S. You can count them on the fingers of your hands, let’s see which ones and let’s speculate on their real power and drive.
U.K : They have a decent technology background but they are not that much innovative. Try to remember, when was the last time you bought some high tech hardware designed and produced in Charles and Camilla’s land? Beside, they still have to solve the issue of driving on the wrong side. Thankfully they are not completely traditionalist. While they still enjoy watching jurassic/weird sports such cricket and Ascot horse races, guys such Sir Richard Branson are already managing to shoot civilians into space bringing them back to earth safe and sound. But Sir Richard Branson seems to be interested only in technology applicable to the civilian world and not to military technology. Is he?
Germany: they are still fighting with their post Hitler heritage, which was heavily influencing (on the negative side) every single step they decided to take into the development of any kind of new war technology in the last 70 years. Beside that, think about their top-notch car stereo technology. Companies such Blaupunkt and Becker are supplying, since ages, car manufacturers such Mercedes with stunning, reliable, indestructible technology …designed in the 70’s.
France: they are certainly in possession of the necessary skills to manage huge hi-tech projects in direct competition with US’s similar projects. Think about the Airbus consortium, in direct competition with US’s Boeing. They also possess good military and telecommunication technology (France aerospace, Sagem etc). They even have the chauvinist drive which is a must, should you decide to develop something non US-centric. But… it might be easier for them to spy on their neighbor’s technology rather than developing their own one, considering the immense budget that is needed to develop something like the F.C.S. from scratch. Call it post-Echelon self-defence habit.
Italy: among the G8, they are good in developing engine/mechanical technology, they have huge innovative capabilities, they are even good in researching into (but not developing) cyber technologies but historically they are always fighting with their tendency to serve half baked pies. Sorry, pizzas.
Italy it’s the country that decided to develop nuclear plants, then they stopped the construction half on the way through because it was “dangerous” (post Chernobyl foes that Italy’s not-so-much-post-communist politicians sold well to get green votes) finding themselves in the need to buy the missing energy from the French nuclear plants, located a few meters away from the Italian borders. Beside, their huge national debt isn’t allowing them even to buy new tires to replace those worn-out ones equipping their 60 years old military trucks. Damn, they have such a good potential, if only they weren’t Italians…
Arab and oil rich countries: they are very rich thanks to the oil, but they possess zero technology, totally relying on western technology even for the extraction of their own oil. Beside, they seem to prefer to use their money to buy expensive German luxury cars with their Blaupunkt and Becker 70’s car stereo technology, rather than investing it in long term social, industrial and engineering development plans. Dubai? An even less meaningful Las vegas that still have to prove it has a sense.
Japan: “they have the best technology but they are only good in copying it from westerns, improving it in terms of quality, size, price and efficiency”, this is a bullshit stereotype coming from the 70s. The truth is that now they developed some excellent innovative skills and in terms of Artificial Intelligence r&d they could teach to the rest of the world. Unfortunately they once did have the money, not anymore thanks to a wise US currency war. Over the time they became very much US dependent from the market and cultural point of view and they will never, ever dare to develop such war technology, preferring to invest their robotic efforts in developing those gorgeously looking, sexually attracting fembots we all would love to marry with.
Russia: they had ugly, shitty war technology that was always working well and on which Europeans still rely to send their people to space. Have you ever seen the Baikonur space launch facility? Its technology it’s coming from the 60s, but it’s still alive and kicking well. Jokes apart, nowadays Russian men are too busy in making money and their gorgeous women in finding exotic ways to spend it rather than thinking of taking over the world with systemic wars. They just prefer to buy it out, Abramovich docet.
China: They do have the money, they even possess the vast majority of US foreign debt. They have excellent war technology and development capability. They are extremely good in creating and managing huge, sorry HUGE projects. They have the chauvinist and practical drive to be the best in the world. They can decide to move a whole city and their inhabitants should it be necessary to use the same land plot to build a new mega-factory or a new Olympic facility.
They absolutely haven’t any innovative capability (but they had it a thousand years ago). Nonetheless:
– they have the money to buy brilliant westerns minds (think about Huawey industries) to solve their lack of innovative skills.
– they are prone to spy and steal our technology, not giving a shit about what the rest of the world is thinking about it. RIIAA’s plans over there, seriously? To buy counterfeited copies of Hollywood movies at a very cheap price to be sold later as original in US.
Last but not least China has already invaded our territory by selling us the core technology of the electronic system on which westerns are basing entirely their own lives and economy. God knows what kind of “unsolicited embedded hardware” (yes, we can be diplomatic as well, our last report on Chinese hackers opened up some issues between Italian secret services and Chinese diplomats) our made in China systems are already implementing. (God bless US & Israel, whose systems are crystal clean, right?)
HOLLYWOOD AND GAMING INDUSTRY
Have you seen the latest Die Hard movie? If not, you should. The plot is nice, a psychopathic terrorist plans to take over the US national critical infrastructures asking for a ransom. And he does it, shutting down critical system after critical system by means of commissioning to smart programmers and hackers small pieces of work that only once put together might serve the purpose of the plot.
Beside the kung-fu and the explosions, I was very much impressed by the accuracy adopted by the movie script when representing such scenario. It’s evident they used some skilled advisor during the movie production in order to make it looking plausible.
I must admit it, I was jealous. I wish such advisor was me.
Sticking to the topic, days ago, I managed to finish the so much acclaimed Metal Gear Solid 4 video-game. Okay, I’ m 41, so what? I still indulge myself in playing silly video-games from time to time.
Wait a minute, did I say silly? I must apologize with Hideo Kojima, the Metal Gear Solid saga producer and mastermind.
While I find Kojima’s in-game videos too much long and boring (some cut scenes are 45 minutes long…) the plot of the last Metal Gear Solid videogame is very much appealing. In a nutshell, it’s all about a hi-tech war system, similar to F.C.S. that it’s taken over by third parties. Soldiers gets paralyzed and systems get compromised. Hacker’s stuff, once again.
Remember George Orwell’s 1984 and the big brother? Now we have it, no doubts. Today we are experiencing something that 70 years ago was forecasted in a movie. The question is how long should we wait to experience what has been brilliantly forecasted in Die Hard 4 and Metal Gears Solid 4 (from the general public perspective, as here we all know it already)