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  • Combat UAS With Lots of Ammo Needed to Battle Enemy Unmanned Aircraft
    Posted by David A. Fulghum 1:00 PM on Aug 18, 2011

    There are few ways to defend against unmanned aerial systems (UASs) carrying either conventional, electronic or cyber weapons.

    The U.S. has spent very little time and effort on the mission of locating, tracking and disabling the threat of enemy UASs. The Israeli Air Force shot down a Hezbollah unmanned aircraft in 2006 and a few test range kills of UASs have been conducted in the U.S. Meanwhile, the problem of threatening UAVs is expected to get far worse as potential foes field unmanned aircraft with cruise missile speeds of 400 kts. or more in the next decade.

    “I don’t think that anyone would argue that global UAS proliferation is in full gear,” says Navy Capt. Greg Maguire, concept division chief for the Joint UAS Center of Excellence at Creech AFB, Nev. He led a discussion of countering UAS at the AUVSI’s 2011 Unmanned Systems conference here “They are flying them all over, and where they show up next could be anywhere.”

    In fact, such a kinetic weapon-equipped UAS flew in Law Vegas, just a few tens of miles southeast of Creech this summer. A security consultant and a security engineer bought a used unmanned aircraft online, filled it with off the shelf electronics and programmed it as an airborne communications network attack machine for less than $10,000. The pair built their prop-driven, Wireless Aerial Surveillance Platform (WASP) and demonstrated that airborne cyber attack – an increasingly common form of terrorism or crime
    can be cheap, commercially available and homemade.

    The lightweight, six-foot-long aircraft can steal digital content from mobile phones and the internet while in flight. Targets have included Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GSM cellular networks and other unsecured wireless networks functioning in public places and free internet focal points. It also can operate as a cell tower or false telephone network to intercept calls or find and track people with mobile phones. Wasp seems to reflect new skills and techniques being developed by criminals and hackers.

    “The techniques described for GSM access are well known,” says a senior cyber industry official and former, government cyber warrior. “These can work if there are issues with security settings, but that is not the norm. I think [WASP] is an interesting demonstration but it’s not highlighting anything that isn’t already well known in the industry.”

    What would be more threatening is a wireless capability that could reach into Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) networks that control automated processes for oil, gas and water utility systems and specialized factories including nuclear facilities.

    “Many SCADA systems are not connected to outside networks like the Internet,” the industry official says. “Access to the actual control systems is not that easy. [However, some] do use commercial wireless devices for connectivity -- wifi, Bluetooth and others unique to their industry -- which are vulnerable. Most SCADA users are aware of the vulnerabilities -- especially since all the press on STUXNET [cyber-virus worm attack that infected 100,000 computers in Iran] -- and are working on ways to better protect themselves.”

    Unmanned aircraft can deliver cyberattacks, but they are also vulnerable to them and to anti-electronics technology such as pulses of high power microwaves and some types of lasers. Moreover, the networks that control UASs are vulnerable to exploitation by data beams filled with malicious algorithms designed to mine intelligence or allow someone unauthorized to take over as system administrator.

    “We need to worry about cyberoperations and hardening systems against cyberattack,” Maguire says. Moreover, “Anything you can do from the air” against ground networks (for example the Air Force’s airborne Suter program’s network invasion of integrated air defenses) “you can do against ground targets.”

    A potential solution to these unmanned invaders is to field manned or unmanned aircraft that can locate, identify and disable enemy UASs. The counter-UAV battle will most likely result from detection by an off-board sensor, probably operated by troops on the ground, and they will have to contact the UAS to vector it into the attack.

    “When you think about the capabilities required for counter UAS, it’s going to [depend primarily] on a UASs own organic air-to-air radar that can find and target those forces,” Maguire says. “The future is unmanned vs. unmanned aircraft” and that involves a networked kill chain that will allow the identification of enemy UASs from the cloud of unknown targets that are sure to crowd future aerial battlefields.

    “UASs and counter-UASs push our imagination to some important areas,” says Dan Moore, Raytheon Missile Systems’ director of ground based defense. “We need to go there. We need to find ways for industry and government to evolve our understanding through low cost demonstrations, modeling and simulation. That’s where we can get generations of thinking ahead.”

    Directed energy may address the issue of how to carry enough munitions to counter large numbers of enemy UAVs. The answer may involve electronic attack since energy weapons could have large virtual magazines to provide an endless supply of electronic bullets.

    “If you shoot missiles, it costs $100,000s to shoot at a UAV that may cost $50,000,” Maguire says. “Electronic attack may be the primary direction to go whether its high power jammers or high power microwave systems or GPS jammers depending on how the technologies mature.”

    Tags: ar99, UAV, unmanned, directed-energy, cyber

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