Electronic Weapons: July 8, 2004


The U.S. Air Force has unveiled the ability to make surface-to-air missiles ignore their targets through computer network attack, a previously classified capability. A senior Air Force official described the capability as being able to convince a missile that it is a "Maytag (washing machine)... in a rinse cycle," rendering it irrelevant. The ability is based in recent developments in computer attacks that are directed at an adversary's communication's networks. The Air Force would like to bring some of the currently classified non-kinetic/non-explosive (i.e. not a bomb) methods into the "open" world so they can be more easily developed and integrated with current enemy air defense suppression activities. 

Throughout the recent history of U.S. combat operations, classifying a program making it secret and limited access to trusted personnel -- has proved to be a double-edged sword. Assuming no leaks, a classified program can provide unpleasant surprises for the enemy on the battlefield. However, the same secrecy that keeps a program under wraps also prevents war planners from most effectively knowing about and using the program for best effectiveness when planning a campaign. Since the 1991 Gulf War, warfighters have pushed for assets such as reconnaissance satellites to be opened up to them for more effective use.

Experiments with the computer attack capability have been conducted in Joint Forces experiments held at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada in 2000 and 2002. Using an EC-130 Compass Call electronic warfare aircraft, capabilities have been demonstrated that allow an attacking force to enter into an enemy's air defense computer network, observe what enemy radars see, take over the network at the systems administrator level and start manipulating the radars. The Air Force has also hinted the F/A-22 fighter could also incorporate computer attack capabilities down the road in its deployment. 

One reason to expedite the use of non-kinetic methods is to allow for the intact capture of enemy airfields and other assets during wartime, rather than having to destroy them in the beginning of a conflict and then having to rebuild and/or reconstitute them later one. Doug Mohney


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