Intelligence: January 2, 2004

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The Pentagon is adding new security technology to the new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which could cause a delay of up to a year in the program and increase the development cost by as much as $5 billion. Most of the increase is due to the usual problems of developing new technology (parts of it are turning out to be more expensive than the original estimates). Some of the price increase, though, is for new technology to hide the F-35's secrets.

The big-ticket item in that category is technology to prevent reverse-engineering, a major concern since the F-35 will be the first stealth aircraft exported to other countries. There have been instances where advanced American fighters have found their way to unfriendly countries the most notable being the defection of an Iranian F-14 crew to Russia, although some rumors persist that the Iranians provided information on the Tomcat to Russia. This assisted the Soviets in developing the AA-9/R-33 Amos air-to-air missile, primarily used on the MiG-31 Foxhound aircraft. China has apparently acquired at least one F-16 from Pakistan, which was used for developing the J-10, a modified version of the cancelled IAI Lavi. This sort of thing is not new. A number of B-17s lost over Europe (some estimates are as high as forty) ended up in the hands of the Luftwaffe, and some were used to determine tactics to defeat it.

The United States has taken advantage of reverse-engineering or flying a captured or acquired aircraft on several occasions. A variety of MiGs and Sukhois (exact composition unknown) are currently housed around Nellis Air Force Base. Then there was the Mitsubishi A6M2 Zeke that was recovered after a crash in the Aleutian Islands in World War II. Recovered and repaired, it quickly gave up its secrets, and hastened the demise of Japanese Naval Aviation as an effective force in the Pacific War. 

How might tamper-proofing be implemented in the JSF? The technology will probably fall into one or more of three areas: Obfuscating the avionics software, disabling the system that has been tampered with, and alerting the manufacturer and the United States that tampering has occurred. Protecting the software through obfuscation will probably be done via commercial programs like Dotfuscator, combined with locking away the source code. The Department of Defense and Lockheed will probably use a program like Dotfuscator Professional Edition from PreEmptive Solutions due to the advanced features such a program has for software obfuscation. 

Other means to prevent reverse-engineering include disabling the system being tampered with. Perhaps the best example of such a disabling system are the Permissive Action Links (PALs) on nuclear weapons. Certain codes (or keys to the access panels) might be needed to access certain systems for maintenance (the radar for instance) and if the code is wrong or the key is not used, the radar (or other system) would short out, rendering it useless. Alerting could be done by something as simple as a modified version of the LoJack system used for tracking stolen cars that would activate if access panels are removed without a representative from Lockheed (or the Department of Defense) deactivating the alarm. Some or all of the methods above may be used. It is safe to assume that the exact methods will be kept a closely-guarded secret.

Tamper-proofing the technology is an expense that could pay dividends down the road. Given the history of how aircraft have found their way to unauthorized users throughout the years, it will not be surprising to see more exported aircraft designed with an eye to prevent reverse-engineering. Harold C. Hutchison

 


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