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Defense Technology Monitor - No. 10

Edited by Richard Harrison and Liam Bobyak
November 28, 2016

Recent military engagements in Ukraine, Syria, and the South China Sea have demonstrated the growing technological sophistication of adversary nations like Russia and China, particularly in the realms of cyber and electronic warfare. Now, the U.S. Army is responding in kind. Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning has announced the formation of a new government office, known as the Rapid Capabilities Office, which is designed to enable the U.S. armed forces to more rapidly identify and begin development of an array of new cyber systems. The office is needed because "the speed of innovation is increasing at an unprecedented rate, and this increase is occurring both commercially and militarily," the Secretary explained. The main focus of the new office will be to attempt to solve a perennial problem: the lag time between technological developments, both in the private sector and among potential U.S. adversaries, and their absorption and deployment by the U.S. military. (
Fed Scoop, September 1, 2016) 

Laser weapons are continuously being hyped as a game changing technology, especially for shooting down enemy missiles and drones. However, even as laser weapons are becoming increasingly incorporated into modern warfare, innovative countermeasures are also under development. One new device, called Helios, is a laser-jamming defense technology that is reportedly capable of confusing enemy laser systems, causing them to lose their lock on a targeted drone. The specifics of how the passive jamming device works are not clear, nor is the time it takes Helios to detect and respond to a laser threat. However, the anti-laser system appears to operate by detecting the pulse and wavelength of an incoming laser and providing some type of electronic interference. (
Engadget, September 11, 2016) 

With the proliferation of smaller, low flying drones has come a new mission for the Pentagon's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA): developing new ways to track them. Monitoring low-flying drones is particularly important in urban settings, where obstructions like buildings can make them difficult to find and defend against. Current tracking systems are based on line of sight detection, which can be cumbersome in urban environments. One possible solution now under consideration is a system of drone mounted detection devices that would create a dragnet of detection over a given area, as well as possibly incorporating sensors capable of detecting drones through or around buildings. (
Defense Systems, September 15, 2016) 

A Russian defense contractor has reportedly developed what is essentially an invisibility cloak: a new material that serves to shield armaments from adversary radio frequency and microwave jamming signals. In addition to electronic warfare (EW) shielding, the new material, called Ferrite Fiber, is reportedly capable of concealing whatever it covers from detection by radar, giving it tremendous value on the modern battlefield. (
Military Aerospace, September 20, 2016) 

Despite its dominance in conventional warfare, the U.S. is increasingly falling behind in the arena of asymmetric warfare, which includes the realm of space. That's the warning being sounded by the incoming Commander of U.S. Strategic Command, Air Force Gen. John E. Hyten. Hyten is concerned that, while the U.S. can adequately defend its space assets today, Russia and China's growing space capabilities could pose a serious threat in the near future if the U.S. does not move to counter them. During a recent classified briefing to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Hyten outlined the increasing sophistication of both Moscow and Beijing's space assets - something which, he said, necessitates focusing on faster acquisition, better command and control networks, and more cost effective and easily upgradeable/replaceable satellites that would allow the U.S. to make its space presence more durable. Meanwhile, Pentagon brass are already thinking along the same lines. A joint program between the Department of Defense and the National Reconnaissance Office, known as the Space Enterprise Vision, is being set up to prepare the country for future space warfare. (
Washington Times, September 21, 2016) 

Computer programmers at the Pentagon's Defense Advance Research Project Agency are honing in on the design of unhackable software. As a proof of concept, a dedicated programmer team recently altered software onboard the popular Little Bird military helicopter drone frequently used in U.S. special operations missions. Even when provided extraordinary access to the drone's computer systems over a six-week period, a hacker "red team" could not take over the drone's onboard flight system (even though the UAV's standard installed software is easily hackable). 

While the concept behind this impenetrable software, known as formal verification, is not new, it has remained nascent in nature - until now. Coding with formal verification utilizes an algorithm that incorporates proofs to check the validity of statements in the software using rules of logic. If the program is mathematically perfect in its design and contains no flaws, then it is impossible for a hacker to be able to break into it. In parallel with this advance in coding, new tools and technologies to facilitate the use of formal verification coding are now under development, and have the potential to greatly enhance software security. (
Wired, September 23, 2016)