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U.S. tests information warfare techniques (1996)

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The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) is at the forefront of research into information warfare, testing data communications technology in battlefield manuevers, trying out new telecommunications links in war-torn Bosnia, and integrating antihacking products into new networks.

In the last five years the DoD has created several centers to study information warfare and for the first time last year, the annual U.S. armed forces maneuvers tested information warfare techniques, according to Maxim Kovel, a defense consultant. Kovel spoke at the Information Warfare conference sponsored by H. Silver & Associates Ltd., an organizer of military-related conferences.

In the maneuvers, a U.S. Air Force captain using a PC and a modem accessed the Navy's e-mail systems and from there entered the command and control systems of U.S. Navy ships operating in the North Atlantic.

After the maneuvers, in August 1995, the DoD's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) set up the Information Technology Office with the aim of tackling information warfare issues. And information warfare figured in five of the top 10 priorities to emerge from the 1995 maneuvers. They were:

  • Comprehensive battlefield awareness
  • Near real-time computerized command and control, for planning and re-planning
  • A synthetic theater of war, to enable modeling and simulation
  • Technology for robust, massive, and mobile battlefield networks
  • Survivability of DoD information systems

Originally, the U.S. Army wanted to deploy a technology demonstration in South Korea, but the development of peace-keeping efforts in Bosnia proved a more timely testing ground, Kovel said. The peace-monitoring effort in Bosnia is ideal for testing technical systems that can be used to gain an advantage over an enemy by superior use of information, while disrupting the enemy's information channels.

"The Battlefield Awareness and Data Dissemination system (BADD) being used in Bosnia will act as a model for future operations by creating an environment to demonstrate advanced developing systems," he said.

The DoD has spent $88 million in Bosnia creating a dedicated communications infrastructure for the military, putting in place telecom bandwidth that is the equivalent of a million telephone lines, according to Kovel. The infrastructure includes an MCI Corp. underwater fiber-optic link between the U.S. and the UK for imaging and telemedicine, plus high-speed links to unmanned aircraft that relay pictures back to the ground. For the senior officers, there is a six-foot screen for viewing events, alongside a TV running CNN news.

Underpinning the DoD's efforts to ensure that its information technology is better than that of any enemy, Kovel said, is a continuing project to build a secure and cost-effective communications network linking all branches of the armed forces.

The DoD set up the Multilevel Information Systems Security Initiative (MISSI) about three years ago, Kovel noted. MISSI is a $800 million project to create a Defense Messaging Network. Based on Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) protocols, the Defense Messaging Network will replace several existing DoD networks and will be capable of handling both secret and unclassified traffic.

The network will rely on smart card technology to ensure that only authorized users gain access to the system, Kovel said. Users authorized to access the network will attach a smart-card holder to the port of commercially available machines, he added. Users will connect over commercial networks and the World Wide Web where necessary.

The DoD has also developed several antihacker techniques, including the use of the CyberLocator product from ISR of Boulder, CO. The product uses satellite positioning to determine the exact location of authorized users' machines, which will be fitted with special sensors.

If the DoD can establish a trace to the machine of an authorized user that is being disturbed by a hacker, it is prepared to "fry" the equipment, Kovel said. He did not explain how that would be done.

He underlined that MISSI will be a continuing project. "The half life of your equipment is three to six months. There is always something new coming along," Kovel said. --Ron Condon, IDG News Service, London Bureau