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US Stealth Jet Has To Talk To Allied Planes Over Unsecured Radio 270

Posted by samzenpus
from the that's-some-good-planning-there-lou dept.
Lasrick writes "David Axe at Wired's Danger Room explains: 'For the first time, America's top-of-the-line F-22 fighters and Britain's own cutting-edge Typhoon jets have come together for intensive, long-term training in high-tech warfare. If only the planes could talk to each other on equal terms. The F-22 and the twin-engine, delta-wing Typhoon — Europe’s latest warplane — are stuck with partially incompatible secure communications systems. For all their sophisticated engines, radars and weapons, the American and British pilots are reduced to one-way communication, from the Brits to the Yanks. That is, unless they want to talk via old-fashioned radio, which can be intercepted and triangulated and could betray the planes’ locations. That would undermine the whole purpose of the F-22s radar-evading stealth design, and could pose a major problem if the Raptor and the Typhoon ever have to go to war together.'"
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US Stealth Jet Has To Talk To Allied Planes Over Unsecured Radio

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  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Thursday February 21, 2013 @09:12AM (#42965723) Journal
    I mean, they have hacked both US and Brit planes' software. So if we could persuade them to CC: the American and Brit planes, they could have direct encrypted communication, just a minor delay for round-tripping via Unit 6 1398 in the Beijing suburb.
  • type44q (Score:5, Funny)

    by Type44Q (1233630) on Thursday February 21, 2013 @09:13AM (#42965729)

    the American and British pilots are reduced to one-way communication, from the Brits to the Yanks.

    That's okay; if the grammar and vocabularly of today's 20 and 30 year old Americans are any indication, our boys need to just shut the fuck up and listen. :p

    • Re:type44q (Score:5, Funny)

      by theVarangian (1948970) on Thursday February 21, 2013 @09:43AM (#42965953)

      the American and British pilots are reduced to one-way communication, from the Brits to the Yanks.

      That's okay; if the grammar and vocabularly of today's 20 and 30 year old Americans are any indication, our boys need to just shut the fuck up and listen. :p

      British youth aren't exactly any better. Come to think of it, it would be interesting to see a typical N-American urbanite speaking some street dialect and a cockney speaking Londoner trying to come up with a tactical plan. Headline: "Afghan based British and US aircraft bomb Faroe Islands, Pentagon/MOD reluctant to comment"

      • by RDW (41497)

        British youth aren't exactly any better.

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_CwfCBa6PSM [youtube.com]

        'Epic war fail'.

    • Re:type44q (Score:5, Funny)

      by serviscope_minor (664417) on Thursday February 21, 2013 @09:44AM (#42965973) Journal

      That's okay; if the grammar and vocabularly of today's 20 and 30 year old Americans are any indication,

      No, you've got the reason all wrong.

      The reason for the one way communication is that the F22 pilots can't talk back due to having passed out from lack of oxygen.

    • the American and British pilots are reduced to one-way communication, from the Brits to the Yanks.

      That's okay; if the grammar and vocabularly of today's 20 and 30 year old Americans are any indication, our boys need to just shut the fuck up and listen. :p

      It's become clear to me from what I see on various internet forums, including Slashdot, that almost nobody under the age of 30 in any English speaking nation has an education worth having. So I wouldn't hold my breath that the Brits would be any better than Americans.

  • by Brandano (1192819) on Thursday February 21, 2013 @09:16AM (#42965741)
    If the F22 has to keep stealthy, it can't irradiate, period. Transmitting any sort of signal would allow a third party to triangulate its position. If the Typhoon is not concerned with hiding its position, it can transmit without worries. The only mitigation against discovery through listening in passively to the Raptor's transmission is to either devise a system to transmit on multiple frequencies in a way that cannot be distinguished with background noise, or hop frequencies in the hope that the eavesdropper won't be able to match the signal for more than a fraction of the time.
    • by Luckyo (1726890) on Thursday February 21, 2013 @09:28AM (#42965849)

      F22s can talk to each other, but it requires a special data link that is apparently top secret and cannot be given out to allied aircraft.

      • by Big Hairy Ian (1155547) on Thursday February 21, 2013 @10:35AM (#42966603)
        Two cans and a piece of string?
      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        How is this even a problem? Why can an AWACS not simply relay the signal? The enemy already knows where the AWACS is, it's out of range.

        • by Luckyo (1726890)

          According to news on wired, there's a total of seven aircraft in entire US airfoce that can handle the task. AWACS is incapable of it, they have special retrofitted civilian aircraft with this communications system and standard data link.

          • by drinkypoo (153816)

            According to news on wired, there's a total of seven aircraft in entire US airfoce that can handle the task. AWACS is incapable of it, they have special retrofitted civilian aircraft with this communications system and standard data link.

            If AWACS can't handle it, then either these aircraft were overspecified, or retrofits for AWACS should have been included in the contract.

      • by garyebickford (222422) <gar37bic.gmail@com> on Thursday February 21, 2013 @11:36AM (#42967387)

        I wonder if they are using some form of Ultra Wide Band. UWB is best for short distances in part because 'optical' effects become important, but if it works it is extremely difficult to discover - at every frequency the signal is below the noise floor. It's only detectable if one knows the digital pattern that is being used, and there are a zillion possible patterns. In the sky, away from reflective and refractive distorting obstacles, it is probably usable over longer distances. IANA EE, however.

      • but can't ANY sort of radio transmission be used for triangulating the transmitter? encryption should be irrelevant. what am i missing here?

        • by Luckyo (1726890)

          That's why it's called top secret technology. It wouldn't be top secret if random people on internet forum such as ourselves would know, would it?

      • by caveat (26803) on Thursday February 21, 2013 @12:43PM (#42968415)

        The point of the whole secure-comms thing as I understand it is to have one 22 staying well out of range of the hostiles with its targeting radar active (which totally screams HI GUYS HERE I AM LOOK AT ME YAAAAAAAAAAH!), feeding the info unidirectionally to a few more Raptors that are much closer and have all their radio and radar emitters quiet; they receive the data, feed it to their tracking and targeting systems, and fire all without (theoretically) compromising their stealthiness - the bad guys see one fighter 150 miles away and think "ha ha dumbass is lighting us up from out there!" and next thing they know six AMRAAMS appear out of thin air 20 miles away.

        • by Luckyo (1726890)

          While we don't know the exact specs for obvious reasons, it would take quite a state of art radar to provide accurate fire control data at 200km+. As of typing this, F-22's radar has stated detection range of 100-200km (search radar). Active fire control radar is typically far more limited in range as it has to fire a tight beam and collect far more accurate data. About the only fighter aircraft in existence that can pull off a maneuvre you're describing and is not a dedicated AWACS aircraft with huge radar

    • why can't it transmit straight up only?

      there is no way to ensure the emissions are entirely (at detectable levels) in the direction away from ground sources?
      then you only have interception from countries with enough satellites to track that...

      cuts a lot of nations out....

      • by PRMan (959735)
        If you did that, America's enemies would quickly be investing in new spy satellites.
    • by jacknifetoaswan (2618987) on Thursday February 21, 2013 @09:30AM (#42965875)

      Incorrect. The F-22 and F-35 have both active and passive seekers, and they're able to determine range, altitude, and bearing with just their passive seeker.

      • by dywolf (2673597) on Thursday February 21, 2013 @10:02AM (#42966189)

        Partly true.

        In order to passively seek, there has to be something to be sought.
        in other words, it only works if the other guy is actively emitting in some way.

        if the other guy is also only passively seeking, neither one can see the other.
        basic physics, engineering, logic, or whatever you want to call it.

        the only passive seeker that will always remain effective is IR band, because they kinda need the engines to fly. but its also rather short range, wont give real accurate RAB (RAB being only really relevent for BVR) and if you're that close and can pickup his tailpipes, you already know where he's at, and which way hes going.

        • by jacknifetoaswan (2618987) on Thursday February 21, 2013 @10:08AM (#42966267)

          In a true air-to-air conflict, there will be radar signals bouncing all over the place, originating from everything from AWACS to SAM sites. There's plenty of emission, just from the defensive ground stations. A really good passive seeker is all you need for target acquisition, especially when your aircraft is equipped with fire-and-forget missiles that have their own active seeker, and require no intervention from the pilot of the firing aircraft.

          • Yes. For those who wonder how this works, it is similar to how our own vision works - we see things by the reflected and refracted light (EM waves) off of other objects. The same thing can be done at radio frequencies. Every emitter - cell phone tower, power lines, radio and TV broadcast towers, are essentially shining 'lights' at radio frequencies.

        • the only passive seeker that will always remain effective is IR band, because they kinda need the engines to fly.

          Plus emissions of tachyons and residual antiprotons.

    • by dywolf (2673597) on Thursday February 21, 2013 @09:57AM (#42966123)

      precisely. its a non-story written by the same idiot at wired who constantly uses every opportunity he can to bash on the F22 and F35, while glossing over or ignoring inconvenient facts.

      I'm not saying they arent without their problems...i'm saying the writer has proven in the past he has an axe to grind, much like the that Broder guy at NYT writing about the Tesla last week.

      another thing he misses, is that most aircraft are not locked into a single design. it's entirely possible to replace the radios with other radios. you'd have to redraw some tech manuals, and maybe run some more wires. but its not unheard of and actually quite common for hardware to be updated.

      • Actually.... Nothing to rewire; modern weapon system are spec'd to be modular. As you mentioned, they are expected to outlive the technology of any given component... so the comm's gear should be easily replaceable by upgrades stuff in the future.

        As of the idiot at WIRED... Look a the name... How can you say that he doesn't have an axe to grind? It's probably a pseudonym for that express purpose!

        • oops...

          Dywolf,

          I am aware we agree about the author of TFA.

          omitted was an emphasis on the word DOESN'T....

    • by trout007 (975317)

      What about direction? Can you direct the signal towards satellites and away from ground radar?

    • by DerekLyons (302214) <`fairwater' `at' `gmail.com'> on Thursday February 21, 2013 @11:32AM (#42967311) Homepage

      Transmitting any sort of signal would allow a third party to triangulate its position.

      That sure sounds Really Scary... but technical jargon and buzzwords always do when thrown about by people who don't really know what they're talking about. (Note that the bit about triangulation was added by the submitter - it does not appear in the original article.)
       
      Triangulation against a jet is just barely this side of useless - the damm thing is flying at several hundred miles an hour. A second or two after he stops transmitting, your triangulation solution has lost significant value because he's miles away from the datum point. Your solution just degrades from there and by ten seconds or so you might as well have been using a Ouija board.* Has anyone actually deployed the RDF gear that would be required for high speed tactical 3D triangulation? It's not particularly high tech, but it's also something that can't be cobbled together on short notice out of 'stone knives and bearskins'. To be any kind of useful, you need high accuracy (within +/- a degree or so), which means sophisticated antenna designs and significant signal processing. (Real life RDF isn't a simple as it is in the movies.)
       
      Another problem you face is that you can't use triangulation to fire weapons... you need some way of handing the track off to the radar needed for SAM's or AA guns, or off to the fighter which will then need to obtain radar or IR lock to fire a missile or to obtain visual contact.
       
      So, the real problem isn't triangulation... it's breaking stealth. An unsecured transmission can provide a raid warning. It can warn radar operators to pay really close attention to the 'fluff' on their screens. Etc... etc...
       
      * Yes, I have experience with using triangulation tactically... it was sonar and ASW, so the timescale was longer but the general principles remain the same.

      • ...Any transmission can provide a raid warning...

        Is not necessary to be able to decode a radio transmission to know that someone are attacking you, is enough to know where it come from and check if any ally is at the origin of the signal.
  • Link 16 (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jacknifetoaswan (2618987) on Thursday February 21, 2013 @09:26AM (#42965837)

    As someone who once worked a project to implement Link 16 into a laptop on a HUMVEE, Link 16 is very easy to implement. If the Air Force wanted it, they'd have it. In all likelihood, the Air Force is unwilling to share the Raptor's targeting data, as they don't want the operational capabilities of the radar/IFF/command and decision systems to be revealed to anyone, including one of our closest allies. Such data can reveal the range of the radar, the resolution, and the characteristics of the radar when it comes to jamming and clutter. Obviously, all this data is classified as secret or above, and is almost certainly not for release to foreign individuals.

    Remember, the F-22 is the only airborne weapons system that the US Government refuses to sell to other countries, because it's an apex predator. There's nothing out there that can rival it, and even the F-35, which is basically a follow-on of F-22 technology, is no match for it. Thus, we'll sell it to allied countries, but the F-22 stays US-only, in the case that if we're ever involved in an air war where we're back to old school air superiority, there are no air forces that can match ours.

    That said, I remember reading an article a couple weeks ago, where a new pod is being installed in several US fighters that allow for interoperability with the F-22, over a form of encrypted radio. Basically, the pod allows the fighters to act as a sort of wireless access point, which interfaces with the F-22 and any other fighter with radios that don't talk the same language.

    • Obviously, all this data is classified as secret or above, and is almost certainly not for release to foreign individuals.

      The USA, UK, Canada and Australia all have the administrative structure in place to share classified data with each other. Naturally not all classified data is to be shared, but classified doesn't imply not for fireigners.

      The funny thing is that the NOFORN stuff is an entirely different mechanism done as trade protection, and while you can share it with any 2 bit sleaze bag multiple felo

      • Right...it's all about releasability. But again, it's not prudent that the USG allow for the release of some of the most important performance data on its top tier fighter to anyone, including its top tier allies.

    • by wvmarle (1070040)

      The only problem is that if the US would ever start a serious war with say China, or one of China's allies, all China has to do is stop supplies of anything to the US.

      That would quickly ground most equipment due to lack of parts.

      And it would kill the rest of the population who would die from starvation, as after a while no more working microwaves to heat up their junk food.

      • The military doesn't use components that originate in China, and has specific guidelines for where componentry can originate, given very strict information assurance controls, as well as anti-tamper controls. Sure, there are likely some low end semiconductors that come from China, transistors, capacitors, and the like, but if World War II taught us anything, it's that the US can quickly, and efficiently, ramp up its industrial production, even after a decade of decline, due to recession/depression.

  • by SirGarlon (845873) on Thursday February 21, 2013 @09:26AM (#42965839)
    From TFA:

    Efforts to upgrade Raptors with two-way Link 16 or another, more widely compatible datalink so far have been stymied by technical and budgetary problems. In 2008, the Air Force tested a ground station at Langley that was able to receive data from F-22s then pass it back up to other fighters

    All this means to me is that the technology of the data network and the doctrine for using that network is evolving faster than the aircraft themselves.

    The F-22's design is over 20 years old [wikipedia.org]. Think about what data networks looked like 20 years ago compared to today. Considering that the F-22 is an air superiority fighter and the current war is against an enemy who has no air force, I can see how the F-22 might not be at the top of the priority list for a comms refit.

    • by Bazzargh (39195)

      The F-22's design is over 20 years old [wikipedia.org]. Think about what data networks looked like 20 years ago compared to today.

      Ah, so all the Tornado needs to do is watch the skies for a trailing Cat 5 cable, plug it into an ethernet port, and they're good to go!

  • When the US gov't gifted Chrysler with the M1 "designed for the European theater" contract to a facilitate THAT bailout, it used a 105 mm main gun, while the "NATO Standard" was 120 mm, which the Abrams later adopted. Really silly to have to carry a completely different set of ammunition: "We've got 10,000 rounds of main battle tank main gun ammo, Sir, but none of it fits the tanks that happen to be near our ammo carrier, so should we just throw the rounds at the Russians?".

    I just hope the Saudi crews pe

  • by Luckyo (1726890) on Thursday February 21, 2013 @09:36AM (#42965915)

    A good question is how much radar data from passive only F22 is to a typhoon that has its active radar powered up. F22 essentially cannot fire up its radar and stay stealthy for obvious reasons, so its passive radar only. The major part of data link is sharing targeting data. F22 is designed to feed off allied aircraft's search and fire control radar data for both target acquisition and weapon guidance.

    Not having proper communications link is a bitch, that's certain. But F22 is just not designed to be fighting alongside aircraft it needs to talk to in the first place. It's the silent hunter that doesn't really see anything on its own, and just listens to what allied aircraft tells it via datalink or what it can scrounge up from passive sensor data, and then performs interception based on that data. It apparently can also occasionally fire up its own fire control radar in short pulses to minimize risk of detection, but it's simply not intended to be an actively radiating aircraft.

    The stupidity here is that it has no standard NATO datalink for cases where it has to perform other roles. It's one of the reasons why F22 hasn't seen any combat to date. There are no pure air superiority missions in the modern world for US airforce, and F22 is pretty incapable of doing anything properly else because of the way it was designed. Lack of common data link is just one of the design choices that hurts that aircraft really badly when it comes to doing anything else.

    • "Not a pound for the ground" worked very well for the F-15. If the F-22 is needed for air superiority those choices will be proven well made.
      • by timeOday (582209)
        Or maybe it will be more like the F14, which was built exclusively for air-to-air, never adapted for anything else (unlike the F15E), and as a result saw virtually no action throughout its entire service life.
        • While the F-14's original intended role was fleet air defense and air superiority, it was adapted in the 90s to carry the LANTIRN pod, which allowed it to perform the ground attack role. So, maybe research before making asinine comments?

  • The "writ large" subtext of the headline is that "somebody or somebodies in defense procurement is an idiot."

    Not so fast there.

    1. there are coordination costs and possibly size/weight penalties associated with installation of additional equipment.
    2. the act of installing additional equipment and sharing the necessary protocols is itself a security weak spot.
    3. it is hard to imagine where the two aircraft would be operating together and need direct ship to ship communications...
    4. especially as they always h

  • That is, unless they want to talk via old-fashioned radio, which can be intercepted and triangulated and could betray the planes’ locations.

    This sounds as though the encryption is capable of evading triangulation. Don't know how they want to do that...

    • Encryption can make the signal look like normal background noise. You can bounce things of a sat with a tight upwards beam. You can compress it down and frequency hop all over he place. Hell you can do all of the above at the same time. But the signal that you cant tell is a signal and/or cant find quickly enough can not be triangulated in near real time.

      • by Gordonjcp (186804)

        You can't frequency hop very far, though. If you do, you'll run out of the passband of your aerial and the efficiency will suck. If you use a suitably wide front-end on your receiver then you can tell that *something* is there, well enough to triangulate it.

        • What about ultra wide band (UWB)? I don't know if it's usable at the distances involved in fighter engagements, but from what I understand it is essentially undetectable unless you know the carrier pattern. It might look a bit like a black body radiator, is all.

  • RAF and USAF pilots just need to use cockney rhyming slang. enemies will die laughing and the war ends quickly.

    • by ledow (319597)

      Because "I have a bogey on my tail" is any less obscure. Personally, I'd be checking my Aristotle if someone said that.

      Signed,

      A Genuine Cockney.

    • I you want them to die laughing, just read them "The Joke."
  • Another example of monumental stupidity! I mean, really, a monument should be dedicated to this one ....
  • by rjejr (921275) on Thursday February 21, 2013 @10:14AM (#42966345)
    Maybe they can get all the pilots Verizon iPhones? Just don't let then use the Map app.
  • Just give me $350 Billion dollars --- said greedy defense contractor.

  • You have to use vector potential communications [mcmaster.ca] if you want to be able to transmit from a stealth fighters / bombers without the use of a conventional radio signal.

    There are more variables in electromagnetism than you learned about in Maxwell's equations. They were edited out by Heaviside because they don't normally have any measurable effect in real world experiments. They only show up in things like a SQUID (Superconducting QUantum Interference Device) used to detect faint magnetic fields. (The SQUID actu

  • My favorite High Cost Military Equipment With Low Cost Achilles heel story is about the Stryker armored vehicle. The Pentagon spends ~$200,000 to put the M151 remote machine gun mount [army-guide.com] on the Stryker APC to avoid a crewman being exposed to enemy fire while operating the .50 cal machine gun. But if that solider runs out of the standard load of 200 rounds of ammo they have climb outside vehicle and expose themselves to enemy fire to reload the weapon.

  • FTFS: talk via old-fashioned radio, which can be intercepted and triangulated and could betray the planes’ locations

    Are you kidding me? Are we to believe that encrypted radio transmissions can't be triangulated? Give me a break.

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