Penetration: The Obama era was particularly hard on the U.S. military, as the administration and Congress refused to pass real budgets which prevented the services from investing in high-tech systems, including those designed to protect our most vital assets.
This was again evident after the Department of Defense Inspector General released a report this week saying some of our country’s most important satellites — those the Air Force uses to detect enemy ICBM launches — could be compromised by Russian and Chinese hackers.
As Breaking Defense reports, there isn’t any direct evidence proving that such hacking has taken place, but “If China and Russia’s spies have been doing their jobs well they might well have been able to compromise some of America’s most important satellites, including the missile launch detection birds known as SBIRS.”
At issue: Inadequate protection of Air Force Space Command’s satellite supply chain, meaning that “an adversary has opportunity to infiltrate the Air Force Space Command supply chain and sabotage, maliciously introduce an unwanted function, or otherwise compromise the design or integrity of the critical hardware, software, and firmware,” the DoD IG report said.
Not everyone is convinced that our adversaries have managed to penetrate our critical SBIRS constellation.
“This is really an audit report on whether AFSPC complied with the DoD supply chain risk management policy, and clearly there were issues,” said Todd Harrison of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Breaking Defense reported. It is important to note that just because proper policy and procedures were not followed does not necessarily mean that the system was actually compromised.”
Then again, he adds that AF Space Command can’t be excused for its lack of focus on supply chain protection.
“That being said, we rely on these satellites to detect missile launches and queue our missile defense systems. SBIRS is among the most important military space systems we have, and the idea that these satellites are at higher risk of being compromised—or may have already been compromised—is disconcerting,” he said.
“This is yet another black eye for the Air Force’s management of space acquisitions, and it will likely increase calls to transfer responsibility for programs like this to an new, independent service.”
The DoD IG’s report said:
Air Force Space Command did not take the steps and establish the controls and oversight necessary to:
- conduct a thorough criticality analysis and identify all critical components and associated suppliers to manage risks to the system throughout its lifecycle;
- submit complete and accurate requests to conduct threat assessments of critical component suppliers;
- require the purchase of all application-specific integrated circuits from trusted suppliers using trusted processes that are accredited; or
- ensure the use of rigorous test and evaluation capabilities, including developmental, acceptance, and operational testing
“In addition, our limited review of three other Air Force Space Command critical systems revealed concerns similar to those found with the Space Based Infrared System supply chain risk management,” said the report.
This is all the more reason why POTUS Donald Trump’s decision to build a sixth U.S. service branch — Space Force — is both timely and important.
“The current system is wasting billions of dollars and failing to deliver capability to the warfighter,” Reps. Mike Rogers and Jim Cooper, the top two lawmakers on the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee, said in a statement in August last year, Breaking Defense reported.
“Our adversaries have already reorganized their space programs and are reaping the benefits. Those who continue to oppose reform need to explain to the warfighter, the American people, and their elected representatives how the status quo is acceptable.”
The IG report recommended fixes, but as Breaking Defense noted, they likely have not yet been implemented, given the fact that the report was just released.