China got their hands on over 600 gigabytes of highly classified undersea warfare data, including the ‘Sea Dragon’ sub-launched supersonic missile program. The media isn’t saying a word.
Earlier this year, China’s Ministry of State Security hacked into an unnamed defense contractor working for Rhode Island’s Naval Undersea Warfare Center. Billions of dollars worth of military technology secrets are in the hands of the enemy. Not one single network media outlet is telling the American people anything about it.
The contractor was working on the “Sea Dragon” project. Sub-launched, supersonic missiles costing billions are being installed through the Virginia-class submarine fleet, but the theft of their data was hushed up and swept under the rug with zero explanation.
The Chinese took advantage of poor security that was defending an unclassified network and managed to remove over 600 gigabytes of files.
One by one, each was unclassified. When you put them all together, it means a devastating compromise of top-secret ultra-advanced technology relied on across the armed forces.
Nobody is admitting publicly that the core of the system is the same SM-6 air defense missile “designed to be launched by U.S. Navy Arleigh Burke-class destroyers and Ticonderoga-class cruisers to defend the fleet from cruise missiles, manned aircraft, unmanned aircraft, and even short-range ballistic missiles.”
Intended to give Navy subs a new “disruptive offensive capability,” Sea Dragon “combines an existing U.S. Navy platform with an existing capability.” The generic air defense missile can be adapted to targeting ships.
Sometime in January or February of this year, hackers, identified only as Chinese state-sponsored, accessed “signals and sensor data, submarine radio room information relating to cryptographic systems, and the Navy submarine development unit’s electronic warfare library.”
You can be assured that the Chinese are making good use of their stolen library card. The data in that file means “hundreds of mechanical and software-based systems” were compromised.
It is common knowledge that Sea Dragon is a “supersonic anti-ship missile for use by submarines.” It is scheduled for underwater testing in the fall and supposed to go into service by 2020.
Because it is supersonic, that rules out Harpoon, Tomahawk, and the Long Range Anti-Ship Missile as candidates for a weapon of choice. Those all fly slower than sound.
The Navy only owns one supersonic missile, the Standard Missile 6. It is called “standard” because it is used for everything. With a range of 180 miles, it flies at Mach 3.5.
The only drawback is the limited “blast fragmentation warhead” designed to shoot down air targets. With only a little modification, they can be refitted to do serious damage against ships.
The big advantage is the high-tech guidance system that allows them to pull data from other equipment. Both the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye “early warning and control aircraft” and the “F-35 Joint Strike Fighter” can provide target data.
Defensively, the SM-6 can be used to engage a fleet of incoming cruise missiles, which fly so low they are hard to detect until it’s too late. An E-2D flying above as an escort can spot and target the incoming missiles.
The ships launch the SM-6 blind, just shooting in a general direction. The E-2D computers tell the SM-6 the optimal target.
The SM-6 is easy to adapt to submarine use. Each of the Virginia-class subs has a dozen vertically oriented launch tubes that can accommodate the supersonic missiles.
The newer versions of the class will have the new and improved “Virginia Payload Module” which will expand capacity up to the ability to “accommodate 28 Tomahawk-sized missiles.”
The Virginia-class sub, equipped with an upgraded VPM is simply ordered to a set of GPS coordinates to wait. At just the right time, 28 SM-6 missiles suddenly blast off in the same direction at 2,685 miles an hour.
Once in the air, a carrier-based F-35 tells them where to go. The stealth fighter can spy on enemy warships from above.
From the target’s perspective, over two dozen supersonic anti-ship missiles show up on radar all at once. They come from a direction 90 degrees from the perceived aircraft carrier threat, and there are less than 4 minutes to swat them all down.
Oh, by the way, all those planes that were on the aircraft carrier just flew into radar range too.
The Senator agreed after his briefing that what happened is “very serious.” The Inspector General for the Pentagon acknowledges that the Secretary of Defense has already ordered an investigation.
Industry analysts are quick to point out that other contractors are just as vulnerable. “Despite years of warnings about pervasive cyberespionage by China, Russia, and other rivals, the U.S. Navy remains desperately unserious about basic security,” a former NSA analyst writes.
In a separate but related development, last week, a security researcher warned that the Electronic Chart Display system “is vulnerable to exploit.” What that means is that the widely used system that ships all over the world rely on to navigate through ports and shipping lanes can be hacked.
At least two incidents of ship collisions, including the USS McCain and USS Fitzgerald could have been affected. There were 10 sailors killed when the McCain rammed into a Liberian tanker at the entrance to the Strait of Malacca. Seven died when the Fitzgerald struck a container ship near Japan.
The official investigations blame both of those incidents on failure to follow proper procedures but it’s hard not to wonder how much of role something like a hacked navigation display really played.