The Complex

The Saudi air force wants to protect its newest planes from cyber attack

The U.S. Air Force is looking for someone to help the Royal Saudi Air Force keep its fleet of brand new F-15SA Strike Eagles safe from cyber attack.

Remember, the Saudis bought 84 Boeing-made Strike Eagles in December 2011 as part of a mammoth weapons buy. Deliveries of the new jets are slated to start in 2015. Like other 21st century fighter jets, the newest Strike Eagles are tied to computer networks that could be vulnerable to hacking. 

To protect against this, the U.S. Air Force wants to hire someone to give the Saudis "initial Computer Network Defense (CND) capabilities, facilities, and manpower necessary to protect sensitive networks, systems, and data generated and utilized in support of F-15 flight, maintenance, supply, and operations activities," according to this March 11 notice. The U.S. Air Force estimates that this is a $110-$120 million business opportunity, pretty small when compared to the $29.4 billion contract for the 84 new jets.

This is just the start of the Saudi air force's effort to develop a "robust and survivable Computer Network Operations capability," according to the notice.

In addition to designing software and procedures necessary to protect the jets from hacking, the contractor will be expected to build the Saudi air force's new "Secure Communications Facility," which includes the service's primary data center, its new "Cyber Security Operations Center/Network Operations & Security Center," and a secure satellite communications facility.  

The Saudi F-15s aren't the only new fighter jets being built with cyber security in mind. Lockheed Martin's F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program underwent a pretty big software overhaul after it was discovered that its computerized maintenance and flight planning systems -- called ALIS -- was vulnerable to hacking. This meant that enemy spies could discover all sorts of information about the maintenance status of the jets, pilot readiness levels, and potentially the plane's weaknesses. Until late in the last decade, fighter jets weren't necessarily designed with cyber security in mind.

If you want to get in on the effort, the Air Force is hosting industry days to talk to potential vendors on April 9, 10 and 11 at Hanscom Air Force Base, MA. 

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