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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National Security

China is now the world's fifth-largest arms exporter

Well, here's another sign of China's rise: the Asian giant has replaced Britain as the world's fifth-largest weapons supplier, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

As SIPRI notes, this is the first time that Britain hasn't made the top five since the institute started the rankings in 1950. The amount of weapons China exported increased by 162 percent between 2003-2007 and 2008-2012, bumping its share of the global arms trade from 2 percent to 5 percent.

What's behind this spike in Chinese weapons sales? Pakistan's efforts to modernize its arsenal. Pakistan has been buying everything from JF-17 Thunder fighter jets to F-22P frigates, both of which are being jointly developed by Pakistan and China and are loaded with Chinese weapons.

"China's rise has been driven primarily by large-scale arms acquisitions by Pakistan," said Paul Holtom, Director of the SIPRI Arms Transfers Program in a press release. "However, a number of recent deals indicate that China is establishing itself as a significant arms supplier to a growing number of important recipient states."

Asia and the Pacific Rim have become the new hot spots for purveyors of heavy weapons. While European nations have dramatically reduced their weapons buys in the last 20 years, countries from the Middle East to the South China Sea are beefing up their militaries alongside their growing economies. 

"In the period 2008-12 Asia and Oceania accounted for almost half (47-percent) of global imports of major conventional weapons," reads SIPRI's announcement.

The top-five weapons importers from 2008 through 2009 were all in South Asia and the Far East.

"The top five importers of major conventional weapons worldwide -- India (12-percent of global imports), China (six-percent), Pakistan (five-percent), South Korea (five- percent), and Singapore (four-percent) -- were all in Asia."

As expected, the United States and Russia take the top two exporter spots, supplying 30 percent and 26 percent of global weapons, respectively. Next up is Germany, supplying 7 percent of global weapons, followed by France, with 6 percent.

Here are some more interesting facts about the global arms trade between 2008 and 2012. Notice how arms sales to North African nations are way, way up.

§  Russia accounted for 71-percent of exports of major weapons to Syria in 2008-12 and continued to deliver arms and ammunition in 2012.

§  The Arab states of the Gulf accounted for seven-percent of world arms imports in 2008-2012. Missile defense systems were an important element in their latest arms acquisitions, with orders placed in 2011-12 for Patriot PAC-3 and THAAD systems from the USA.

§  Deliveries of weapons system to Venezuela as part of its ongoing rearmament program continued in 2012. Russia accounted for 66-percent of transfers to Venezuela, followed by Spain (12-percent) and China (12-percent).

§  Imports by North African states increased by 350-percent between 2003-2007 and 2008-12, which was almost entirely responsible for a doubling (by 104-percent) in imports by Africa as a whole.

§  Sub-Saharan imports increased by just five-percent. Most countries in sub-Saharan Africa imported only small numbers of major weapons, but many of these have been used in internal conflicts or in interventions in conflicts in neighboring states, most recently in Mali. 

§  Greece's arms imports fell by 61-percent between 2003-2007 and 2008-12, pushing it from the number four importer to number 15. In 2006-10 Greece was the top recipient of German arms exports and the third largest recipient of French arms exports. 

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