The Complex

US and UK to increase cybersecurity cooperation

As the militaries of the United States and Britain purchase more and more of the same networked hardware, most notably the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (above), the two nations are increasing collaboration in cyber warfare, according to a Pentagon official.

"Cybersecurity is a growing area of cooperation between the United States and the United Kingdom," the official told Killer Apps. "We're sharing more information and going deeper into threat analysis and response planning than we ever have before.  Both nations firmly agree we need improved multilateral cyber coordination and we're working to do just that.  Cyber will also be on the agenda for discussions at the upcoming NATO conference in June."

His comments come a day after British Defence (with a "c") Secretary Phil Hammond was in Washington meeting with U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to discuss the situation in Syria, the war in Afghanistan, how to deal with Iran, and visit U.S. Cyber Command at Fort Meade, MD. (As is sadly the norm, a spokesman for the command could not talk about Hammond's visit to Fort Meade.)

While much of the discussion between the two officials centered current or potential conflict zones and major weapons buys like the F-35, Hagel announced that the two allies will increase their cooperation in the cyber world.

"The United Kingdom's continued commitment to [the F-35] program, and our growing cooperation in new priority areas like cyber, is helping ensure this alliance has the kind of [cutting-edge] capabilities needed for the future," Hagel said during a Pentagon press conference yesterday.

"The U.K. and the U.S. remain in lock step on these projects, and as we take them forward, we will ensure the continuity of those vital capabilities," added Hammond.

It makes sense for the two to discuss F-35 and cyber in the same breath. The F-35 relies on tens of thousands of lines of software code to function. It is perhaps, the most networked plane in history, using software to do everything from fire weapons to beam chunks of data to other aircraft or command centers. Last fall, Killer Apps reported that the jet's computerized maintenance system was found to be vulnerable to hacking -- meaning that, if penetrated by spies, they could see everything from how many pilots were available to fly the jets to the maintenance status of all the airplanes in a squadron.

This comes just after Bloomberg news reported that QinetiQ, a British defense firm (that used to be a Ministry of Defense research agency until it was privatized in 2001 suffered) a series of major cybersecurity breaches at the hands of Chinese government hackers. QinetiQ works on a host of advanced technologies from cyber to robotics with U.S. government agencies such as the DOD  and the Department of Energy. In fact, the firm runs Britain's version of Area 51, a site known as MoD Boscombe Down and has been called the inspiration for the workplace of James Bond's gadget-maker, Q.

Lockheed Martin

National Security

The contract airlines that quietly move U.S. troops and spies around the globe

This week's crash of a civilian cargo jet at Bagram airfield in Afghanistan highlights the fact that the U.S. military relies on a private air force to move enormous amounts of supplies and numbers of people around the globe.  

The jet that crashed at Bagram (shown above) was a Boeing 747-400 that had been converted from a passenger jet into a freighter for Florida-based National Airlines, one of the many little-known civilian carriers that keep the U.S. military and intelligence agencies supplied around the globe. The plane was said to be transporting five MRAP armored vehicles (which are incredibly heavy) from Afghanistan to Dubai -- a route the airline had been flying for about a month prior to the crash.

Here are just a few more of the many private airlines that serve the U.S. government on a regular basis:

Spend any time at BWI Airport and you'll see MD-11s sitting on the ramp, painted in the livery of World Airlines, a contractor that flies U.S. troops to Europe and the Middle East. They usually operate out of a terminal reserved for the U.S. Air Force's Air Mobility Command -- the organization that operates more than a thousand cargo and tanker aircraft such a C-5 Galaxies, C-17 Globemaster IIIs, C-130 Hercules, KC-135 Stratotankers, and KC-10 Extenders. Despite all these planes dedicated to moving troops and materiel, the service still contracts with dozens of private airlines.

Frequently sharing ramp space at BWI with World Airlines is North American Airlines, the company that provided a Boeing 767 for Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign. The charter-jet provider operates five 767s that are frequently used to ferry U.S. soldiers around the world.

The Washington state-based Evergreen Aviation is supposedly one of the successors to the CIA's legendary Air America -- famous for hauling everything from chickens to drugs (allegedly) throughout Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. (In 1968, an Air America UH-1 Huey chopper actually shot down a Soviet-made An-2 Cub cargo plane flown by the North Vietnamese air force.) The company has done everything from supporting CIA missions to operating one of the largest aerial firefighting aircraft in the world: the Evergreen Supertanker, an old 747 passenger jet that was converted to carry more than 20,000 gallons of fire suppressant.  


Tepper Aviation is a company that operates a fleet of ghost-white Lockheed L-100s (the civilian version of the C-130 Hercules), allegedly conducting missions for the CIA all over the globe, possibly including prisoner transport. As would be expected, Tepper has no website. However, if you search Google Maps for the small airport in Crestview, Fla., where Tepper is reportedly based, you'll find a large facility on the southeast corner of the runway with a U.S. Air Force C-130 parked nearby and a hangar with the logo of defense giant L-3 Communications painted on the roof. (Click here to see apparent pics of the flight deck of one of tepper's planes while it was stopped in Japan with some "diplomatic" cargo aboard.) 

Then there's Kalitta Air. Founded by drag-racing legend Conrad "Conie" Kalitta, the firm hauls supplies and people around the world for the military with its fleet of 747s.

And who can forget Presidential Airways. This former Blackwater subsidiary is famous for a 2004 incident in which a CASA 212 ferrying U.S. troops from Bagram to Farah, Afghanistan crashed into a canyon wall after the pilot became disoriented, killing three soldiers and three civilian crew. This incident brought attention to the fact that small carriers were hauling U.S. troops around battlefields even though the U.S. Air Force, Army, and Marines have thousands of planes and helicopters designated for such tasks. Despite increases in the number of military tactical airlifter missions in the Middle East since then, the U.S. military still relies on contractors to support the massive task of keeping its troops supplied via air in Afghanistan.

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