Sunday 25 May 2008

China's Off-the-Shelf Air Defense


China's integrated air defense based on cheap, sometimes stolen digital technology are now considered potentially more threatening to the U.S. than Russia's. The wholesale use of commercial products has made Chinese networks flexible, easy to upgrade and tough to exploit.

That opinion, rapidly taking hold in the U.S. electronic warfare community, is part of the tsunami of air defense ana­lysis following Israel's demonstration of its ability to shut down Syria's Russian-built air defenses long enough to conduct a bombing raid—and then allowed the radars to come back on in time to see the Israeli aircraft disappearing over the border.

China's air defense expenditures are calculated by aerospace officials as only one-tenth of what's invested by the U.S. The Chinese systems are affordable, in part, because of the regular use of stolen U.S. technology described as "Cisco" in Chinese, by one specialist. The telecom companies that conduct and exploit the thefts are run by former People's Liberation Army generals. The low cost allows rapid updating and proliferation of these defenses, which is one of the best ways to confound attack planners.

"The Chinese, like many countries without billions to spend on defense, are figuring out how to leverage all that commercial technology into their military capabilities," says Rance Walleston, BAE Systems's director of information operations initiative and information warfare. "We ve spent a lot of time looking at Chinese technologies. They are not building many unique devices. Their integrated air defense system [IADS] uses commercial standards, such as GSM and voice over Internet protocols (VOIP)".

The Syrian radio which involved air-to-ground and network-to-network electronic invasion of a Russian-built IADS's is convincing some that custom-built, highly specialized and expensive air defenses with long development times are decreasing in deterrent value. In fact, they have become victims of their own uniqueness. Because they were hard to develop and field, they arent often modified. That gives electronic warriors the time to conduct analysis and build countermeasures.

But last year's events havent changed U.S. government views of the threat.

"A lot of the threat models used to evaluate whether new programs work are outdated," says a participant in electronic warfare and network attack since the 1992-95 conflict in Bosnia. They are Soviet-era models. Where are the people who are thinking about what the Chinese IADS really look like? The Israelis are already running up against different defenses now that they have highlighted some of the weaknesses in Syria's air defenses.

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