The US Navy and Your Autonomous Vehicle

 

Damage to the USS John S. McCain

The United States Pacific Fleet seems to be having a run of bad luck. Or is it?

There have been five major accidents in the last 12 months.

  • August 18, 2016: The USS Louisiana (SSBN 743, Ohio Class Nuclear Submarine) collided with a USN support ship, the Eagleview (T-AGSE-3) in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the waterway between Washington State and British Columbia.
  • January 31: USS Antietam (CG-54, Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser) ran aground in Tokyo Bay.
  • May 9: USS Lake Champlain (CG-57) collided with a South Korean fishing vessel.
  • June 17: USS Fitzgerald (DDG-62, Arleigh Burke-class destroyer) collided with the Philippine freighter ACX Crystal.
  • August 21: USS John S. McCain (DDG-56) collided with the oil tanker Alnic MC.

How does the world’s most technologically advanced navy keep hitting things? The answer may be found in the question itself. Two separate Navy officials told CNN that the McCain experienced a sudden loss of steering control right before the accident, only for it to reappear just as suddenly afterwards.

The McClatchy news service reports that on June 22 in the eastern Black Sea someone highjacked the GPS capabilities of some 20 vessels. Their navigation systems, all of which were operating fine, suddenly placed them 20 miles inland near an airport. This is the first reported instance of widespread “GPS spoofing.”

The Navy acknowledges that they may have been hacked. Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. John Richardson said there are no indications of a cyber intrusion in any of these instances at the present time but the Navy remains open to the possibility. It’s not a new thought, either. In 2006 the Academy at Annapolis ceased teaching celestial navigation but the sextant was returned to the hands of the Middies in 2016 although the Navy denied at the time that they were worried about hacks.

As Google and vehicle manufactures begin a serious push for autonomous cars and trucks think of the chaos and destruction a terrorist or foreign government could inflict in one day if enough driverless vehicles were on the road at any given time. Somebody needs to be in control. Right now, it’s not clear that is us.

Published in Technology
This post was promoted to the Main Feed by a Ricochet Editor at the recommendation of Ricochet members. Like this post? Want to comment? Join Ricochet’s community of conservatives and be part of the conversation. Join Ricochet for Free.

There are 102 comments.

Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.
  1. Front Seat Cat Member
    Front Seat Cat
    @FrontSeatCat

    My husband and I were discussing it last night – how do they not have the best navigation tools available? So this story is the first I’ve heard of it and WOW – this is a big big problem if there is even a teeny bit of truth to it….

    • #1
  2. Valiuth Inactive
    Valiuth
    @Valiuth

    Is it not possible to make the ships a closed network? If our ships are just giant floating wifi spots with all their systems exposed you were just asking for trouble. I can’t imagine they would be that careless, but then again..people do stupid things.

    Could it also not just be a glitch in the system rather than a hack? What if some line of code is switching between feet and meter when making the calculations. NASA lost a whole mars explorer because of that.

    • #2
  3. Ed G. Inactive
    Ed G.
    @EdG

    Front Seat Cat (View Comment):
    My husband and I were discussing it last night – how do they not have the best navigation tools available? So this story is the first I’ve heard of it and WOW – this is a big big problem if there is even a teeny bit of truth to it….

    That was my thought too. Hell, how do they not have watchers visually scanning the path of the ship for obstructions? However, EJ’s post seems to indicate that it might not be just a problem of navigation but also a problem with actual steering. How is it that steering is vulnerable to hacking instead of part of a closed system on the ship?

    • #3
  4. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    Ed G.: Hell, how do they not have watchers visually scanning the path of the ship for obstructions?

    They do. But if there’s no steering all the human watchers in the world aren’t going to help.

    As far as the ships’ nav systems being closed I can’t speak to that. Even if anyone knew the extent of exactly how much it relies on the automated input of data from outside the ship it’s all classified. We could speculate from now until doomsday.

    • #4
  5. RushBabe49 Thatcher
    RushBabe49
    @RushBabe49

    What autonomous vehicle?  My driven-by-me automobile is my Liberty, and I will not give it up, ever.

    • #5
  6. Stina Member
    Stina
    @CM

    Front Seat Cat (View Comment):
    how do they not have the best navigation tools available?

    I wish this surprised me, but it really doesn’t.

    I’ve seen the almighty dollar take precedent in design decisions for our military by contractors. The argument was to remove competition by doing away with something that was necessary. It would have put our systems 20 years in the past if the DoD hadn’t canceled the contract.

    One reasons why I refuse to enter that field of work again.

    • #6
  7. James Gawron Inactive
    James Gawron
    @JamesGawron

    EJHill: The McClatchy news service reports that on June 22 in the eastern Black Sea someone highjacked the GPS capabilities of some 20 vessels. Their navigation systems, all of which were operating fine, suddenly placed them 20 miles inland near an airport. This is the first reported instance of widespread “GPS spoofing.”

    EJ,

    This is very troubling. The article said that the GPS the Navy is using was encrypted. However, evidence of the spoofing says that the encryption technique has been broken. Once again this emphasizes the concern for cyber security.

    As for self-driving cars, GPS spoofing is just one of many dangers. Personally, I think the complexity and vulnerability problems make the self-driving car problem much more difficult to resolve than is currently assumed. Reality, as in the ships colliding, has a way of contradicting our hubris.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #7
  8. ctlaw Coolidge
    ctlaw
    @ctlaw

    EJHill: The McClatchy news service reports that on June 22 in the eastern Black Sea someone highjacked the GPS capabilities of some 20 vessels. Their navigation systems, all of which were operating fine, suddenly placed them 20 miles inland near an airport. This is the first reported instance of widespread “GPS spoofing.”

    Also recall Iran’s hijacking of the Sentinel.

    • #8
  9. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    I heard that the training had been cut back for those running the ships; they were going straight from Annapolis to their assignments. I’m not sure which is worse–a hacked GPS, or people trying to save money?  Well, the training issue can be fixed, the GPS might be another story.

    • #9
  10. Judge Mental Member
    Judge Mental
    @JudgeMental

    James Gawron (View Comment):
    As for self-driving cars, GPS spoofing is just one of many dangers. Personally, I think the complexity and vulnerability problems make the self-driving car problem much more difficult to resolve than is currently assumed. Reality, as in the ships colliding, has a way of contradicting our hubris.

    This.  Think of the typical city’s downtown rush hour.  Cars moving at speed, 3-5 lanes wide, high concrete barriers on either side.  If you’re on the center of five lanes, you’re surrounded by 24 others cars all pinging for proximity on all sides, and then the barriers on the sides as well, and I have serious doubts about it all working.  Either it doesn’t, or they have to stretch the traffic way out so that they don’t interfere with each other, which would reduce the throughput enough to make it unworkable.

    It’s way easier if there is only test one car pinging.

    • #10
  11. Stina Member
    Stina
    @CM

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    Well, the training issue can be fixed, the GPS might be another story.

    Codes have been created and broken multiple times through out history. Creating a new encryption system should be par for the course. If it isn’t, we are too comfortable.

    • #11
  12. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    Well, then there’s this:

    US Navy Officer charged with spying, possibly for China

    A plea bargain was reached earlier this year. This case is as fishy as the Outer Banks.

    • #12
  13. James Gawron Inactive
    James Gawron
    @JamesGawron

    EJHill (View Comment):
    Well, then there’s this:

    US Navy Officer charged with spying, possibly for China

    A plea bargain was reached earlier this year. This case is as fishy as the Outer Banks.

    EJ,

    This is not good. Too bad for the Naval officer that he is heterosexual. Apparently, exposing the United States Military to lethal danger is OK if you can appeal to the transgender issue.

    Chelsea Manning

    On January 17, 2017, President Barack Obama commuted Manning’s sentence to nearly seven years of confinement dating from the date of arrest (May 27, 2010) by military authorities.

    Sexual schizophrenia makes everything just fine. I’m not sure whether Chelsea Manning should be keelhauled or Obama. Maybe both of them.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #13
  14. PHCheese Inactive
    PHCheese
    @PHCheese

    My GPS on my boat once marked my position as 300 yards on land in the   Abaco Islands .

    • #14
  15. Hammer, The Member
    Hammer, The
    @RyanM

    James Gawron (View Comment):

    EJHill (View Comment):
    Well, then there’s this:

    US Navy Officer charged with spying, possibly for China

    A plea bargain was reached earlier this year. This case is as fishy as the Outer Banks.

    EJ,

    This is not good. Too bad for the Naval officer that he is heterosexual. Apparently, exposing the United States Military to lethal danger is OK if you can appeal to the transgender issue.

    Chelsea Manning

    On January 17, 2017, President Barack Obama commuted Manning’s sentence to nearly seven years of confinement dating from the date of arrest (May 27, 2010) by military authorities.

    Sexual schizophrenia makes everything just fine. I’m not sure whether Chelsea Manning should be keelhauled or Obama. Maybe both of them.

    Regards,

    Jim

    Pretty sure Bradley Manning didn’t “discover” the transsexual issue until after he was in jail…  it’s not to late for this guy, either.

    • #15
  16. Mike-K Member
    Mike-K
    @

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    people trying to save money? Well, the training issue can be fixed,

    I think some of it may be “sensitivity training” and sessions on transgender sailors taking precedence over navigation. The new Admiral of Desron 15 spent the previous several tours as a chairborne warrior in DC.

    • #16
  17. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    According to the plea reports the guy confessed and then NCIS proved his confession was false. How does that work? Unless, of course, there’s something the Navy does not want exposed to civilians under any circumstance. (Defense lawyers in a court-martial need not be military.)

    • #17
  18. Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr. Coolidge
    Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr.
    @BartholomewXerxesOgilvieJr

    Valiuth (View Comment):
    Is it not possible to make the ships a closed network? If our ships are just giant floating wifi spots with all their systems exposed you were just asking for trouble. I can’t imagine they would be that careless, but then again..people do stupid things.

    I’m sure the critical systems are closed to the outside world. But there are other ways to infiltrate a system besides through a network connection. A great example is the Stuxnet worm from a few years ago, which was designed to sabotage Iranian nuclear centrifuges (and succeeded). Those systems were not connected to any network, but the Stuxnet software was unknowingly carried into secure facilities by employees with removable media like USB drives. The worm was designed to spread wherever it could, but to do nothing unless it recognized that it was installed on a controller for one of the specific devices it was intended to attack. It was extremely sophisticated and was almost certainly a state-sponsored cyberattack, most likely from Israel, the U.S., or both.

    I’m not saying I believe the cyberattack hypothesis in this case, but it is at least plausible. It doesn’t matter how hardened our networks are; the weak point in any system is the people.

    • #18
  19. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    On these collisions.

    & an allegation of corruption in the Navy.

    • #19
  20. Kevin Schulte Member
    Kevin Schulte
    @KevinSchulte

    RushBabe49 (View Comment):
    What autonomous vehicle? My driven-by-me automobile is my Liberty, and I will not give it up, ever.

    Your hands will be cold and dead and stiff when they pry it from you. Remember, they are here to help you.

    • #20
  21. Steve C. Member
    Steve C.
    @user_531302

    In the absence of evidence I’m going with human error.

    • #21
  22. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    @titustechera You had me right up to the point I got to the Forrestal allegations against John McCain III. He got away with some dicey things as a pilot but not that.

    • #22
  23. Judge Mental Member
    Judge Mental
    @JudgeMental

    EJHill (View Comment):
    @titustechera You had me right up to the point I got to the Forrestal allegations against John McCain III. He got away with some dicey things as a pilot but not that.

    I thought the story was that someone else accidentally fired a missile across the deck, hitting McCain’s plane.

    • #23
  24. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    Dunno about that. Codevilla is a great writer, but he might have got it wrong. Now, the report he’s talking about–well, if the facts he interprets are facts, that’s pretty serious.

    • #24
  25. MLH Inactive
    MLH
    @MLH

    EJHill (View Comment):
    Well, then there’s this:

    US Navy Officer charged with spying, possibly for China

    A plea bargain was reached earlier this year. This case is as fishy as the Outer Banks.

    didn’t it used to be that one had to be a natural born citizen to have access to classified information?

    • #25
  26. Isaac Smith Member
    Isaac Smith
    @

    RushBabe49 (View Comment):
    What autonomous vehicle? My driven-by-me automobile is my Liberty, and I will not give it up, ever.

    That was my first thought too – then I realized it won’t be much fun as the driver if the driverless cars and trucks on the road go haywire.

    • #26
  27. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    I blame Eliot Carver

    • #27
  28. Functionary Thatcher
    Functionary
    @Functionary

    I retired from the Navy some time ago, so I could be wrong.  But I think the idea that this was some kind of cyberattack or any sort of enemy action is misguided.  The Navy should cover all of the bases in their investigations, but it is very unlikely that cyber, or intentional ramming were factors here.

    1. The steering system controls are analog (using synchros), and are not connected to any sort of digital network; internal, isolated, or otherwise. [Late edit 8/26: I was wrong about this.  Apparently the steering control is digital — Integrated Bridge Navigation System (IBNS).  See excellent article in Ars Technica.  I’m not sure if just the indicators are digital, or if the actual signals to the hydraulic steering system are also digital.]
    2. The collision may conceivably have been related to some sort of manipulation of GPS, but this is probably not a major factor (if at all) as visual and radar indicators should have been sufficient to avoid collision. The only contributions that false geo-position information would have made would have been either to place them on the wrong side of a traffic separation scheme, or to inject a measure of confusion or distraction.  But basic, low-tech seamanship (using the MK 1 Mod 0 eyeball) should have been sufficient to avoid collision. Moreover, there are technical measures that are very effective in preventing meaconing of GPS in modern warships.
    3. There is no 30,000 ton merchant ship that could possibly match the maneuverability of an Arleigh Burke destroyer.  They couldn’t hit one if they tried.

    This is our failure.  It is not enemy action.

    • #28
  29. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    Functionary: This is our failure. It is not enemy action.

    I don’t know if I should be comforted by that thought or not.

    One looks like an accident, two a coincidence… but five?

    • #29
  30. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    EJHill: As Google and vehicle manufactures begin a serious push for autonomous cars and trucks think of the chaos and destruction a terrorist or foreign government could inflict in one day if enough driverless vehicles were on the road at any given time. Somebody needs to be in control. Right now, it’s not clear that is us.

    Amen, brother.

    • #30
Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.