US military Investigates Network Outage at Classified Drone Base

In September 2016, Creech Air Force Base made a series of mistakes while conducting air attack missions. The US Air Force is investigating the cause of the accident and determine if it has anything to do with their use of the parallel network SIPRNet.

SIPRNet stands for The Secret Internet Protocol Router Network. It is the Department of Defense network for the exchange of classified information and messages at the SECRET level. It supports the Global Command and Control System, the Defense Message System, and numerous other classified warfighting and planning applications.

In other words, SIPRNet is an out-and-out parallel network, although the same communication programs are used in common networks, but are completely independent of the civilian Internet.

About 3 million people have access to SIPRNet secret privileges, including the Pentagon and military officials, intelligence agencies, FBI, as well as the United States Embassy around the world some diplomats.

As a secret facility for the US military, Creech Air Force Base is located outside of Las Vegas city. Instead of actually piloting the aircraft, pilots at this base merely sit in a small black room with air-conditioning while ventilating from a distance of 7,100 miles to remotely control the drones to “target” the target, as if they were playing video games. These people are one of those who influence the whole war between Israel and Afghanistan.

As soon as the trigger is levered, US pilots will be able to use the base as the initial launch point and shoot the target located in another half of the planet. They also use unmanned aerial vehicle (UAVs) for some surveillance and intelligence gathering.

As the world’s leading UAVs control and location-based mission, the UAV operating facilities at Creech Air Force Base are assigned “special permissions” to access SIPRNet parallel networks.

According to government contract documentation, the network remained in a state of disruption long after the outages were first reported. Military sources have not commented on the source of the problems but a spokeswoman, Major Malinda Singleton, has claimed the system is now “up and running”.

The contract notice – which stated that “critical systems” needed a core infrastructure upgrade with “unusual and compelling urgency” – was listed on 7 October and first reported by Buzzfeed News. “On 9 September 2016, the SIPRNet system currently in operation at Creech AFB failed and critical services were impacted. The services were somewhat restored with the use of multiple less powerful devices. This temporary solution stabilised the services, but will not be able to maintain the demand for very long. If this solution fails, there is currently no other backup system.”

In the weeks after the computer problems at the air force base occurred, a number of deadly mistakes by US drone operations resulted in a slew of erroneous killings which the US authorities are also now in the process of investigating.

On 17 September, as noted by the New York Times, US warplanes killed more than 60 Syrian government soldiers after mistakenly thinking the troops were aligned with the IS. In another incident, on 28 September, more than a dozen civilians in Afghanistan lost their lives in a similar attack.

According to Singleton, such incidents would be unaffected by computer outages as such drone missions are not solely reliant on the SIPRNet.

Reina Ho

Reina Ho is a freelance reporter who focuses on censorship and information control in online space.

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