The army’s combat management system stays under a cloud


Australian Army Lieutenant Cooper Smith, 5th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, issues patrol orders at the Combat Training Center, Tully, Queensland. Image: Department of Defense

Since news broke a month ago that the military was removing its Tactical Combat Management System (BMS) from service, the government has been completely silent.

No one has denied the reports, but similarly nothing has been said about how this vital capacity will be replaced, how long the process will take, and how much it will cost.

There are also unanswered accountability questions: How did the military manage to spend $ 2 billion on a system that never worked well and now appears to have been abandoned?

The original vision of the project – LAND 200 – was to implement a system that connected individual soldiers in the field through their radios and allowed them to share data with each other and with people higher up the chain of command.

This is at the heart of the concept of network-centric warfare, where the image of an advanced scout’s rifle could be instantly and securely transmitted to others logged into the system and data could flow back the other way.

Other elements of the project saw connectivity extended to a number of vehicles and in future phases offered to platforms such as main battle tanks.

This activity has not only ceased, but the military has instructed all units to log off and return all associated equipment – mostly computing devices – for secure storage until their ultimate fate is over. decided.

Even for internal consumption, the information provided to justify this sweeping decision is scarce, with vague references to the need for interoperability and the technology has evolved.

What has been very public is speculation that the Israeli company Elbit’s system has been pulled over fears that the system contains a deliberate software vulnerability that affects its security.

This has been completely denied by the company, which has only entered into discussions with Defense in recent days as Covid restrictions have limited travel by subject matter experts from overseas.

In the often murky world of the international arms trade, rumors often revolve around the effectiveness of products and the safety of systems.

From an Australian perspective, the highest level of trust is between the partners of Five Eyes and anyone outside the Anglosphere is treated with a high level of suspicion – whether or not there is any justification for it. do it.

This form of paranoia reaches an even higher level in the United States, where the default position is to trust only themselves – which gives rise to current speculation that the Pentagon has expressed reluctance to be connect with an Australian system developed in Israel. If this is true, it would make joint operations, if not impossible, at least extremely difficult.

The unofficial theory that has been widely reported is that somewhere in the software is a backdoor that would somehow allow Israel to gain access to US secrets once everything is connected. This sentiment has been expressed verbally by members of the US military to their Australian counterparts, but it is not known whether this concern is based on fact or by watching too many cyber espionage thrillers.

Similar rumors have also been made by anonymous Americans about connecting to French systems – and these seem to have been pure bluff.

It should be noted that Elbit has been operating very successfully in the United States for 30 years and has over 3000 local employees.

The company is involved in some of the most advanced and sensitive military projects ever undertaken, such as the pilot sensor system for the F-35.

It was also recently cleared by US regulators to acquire another company that develops sensitive, export-controlled infantry night vision systems – so it takes a few contortions to understand the safety concerns regarding a BMS from the United States. Australian Army.

Nonetheless, the stories about the security concerns regarding LAND 200 come from so many sources within Defense and industry that they have developed a life of their own.

It is not known if Elbit can do anything to recover from this, as it is difficult to prove beyond a doubt that a system is fully secure. This is because tiny vulnerabilities can be built into software that often involve millions of lines of code, which in turn consist of large numbers of ones and zeros.

It’s likely we’ll never know the full story and the current BMS contract with Elbit could be canceled for routine business reasons.s – but the suspicions will remain.

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