Navy ‘extremely’ confident aircraft carrier can fend off cyber-attacks
The massive ship arrived in New York on Friday night.
A senior Royal Navy officer has said he is “extremely” confident HMS Queen Elizabeth and the cutting-edge F-35 stealth fighter jets are well protected from Russian hacking.
In recent weeks, Russia and its military intelligence unit the GRU have been accused of a raft of cyber-attacks on targets around the world.
These included an alleged attempt on the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons which was investigating the Salisbury nerve agent attack.
The World Anti-Doping Agency, transport systems in the Ukraine and democratic elections such as the 2016 US presidential race are also believed to have been targeted.
Asked how confident he is the ship and jets are properly protected in light of the allegations made against Russia, the commander of the UK Carrier Strike Group, Commodore Mike Utley, said “extremely”.
“This is fifth-generation stuff, these things are built with that in mind. We know the threats that are there, and they were built to deal with them,” he told the Press Association.
“That does not mean we can be complacent, because we can’t be complacent.”
Cdre Utley, who took over as the commander of the UK Carrier Strike Group two-and-a-half weeks ago, said they are “absolutely focused in the cyberspace”.
He revealed that an information warfare commander now operates within the carrier strike group alongside the traditional sections of anti-air, anti-submarine and anti-surface.
“It is not just about viruses and attacks, it is also about hybrid information warfare and the sort of shenanigans some nations are prepared to play,” Cdre Utley added.
“And we need to be ahead of that narrative.”
It comes as Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson will announce that Britain and the US will sign an accord to ensure the two nations dominate and out-manoeuvre adversaries in the cyber battlefield.
He will confirm the agreement on Saturday during a Trafalgar night dinner on board HMS Queen Elizabeth, which is currently anchored two miles from Manhattan in New York.
Next year, HMS Queen Elizabeth, Britain’s biggest and most powerful warship, will also have her systems rigorously tested against the evolving cyber danger as part of Information Warrior 2019.
The Royal Navy-led exercise will simulate attempts to bring down networks and jam satellite communications to ensure the fleet remains able to combat these threats, and as hostile states become more technologically advanced.
The arrival of the aircraft carrier into New York comes after two of the multimillion-pound stealth fighter F-35B Lightning jets landed on the flight deck and took off from the ski ramp of the vessel for the first time on September 25.
So far there have been more than 98 take-offs from the ski jump on the bow of the ship, as well as two Shipborne Rolling Vertical Landings – a technique developed in a simulator.
With flight trials set to resume at the end of the month, Cdre Utley said they have been progressing “very well indeed”.
“We are ahead of anywhere that people thought we would be, the design of the ship has really proven outstanding in terms of operating the jets,” he added.
“That is the benefit of building two things together, rather than trying to smash one thing into another.
“We have done some extraordinary testing, we have already done our first rolling landing with the jet – to be able to do this live it is a huge part of the capability of the jet.
“It can come back heavy – we are not in the old days that we used to be with the Harrier where we would have to ditch fuel and bombs in order to get back on deck.
“That was a world first.”
During the trials, 500 lb GBU-12 Paveway II laser-guided bombs have also been dropped from the jets as the aircraft carrier sailed off the east coast of America.
Marking the first time the US bombs have been embarked on a British ship, it allowed the teams from the Integrated Test Force to see how the warplanes behave at various weights.