Pentagon Wants To Expand Program That Detects Foreign Nuclear Tests

North Korea's Unha-3 rocket lifting off in December, 2012 during a test

KCNA/AP

AA Font size + Print

North Korea's Unha-3 rocket lifting off in December, 2012 during a test

A new solicitation indicates that the DoD is considering an upgrade to a system used to track nuclear activity abroad. By Aliya Sternstein

The Defense Department is mulling an expansion of a system that essentially eavesdrops on the environment for indications of foreign nuclear tests.  

The Air Force Technical Applications Center’s atomic monitoring system digests seismic, infrasonic, and hydroacoustic data to help verify blasts. A potential new contract would “provide the platform for future system growth and enhancements,” according to an industry solicitation issued on Wednesday. 

The system, housed at Patrick Air Force Base in Florida, was launched in 1999 to check international compliance with nuclear test ban treaties. 

The impetus for the proposed enlargement of the program could be nuclear threats from “Iran and North Korea, technological opportunity, an agency wanting to improve its capabilities, or all three,” speculated Jeffrey Richelson, senior fellow with George Washington University’s National Security Archive.

The goals outlined in last week’s proposal suggest a desire for big data analysis features that can identify more subtle signs of nuclear activity. 

The focus of the effort is “to fine-tune the current system by optimization of software algorithms through scientific and engineering studies,” the solicitation states. The upgrades are aimed at improving “data acquisition, detection, association, location, magnitude/yield estimation, event identification, event reporting, data distribution, and data archiving capabilities to meet current and future treaty monitoring needs.”

Past nuclear surveillance reports generated by the Florida Air Force center have triggered both false alarms and valid alerts. 

In 1997, the Clinton administration drew criticism for leaking to the press what turned out to be erroneous assessments indicating a Russian nuclear test. Shortly after the gaffe, Columbia University seismologist Lynn R. Sykes, who served on the Air Force center’s advisory panel in the 1970s, urged more careful scrutiny before accusations are prematurely shared with the media. “A few key people within the government were responsible for leaking misleading and outdated information to the press about the event,” Sykes wrote in a review of the episode. Further analysis determined that the Aug. 16, 1997, event was an earthquake and not a clandestine nuclear explosion. 

In October 2006, the center detected an event thought to be associated with a purported North Korean nuclear test, and later confirmed that the incident, in fact, was nuclear in nature, according to Air Force officials. The current system is designed to speed Top Secret assessments to the relevant national security agencies once a foreign nuclear test is pinpointed.

Close [ x ] More from DefenseOne
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from DefenseOne.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Federal IT Applications: Assessing Government's Core Drivers

    In order to better understand the current state of external and internal-facing agency workplace applications, Government Business Council (GBC) and Riverbed undertook an in-depth research study of federal employees. Overall, survey findings indicate that federal IT applications still face a gamut of challenges with regard to quality, reliability, and performance management.

    Download
  • PIV- I And Multifactor Authentication: The Best Defense for Federal Government Contractors

    This white paper explores NIST SP 800-171 and why compliance is critical to federal government contractors, especially those that work with the Department of Defense, as well as how leveraging PIV-I credentialing with multifactor authentication can be used as a defense against cyberattacks

    Download
  • GBC Issue Brief: Supply Chain Insecurity

    Federal organizations rely on state-of-the-art IT tools and systems to deliver services efficiently and effectively, and it takes a vast ecosystem of organizations, individuals, information, and resources to successfully deliver these products. This issue brief discusses the current threats to the vulnerable supply chain - and how agencies can prevent these threats to produce a more secure IT supply chain process.

    Download
  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

    Download
  • Information Operations: Retaking the High Ground

    Today's threats are fluent in rapidly evolving areas of the Internet, especially social media. Learn how military organizations can secure an advantage in this developing arena.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.