Fears of cyber-attack as Navy fires 7th Fleet commander after collisions

The Navy announced that Vice Admiral Joseph Aucoin has been dismissed as commander of the Seventh Fleet following the second fatal collision of a U.S. naval warship with a civilian vessel in the last three months.

USA Today:

Adm. Scott Swift, commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet, dismissed Aucoin "due to a loss of confidence in his ability to command," the U.S. Pacific Fleet said in a statement.

It said Rear Adm. Phil Sawyer will assume command of the 7th Fleet immediately.

Aucoin had expected to retire this year, but his superiors decided to push his departure date due to concerns over his leadership skills, the New York Times reported. Aucoin has commanded the Japan-based fleet since September 2015. ...

The collision came two months after USS Fitzgerald was badly damaged in a collision on June 17 that killed seven sailors off the coast of Japan.

In lesser incidents that caused no reported injuries, the USS Lake Champlain was involved in a collision with a South Korean fishing boat near the Korean Peninsula in May, and in January the USS Antietam ran aground while attempting to anchor in Tokyo Bay.

"While each of these four incidents is unique, they cannot be viewed in isolation," Swift said.

The Navy's top officer on Monday ordered a pause in operations around the world.

Not only does the rash of incidents call into question the leadership skills of Aucoin, but the collisions have also stoked fears of some kind of cyber-attack on the electronics of U.S. Navy ships.

McClatchy:

The Pentagon won't yet say how the USS John S. McCain was rammed by an oil tanker near Singapore, but red flags are flying as the Navy's decades-old reliance on electronic guidance systems increasing looks like another target of cyberattack.

The incident – the fourth involving a Seventh Fleet warship this year – occurred near the Strait of Malacca, a crowded 1.7-mile-wide waterway that connects the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea and accounts for roughly 25 percent of global shipping.

"When you are going through the Strait of Malacca, you can't tell me that a Navy destroyer doesn't have a full navigation team going with full lookouts on every wing and extra people on radar," said Jeff Stutzman, chief intelligence officer at Wapack Labs, a New Boston, New Hampshire, cyber intelligence service.

"There's something more than just human error going on because there would have been a lot of humans to be checks and balances," said Stutzman, a former information warfare specialist in the Navy.

Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. John Richardson, did not rule out cyber intrusion or sabotage as a cause of the fatal collision. "No indications right now ... but review will consider all possibilities," Richardson said in a tweet on Monday.

A cyber-attack would explain why radar and guidance systems on the ship failed to detect the other vessels in time.  But what about the human element?  There are supposed to be lookouts on deck to alert senior officers of a threat.  It's hard to believe that on both the McCain and the Fitzgerald, the watch collectively fell asleep.

Unless there was lax discipline and poor leadership at the top.  That appears to be the conclusion reached by the Navy, who dismissed the Fitzgerald's senior officers – twelve sailors in all.  You would expect similar disciplinary measures taken against the officers of the McCain.

Given the horrific consequences of an enemy being able to penetrate the U.S. Navy's electronic navigation systems, a cyber-attack cannot be ruled out.  If it were an enemy government responsible, it would appear that during war, they could exploit a vulnerability that could cost many lives and ships.

If the McCain and Fitzgerald were victimized by a hack, I doubt very much we'll ever hear about it through official channels.  The Navy is not in the habit of announcing how vulnerable it is to cyber-warfare.

The Navy announced that Vice Admiral Joseph Aucoin has been dismissed as commander of the Seventh Fleet following the second fatal collision of a U.S. naval warship with a civilian vessel in the last three months.

USA Today:

Adm. Scott Swift, commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet, dismissed Aucoin "due to a loss of confidence in his ability to command," the U.S. Pacific Fleet said in a statement.

It said Rear Adm. Phil Sawyer will assume command of the 7th Fleet immediately.

Aucoin had expected to retire this year, but his superiors decided to push his departure date due to concerns over his leadership skills, the New York Times reported. Aucoin has commanded the Japan-based fleet since September 2015. ...

The collision came two months after USS Fitzgerald was badly damaged in a collision on June 17 that killed seven sailors off the coast of Japan.

In lesser incidents that caused no reported injuries, the USS Lake Champlain was involved in a collision with a South Korean fishing boat near the Korean Peninsula in May, and in January the USS Antietam ran aground while attempting to anchor in Tokyo Bay.

"While each of these four incidents is unique, they cannot be viewed in isolation," Swift said.

The Navy's top officer on Monday ordered a pause in operations around the world.

Not only does the rash of incidents call into question the leadership skills of Aucoin, but the collisions have also stoked fears of some kind of cyber-attack on the electronics of U.S. Navy ships.

McClatchy:

The Pentagon won't yet say how the USS John S. McCain was rammed by an oil tanker near Singapore, but red flags are flying as the Navy's decades-old reliance on electronic guidance systems increasing looks like another target of cyberattack.

The incident – the fourth involving a Seventh Fleet warship this year – occurred near the Strait of Malacca, a crowded 1.7-mile-wide waterway that connects the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea and accounts for roughly 25 percent of global shipping.

"When you are going through the Strait of Malacca, you can't tell me that a Navy destroyer doesn't have a full navigation team going with full lookouts on every wing and extra people on radar," said Jeff Stutzman, chief intelligence officer at Wapack Labs, a New Boston, New Hampshire, cyber intelligence service.

"There's something more than just human error going on because there would have been a lot of humans to be checks and balances," said Stutzman, a former information warfare specialist in the Navy.

Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. John Richardson, did not rule out cyber intrusion or sabotage as a cause of the fatal collision. "No indications right now ... but review will consider all possibilities," Richardson said in a tweet on Monday.

A cyber-attack would explain why radar and guidance systems on the ship failed to detect the other vessels in time.  But what about the human element?  There are supposed to be lookouts on deck to alert senior officers of a threat.  It's hard to believe that on both the McCain and the Fitzgerald, the watch collectively fell asleep.

Unless there was lax discipline and poor leadership at the top.  That appears to be the conclusion reached by the Navy, who dismissed the Fitzgerald's senior officers – twelve sailors in all.  You would expect similar disciplinary measures taken against the officers of the McCain.

Given the horrific consequences of an enemy being able to penetrate the U.S. Navy's electronic navigation systems, a cyber-attack cannot be ruled out.  If it were an enemy government responsible, it would appear that during war, they could exploit a vulnerability that could cost many lives and ships.

If the McCain and Fitzgerald were victimized by a hack, I doubt very much we'll ever hear about it through official channels.  The Navy is not in the habit of announcing how vulnerable it is to cyber-warfare.

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