There has been a conspicuous number of crashes involving U.S. Navy destroyers and cruisers this year. The destroyer USS John S. McCain (pictured above) is just the most recent incident, with several occurring earlier this year:
The McCain collision marks the fourth incident involving a US Navy warship based at Yokosuka this year.
On June 17, the guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald collided with a container ship off the coast of Japan. That collision resulted in the deaths of seven US sailors.
On May 9, the guided-missile cruiser USS Lake Champlain was struck by a small fishing boat off the Korean Peninsula.
And in late January, the guided-missile cruiser USS Antietam ran aground while trying to anchor in Tokyo Bay.
All four of the US warships are equipped with the Aegis missile defense system, which has been touted as a possible defense against any North Korean missile launch that might endanger US forces and US allies in Asia.
Recently, the US military, unable to come up with a cause for the incidents, began investigating something else – “compromised computer systems”:
The military is examining whether compromised computer systems were responsible for one of two U.S. Navy destroyer collisions with merchant vessels that occurred in recent months, Vice Admiral Jan Tighe, the deputy chief of naval operations for information warfare, said on Thursday.
Naval investigators are scrambling to determine the causes of the mishaps, including whether hackers infiltrated the computer systems of the USS John S. McCain ahead of the collision on Aug. 21, Tighe said during an appearance at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
The presumption that has been made is that these vessels are being hacked, China is the responsible party, given the proximity of the vessel crashes to the nation, as well as recent incidents where the US and China have butted heads. But it is worth asking; are these vessels being hacked? More importantly, if they are being hacked, who is hacking the vessels, and why?
First, it is worth noting that if these vessels (notably all equipped with the Aegis missile defense system) have compromised systems, the collisions could be caused by any state actor, or even possibly any individual or group of individuals. Though most of the collisions happened near China, they could presumably have been initiated by Russia, North Korea, or even an “ally” trying to test and/or demonstrate a weakness of the US Navy.
It’s somewhat surprising that no one has blamed Russia, especially in light of the nation’s advanced military capabilities, and, as Zerohedge recently (and jokingly) noted, recent events within our own government. However, this makes the least sense of all; why would Russia feel the need to repeadedly test and/or demonstrate that it had the capability to commandeer US Navy vessels, killing our sailors in the process, and giving the information of their capability away to our military?
It could be presumed that China would do this to send a message to the US in response to increased naval activity and transits near their man-made military islands in the South China Sea, or in response to President Trump’s comments on the nation’s trade practices and/or handling of the North Korean situation. Though it makes more sense than Russian hacking, especially in regard to showing a defensive posture towards US naval activity, like the Russia theory, it is still difficult to believe that China would knowingly and repeatedly demonstrate this capability over and over again, as opposed to keeping it safely tucked away in its arsenal for a time in which the nation really needs to use it.
Finally, it can’t be discounted that another state or group would be responsible for compromising these vessels. The most obvious answer is North Korea, especially given Trump’s posturing and harder negotiation stance than his predecessors. It also can’t be discounted that another state or group is doing this for entirely different reasons.
However, the capability to compromise the navigation of US naval vessels seems a bit above North Korea, or any other state or group aside from China or Russia. And, if they had the capability to do so, China and Russia have no particular “need” to repeatedly demonstrate this repeatedly, calling attention to the US Navy to develop countermeasures / a fix to the problem.
While it is indeed possible, it seems unlikely that theses vessels have had their navigation compromised. If that is indeed the case, why are they crashing so often?
A far more likely scenario is that there is a problem with the Aegis system and/or other navigation systems on US naval vessels. The US Navy, known to cover up all sorts of problems in the past, would have every reason to mask the true reason behind these collisions if they are tied to a defective weapons system. Notably, the unreliable nature of the US ground-based interceptor program under questionable test conditions has led many to believe that the system is just another failed defense project sucking up billions of taxpayer dollars. It is not far-fetched to believe that one of our deployed systems is operating with a serious defect that has been swept under the rug by the DoD.
It is also worth noting that US Navy vessels do not broadcast an AIS signal (which can be seen on www.marinetraffic.com) with their respective position, like nearly all other vessels, due to obvious security/defense reasons. You almost never hear news of large commercial ships crashing into each other, which is due not just to AIS, but due to the fact that they actively try to broadcast their position by other means, such as running lights.
Which brings in the possibility of simple human error from US Navy operators as being the cause of these crashes. Could it be that simple complacency and/or lack of proper training has resulted in these incidents? Given the professionalism of our military, that seems unlikely, but it wouldn’t be the first (and almost certainly won’t be the last) time it has happened.
In conclusion, if hacking is indeed the culprit of these incidents, we will likely never hear that from the US Navy. However, the possibility that these vessels were hacked remains far-fetched at best, largely due to the difficult nature of accomplishing such a task, who would be able to do it in the first place, and the lack of a good reason to give away such a military capability if it were available.
One would imagine that if any large nation knew about a major weakness to US Navy vessels, they wouldn’t broadcast it to the whole world. Unless…
Note: Not enough attention gets paid to the real victims here; the brave US Navy sailors who have lost their lives on board these ships. Whether the US Navy decides to tell the public or not, hopefully they find out the cause sooner rather than later, so that these sailors didn’t die in vain.