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Are Kill Switches on Pakistani F-16s Possible?

Kill Switches on F-16s
Meinhaj Hussain,

This article is part of a series on articles covering the JF-17 and the PAF through reviewing posts from Pakdef, a premier Pakistani defense forum. The main page for this series is available here.

The discussion about kill switches existing or not in Pakistani F-16s is a critical issue since Pakistan cannot afford to find its planes of no worth in case of war. Further, another issue is whether in such a mode these F-16s may be able to infect other data linked platforms. We have only recently observed how the Stuxnet virus infected the Iranian reactors. We also observed how Syrian radars could not observe the Israeli planes that attacked Syria’s supposed nuclear facilities. There have been concerns raised that this may have been a form of new EW systems that are closer to computer viruses in that they exploit the software of the radars.

Pakistan’s C4I could be compromised if these F-16s or other US equipment are found to be Trojan horses or less identifiably, entry points for such attacks.

We open the discussion with Brother Shamim’s analysis that the discussion of kill switches in Pakistani F-16s may be one that is politically motivated. The purpose behind this is described as American attempts to sell their weapons, particularly combat jets, to India.

Brother Shamim notes that the Pentagon’s “Non Lethal Weapons Directorate” has only recently begun sending RFPs for such technologies. The proposed technology would allow aircraft to be safely diverted or prevented from taking off. The respected Pakdef member confirms his analysis through a conversation with a former Lockheed Martin colleague. This reviewer notes that such RFPs are mainly targeted for general purposes. Public and open RFPs are needed to make this technology acceptable for FAA purposes. Embedding such technologies in foreign military sales would not be related to such RFPs, but rather be black projects unknown to the public and not shareable with individuals considered attached to foreign militaries.

Brother Munir’s analysis looks to evidence of tampering with aircraft sold by the United States to foreign countries. He notes that even a close ally such is Australia, has had issues with technical limitations programmed into them. Brother Munir notes that Australia has had a problem with BVR weapons capabilities. He comments that Australia overcame their limitations by hacking into the system, an issue on which they do no see eye-to-eye with their American counterparts on.

Brother Munir also gives the example of Malaysia’s F/A-18s and notes issues with accuracy [perhaps discussing targeting systems]. This author also notes that Malaysian F/A-18 pilots found, to their surprise, that they cannot designate way-points on Singapore. Malaysia is unlikely to be a customer of US military aircraft.

Another point raised is that Indonesian Su-27s had mysterious glitches that would suddenly indicate that the planes were under attack. Brother Munir doubts that this was merely a software error. He also notes that it is not possible to go through everything as such planes are extremely complex machines with million of lines of codes. A thorough review would be expensive, time consuming and by and large, beyond the reach of a customer.

Brother Munir also talks about how a Chinese purchase of a Boeing aircraft was bugged by the CIA. He asks us to ponder upon why the JSF has only black boxes that need to be returned to the USA with everything produced and maintained by US companies. Essentially, he is telling us that the Americans can best be understood in a Machiavellian light. They cannot be trusted and cannot be relied upon in any way.

Brother Munir believes that the F-16 can be compromised using its satellite receiver. This is located on the spine of the aircraft. Any party that controls the GPS transmission can scramble anything it wants into the aircraft’s receiver. This can simple be a passive activation of a hidden trigger. He notes that this has implications not only for the aircraft, but also for the air force. He gives the example of Israel’s attack on the Syrian supposed nuclear site. Brother Munir wonders allowed what could happen if the Indians receive such EW devices which could not only impact the F-16s, but could impact the entire C4I through these Trojan horses.

The respected Pakdef member notes that such details and information is not likely to be confirmed or rejected in a manner than can be considered reliable because of the conflict of interest. He notes that such kill switches, judging by past US policy, is in their interest.

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