AP: Military units track guns using tech that could aid foes

AP: Military units track guns using tech that could aid foes

Determined to track their weapons, some U.S. military systems have actually relied on an innovation that might let opponents spot soldiers on the battleground, The Associated Press has actually discovered.

The rollout on Army and Air Force bases continues despite the fact that the Department of Defense itself explains putting the innovation in guns as a “considerable” security danger.

The Marines have actually turned down radio frequency recognition innovation in weapons for that really factor, and the Navy stated today that it was stopping its own dalliance.

RFID, as the innovation is understood, is instilled throughout day-to-day civilian life. Thin RFID tags assist motorists zip through toll cubicles, healthcare facilities find tools and grocery stores track their stock. Tags remain in some identity files, airline company luggage tags and even theme park wristbands.

When embedded in military weapons, RFID tags can cut hours off time-intensive jobs, such as weapon counts and circulation. Outside the armory, nevertheless, the very same quiet, unnoticeable signals that assist automate stock checks might end up being an undesirable tracking beacon.

The AP inspected how the U.S. armed services utilize innovation to keep closer control of their guns as part of an examination into taken and missing out on military weapons– a few of which have actually been utilized in street violence. The assessment consisted of brand-new field tests that showed a few of the security problems RFID provides.

The field tests demonstrated how tags inside weapons can be rapidly copied, offering potential burglars in weapon spaces and armories a brand-new benefit.

And, more most importantly, that even low-tech opponents might recognize U.S. soldiers at ranges far higher than promoted by professionals who set up the systems.

Which is why a representative for the Department of Defense stated its policymakers oppose embedding tags in guns other than in restricted, extremely particular cases, such as weapons that are utilized just at a shooting variety– not in fight or to safeguard bases.

” It would present a considerable operations security danger in the field, permitting a foe to quickly determine DOD workers running places and possibly even their identity,” Pentagon representative Lt. Col. Uriah Orland informed AP.

Spokespeople at the head office of the Air Force and Army stated they did not understand the number of systems have actually transformed their armories.

AP discovered 5 Air Force bases that have actually run a minimum of one RFID armory, and another that prepares a retrofit. Executives at military contracting business stated much more systems have actually looked for propositions.

A Florida-based Army Green Berets system, the 7th Special Forces Group, verified it utilizes the innovation in “a couple of” arms spaces. Unique forces soldiers can take tagged weapons into the field, stated Maj. Dan Lessard, an unique forces spokesperson. A different pilot task at Fort Bragg, the stretching Army base in North Carolina, was suspended due to COVID-19

The Navy informed AP one armory on a base up the coast from Los Angeles was utilizing RFID for stock. This week, after extended questioning, representative Lt. Lewis Aldridge quickly stated that the innovation “didn’t satisfy functional requirements” and would not be utilized throughout the service.

Momentum for RFID constructed within the Air Force after a 2018 case in which a gatling gun vanished from the 91 st Security Forces Group, which secures a setup that houses nuclear-tipped rockets. Authorities recuperated the weapon, however the occurrence resounded throughout the service.

With Air Force leaders aiming to strengthen armory security, defense specialists provided a familiar innovation– one with a military pedigree.

The origins of RFID trace to World War II and the advancement of radar. In the U.S. armed force, usage grew in the 1990 s, after the very first Gulf War revealed a requirement to untangle huge supply chains of shipping containers.

The U.S. armed force is not alone in using RFID for guns management: Government armories in Nigeria, Saudi Arabia and in other places have actually been equipped.

Armory conversions cost countless dollars, and often more. Benefit is a huge selling point. Rather of hand-recording gun identification number on paper or scanning barcodes one-by-one like a cashier, an armorer can check out tags in a rack of guns with the wave of a portable reader– and without needing to see each weapon. The tags tucked within do not even require batteries.

Contractors that retrofit armories state tags can be checked out just within a minimal variety, normally a couple of lots feet or less. In field screening for AP, 2 popular cybersecurity professionals revealed that a tag inside a rifle can be checked out from substantially further, utilizing affordable parts that fit inside a knapsack.

While the hackers who created the experiments observed U.S. federal government limitations on transferring signals, opponents who would not be so constrained might discover tags miles away, they stated.

Some within the military share the tracking issue.

The Marine Corps has, according to a representative, chose throughout the service not to tag weapons.

” The usage of RFID tags on specific weapons systems increases the digital signature of Marines on a battleground, increasing the security/force security dangers,” stated Capt. Andrew Wood.

A leading weapons professional from the Corps stated he saw how tags can be checked out from afar throughout training workouts in the Southern California desert in December 2018.

” RFID tags on tanks, weapons, publications, you can ping them and discover the personality of where systems are,” stated Wesley Turner, who was a Marine chief warrant officer 5 when he spoke in a spring interview. “If I can ping it, I can discover it and I can shoot you.”

The Air Force and Army did not respond to in-depth concerns about usage of the innovation in guns. In composed declarations, spokespeople stated system leaders can include RFID systems as a more layer of responsibility, however no service-wide requirement is prepared.

Policy specialists within the Office of the Secretary of Defense appeared uninformed that the services have actually been tagging guns with RFID.

Asked why service branches can field an innovation that Pentagon coordinators think about so dangerous, Defense Department spokesperson Orland initially stated that the services informed the Pentagon they are not tagging weapons due to security issues.

Informed that AP discovered systems which acknowledge utilizing the innovation, the Pentagon modified its declaration and stated it permits service branches to check out ingenious services. The Defense Department “attempts to stabilize pre-emptive restrictions due to existing security threats with versatility to embrace brand-new innovations when they develop and those threats reduce,” Orland stated.



The 2 hackers had actually locked onto their target: The rifle held by a male ignoring them under the scorching summertime sun.

” Still checking out, still checking out, still checking out,” called out one, Kristin Paget, whose expertise has actually landed her tasks at tech titans consisting of Apple and Tesla– in addition to the label “Hacker Princess.”

Here in California’s San Joaquin Valley, in a sloping field surrounded by almond orchards, Paget and her hacking partner Marc Rogers were evaluating the limitations of an RFID system they ‘d patched together for about $500 To see how far they might spot a tag in the rifle, they were informing the male, guns fitness instructor Michael Palombo, to keep going.

By now over half a football field away, the hackers needed to yell or wave hands to interact.

Because the hackers were following Federal Communications Commission guidelines that restrict the power of radio signals, their antenna lost the tag at 210 feet (64 meters).

That is no place near the farthest range possible, according to Paget. She thinks that a reader with enough of a power increase might find an RFID tag on the beyond the International Space Station, 250 miles (402 kilometers) above.

What’s more, Paget stated, it does not take a Chinese or Russian cyber army to capitalize– a tinkerer with YouTube gain access to might find out the required abilities.

” It’s one of those scenarios that in the security world we state it keeps sincere individuals truthful, or it’s protected unless there’s an attack,” stated Paget.

Paget alerted openly about the vulnerabilities of RFID in 2010, throughout discussion at the yearly DEF CON hacker convention. From a phase in Las Vegas, Paget broke down a test that checked out a tag 217 feet (66 meters) away.

Dale “Woody” Wooden, who at the time belonged to marine unique warfare, saw that discussion and cautioned fellow service members.

” If the illness is missing out on weapons and the treatment is RFID tags, then you have a remedy that is even worse than the illness,” stated Wooden, who after 20 years in the Navy established Weathered Security, which teaches digital security to the military and police. “They’re focusing on benefit over service member lives.”

In the California field tests, Paget and Rogers were prepared to show what they view as other vulnerabilities developed by putting RFID in guns. They considered demonstrating how a tag might activate a roadside bomb, however picked something more ordinary: stock checks.

One advantage of RFID is that it can lower everyday weapon count drudgery. Rather of cataloging lots of weapons one-by-one, an armorer at the end of an aisle can check out all their tags simultaneously.

Rogers showed his doubts by demonstrating how a burglar might beat the system.

Aiming his RFID reader at a rifle inside a difficult bring case, Rogers reproduced the rifle’s tag with the cover still closed. Palombo then got rid of the gun and Rogers put the cloned tag inside. As a clone, that tag had all the very same information as the rifle’s tag– and undoubtedly, with the case once again closed, the RFID reader was tricked into believing the initial tag, and therefore the rifle, was still within.

It took Rogers less than 2 minutes.

” It’s the supreme incorrect complacency,” stated Rogers, who created the hacks on the television program “Mr. Robot” and is now vice president of cybersecurity at Okta. “It notes all the weapons and informs you that they’re there, however you’ve never ever really seen the weapon.”

Executives at 2 business that have actually set up RFID armories at Air Force bases concurred that a corrupt expert might deceive the innovation.

” RFID is not really an anti-theft system,” stated Cody Remington, president of Enasys.

The executives likewise stated they had actually never ever heard anything like the 210 feet (64 meters) that the hackers accomplished.

Remington recommended there may be methods to alleviate the danger, however stated he accepted the Pentagon. “Our proficiency definitely isn’t on the battleground,” he stated, “our proficiency is inside the structures and tracking where products are.”

Another executive stated he had actually been hearing the issue about troop tracking for many years. Eric Collins, the CEO of Trackable Solutions, stated it wasn’t a reality issue since a reader would require a more powerful source of power, and even then could not surpass a number of lots feet.

Collins stated RFID in weapons positions “definitely no danger at all,” specifically if the weapons remain on base.

He stated he didn’t think a tag might be spotted from more than 100 feet (30 meters), making the Pentagon’s security issues void. “The management requires their personnel to provide much better assistance,” Collins stated, “since that’s bad assistance.”



RFID is a fairly pricey services for armory management, however the reward is attracting.

Consider regular stocks. In between physical assessments and large documents, counting all the weapons on simply one base can extend to days or perhaps weeks. Time appears to stop when a weapon is lost or taken, as the setup shuts down and browse celebrations introduce to discover it.

RFID uses an easier, more effective system. Which is why 2 airmen went to an Air Force 2020 Innovation Rodeo– a concepts competitors patterned after the television program “Shark Tank”– to pitch a job to a panel of senior officers.

The airmen provided another situation, one service members fear which RFID guarantees to get rid of: A thousand soldiers unexpectedly require to release overseas, quickly. To get the weapons they will bring, each should wait in a line that snakes around the structure and hardly appears to move.

” We require to get on board with the 21 st century,” Staff Sgt. Nicholas Mullins stated from the phase.

Though the proposition didn’t win that competitors, with the assistance of another federal program it discovered a house at an armory for security forces that patrol Eglin Air Force Base in Florida’s Panhandle.

Open with “complete functional ability,” the RFID armory is a success as assured, according to spokesperson Jasmine Porterfield. The brand-new system cuts stock time in half, restricting the requirement for 2 armorers and producing more schedule versatility and training chances.

The optimum range tags can be checked out, according to professionals on the base: about 8 feet (2 meters).


LaPorta reported from Hickman, California, Pritchard reported from Los Angeles, and Hall reported from Nashville, Tennessee. Contributing were Serginho Roosblad in San Francisco and Martha Mendoza in Santa Cruz, California.


Contact LaPorta at https://twitter.com/jimlaporta; contact Pritchard at https://twitter.com/JPritchardAP; contact Hall at https://twitter.com/kmhall


Email AP’s Global Investigations Team at investigative@ap.org or https://www.ap.org/tips/ See other work at https://www.apnews.com/hub/ap-investigations

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