Pilots of the Russian Knights aerobatic team flying Su-30SM planes drilled the skills of intercepting and destroying a maneuver enemy fighter jet during exercises, the Russian Defense Ministry said.
“The crew of a MiG-31BM interceptor aircraft played the role of the maneuver enemy. The aircraft took off from an aerodrome in the Nizhny Novgorod region and approached the zone of responsibility of air defense forces at a high speed and at an altitude of more than 10,000 meters, ignoring requests from air traffic controllers,” the ministry said.
Two crews of the aerobatics team took off from the Kubinka airfield outside Moscow, intercepted the target and simulated its destruction.
Tactical flight drills are conducted as part of a control check for the 2017 academic year. It involves more than ten crews of Russian Knights and Swifts aerobatic teams using Su-30SM and MiG-29 planes.
The Five Eyes alliance is a secretive, global surveillance arrangement of States comprised of the United States National Security Agency (NSA), the United Kingdom’s Government Communications Headquarters(GCHQ), Canada’s Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC), the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD), and New Zealand’s Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB).
Beginning in 1946, an alliance of five English-speaking countries (the US, the UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand) developed a series of bilateral agreements over more than a decade that became known as the UKUSA agreement, establishing the Five Eyes alliance for the purpose of sharing intelligence, primarily signals intelligence (SIGINT). For almost 70 years, this secret post-war alliance of five English-speaking countries has been building a global surveillance infrastructure to “master the internet” and spy on the world’s communications.
What does the Five Eyes agreement say?
Despite being nearly 70 years old, very little is known about the alliance and the agreements that bind them. While the existence of the agreement has been noted in history books and references are often made to it as part of reporting on the intelligence agencies, there is little knowledge or understanding outside the services themselves of exactly what the arrangement comprises.
Even within the governments of the respective countries, which the intelligence agencies are meant to serve, there has historically been little appreciation for the extent of the arrangement. In fact, it is so secretive that the Australian prime minister reportedly wasn’t informed of its existence until 1973 and no government officially acknowledged the arrangement by name until 1999. Few documents have been released detailing the Five Eyes surveillance arrangement. To read the documents available, click here for the National Archives and here for the NSA’s release of the UKUSA Agreement.
Here’s what we do know: under the agreement interception, collection, acquisition, analysis, and decryption is conducted by each of the State parties in their respective parts of the globe, and all intelligence information is shared by default. The agreement is wide in scope and establishes jointly-run operations centres where operatives from multiple intelligence agencies of the Five Eyes States work alongside each other.
Further, tasks are divided between SIGINT agencies, ensuring that the Five Eyes alliance is far more than a set of principles of collaboration. The level of cooperation under the agreement is so complete that the national product is often indistinguishable.
What’s the extent of Five Eyes collaboration?
Together the Five Eyes collaborated and developed specific technical programmes of collection and analysis. One senior member of Britain’s intelligence community said “When you get a GCHQ pass it gives you access to the NSA too. You can walk into the NSA and find GCHQ staff holding senior management positions, and vice versa. When the NSA has a piece of intelligence, it will very often ask GCHQ for a second opinion. There have been ups and downs over the years, of course. But in general, the NSA and GCHQ are extremely close allies. They rely on each other.”
The close relationship between the five States is also evidenced by documents recently released by Edward Snowden. Almost all of the documents include the classification “TOP SECRET//COMINT//REL TO USA, AUS, CAN, GBR, NZL” or “TOP SECRET//COMINT//REL TO USA, FVEY.” These classification markings indicate the material is top-secret communications intelligence (aka SIGINT) material that can be released to the US, Australia, Canada, United Kingdom and New Zealand. The purpose of the REL TO is to identify classified information that a party has predetermined to be releasable (or has already been released) through established foreign disclosure procedures and channels, to a foreign country or international organisation.
The level of co-operation under the UKUSA agreement is so complete that “the national product is often indistinguishable.” Another former British spy has said that “[c]ooperation between the two countries, particularly, in SIGINT, is so close that it becomes very difficult to know who is doing what […] it’s just organizational mess.”
Despite rumours of a “no-spy pact”, there is no prohibition on intelligence-gathering by Five Eyes States on the citizens or residents of other Five Eyes States, although there is a general understanding that citizens will not be directly targeted and where communications are incidentally intercepted there will be an effort to minimize the use and analysis of such communications by the intercepting State.
Are there any other surveillance alliances?
In addition to the Five Eyes alliance, a number of other surveillance partnerships exist:
9 Eyes: the Five Eyes, with the addition of Denmark, France, the Netherlands and Norway;
14 Eyes: the 9 Eyes, with the addition of Germany, Belgium, Italy, Spain and Sweden;
41 Eyes: all of the above, with the addition of the allied coalition in Afghanistan;
Tier B countries with which the Five Eyes have “focused cooperation” on computer network exploitation, including Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Hungry, Iceland, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Netherland, Norway, Poland, Portugal, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and Turkey;
Club of Berne: 17 members including primarily European States; the US is not a member;
The Counterterrorist Group: a wider membership than the 17 European States that make up the Club of Berne, and includes the US;
NATO Special Committee: made up of the heads of the security services of NATO member countries.
Members of 21 Aerospace Control and Warning (AC&W) Squadron and 22 Wing Operations have deployed to Keflavik Air Base as part of Air Task Force-Iceland (ATF-Iceland) for Operation REASSURANCE.
“Maintaining an accurate recognized air picture, passing that to higher headquarters and controlling fast moving aircraft in sometimes tight airspace; it’s a big responsibility,” said the team’s senior officer, Major John Verran.
This team of ten is normally based at 22 Wing North Bay, Ontario, in a NORAD role where they monitor and track air traffic within Canadian airspace and its approaches. The team has taken their skills as Aerospace Controllers and Aerospace Control Operators to Iceland, the only NATO nation without a standing military.
This time, their role is to help fulfil the Airborne Surveillance and Interception Capabilities to meet Iceland’s Peacetime Preparedness Needs mission. This long-standing NATO mission involves fighter aircraft basing out of Iceland to provide surveillance of Iceland’s airspace, as well as launching rapidly (“scrambling”) to intercept and identify unknown aircraft if needed.
Serving alongside Icelandic Coast Guard personnel at the Control and Reporting Centre (CRC) in Keflavik, on a rocky, often wind-swept peninsula west of Reykjavik, the team performs a critical command and control function. Working as a close crew, they ensure mission execution and the passage of accurate information between ATF-Iceland and the Combined Air Operations Centre (CAOC) in Uedem, Germany. CAOC is the NATO headquarters responsible for the control of Royal Canadian Air Force assets in Iceland.
“This is fun, I love it,” said Aviator Kory Clermont, of his first overseas mission as an Aerospace Control Operator. “I work with the Master Controller to help maintain situational awareness in the team and coordinate the scramble procedures for CF-18s with civilian Air Traffic Control.”
The team analyzes and assesses information from multiple radar feeds, datalink, and visual reports to develop a common picture of what is happening in the air at any one time. However, this is not the only critical function of these members. They also serve as air intercept controllers, communicating with pilots and directing them where to be and how to get there.
Most of the work this team does is hidden from public view in a secure operations center surrounded by computer screens. However, the air surveillance and intercept mission that Canada is performing from May to June 2017 could not happen without their expertise and dedication.
“In order to conduct an efficient intercept, it is important to have freedom of movement [for our CF-18s],” explained Major Verran. “For effective operations to occur, there is a degree of control that must happen. To this end we liaise with the Icelandic Civil Aviation Administration.”
For Major Verran, the most important operational role of the CRC is two-fold: effective battlespace management and safety. “Developing plans, recognizing when it is necessary to execute or alter those plans and doing so expeditiously and safely is what we strive for every day.”
To this end, the Aerospace Controllers and Aerospace Control Operators run daily exercises involving the CAOC and ATF fighter detachment. They practice communication procedures and scramble drills, which involve pilots, controllers and maintainers working together to get fighter jets airborne quickly.
“It’s always interesting going to another country and working, in this case, with our Icelandic counterparts,” said Captain Ross Nevile, an Aerospace Controller. “You are entrusted with maintaining safety in the airspace of another country through applying your procedures thoroughly.”
To ensure the team was prepared for operations, they arrived in Keflavik a full week before the main body of the ATF. This allowed the group to develop standard operating procedures and liaise with local authorities.
“We have a relatively young crew on this deployment, but it provides an excellent development opportunity. The amount and type of control they see, and the close interaction with their pilot peers, is a valuable experience that these young controllers will use in their careers.” said Major Verran.
Conducting operations in the often busy skies of Iceland is a challenging, but a necessary job. Through sound battlespace management and coordination over the course of the deployment, the CRC team is a key contributor to a successful mission.