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US cyberwar firing range to demo by July

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DARPA has announced that its planned "National Cyber Range" – an artificial, sealed-off internet inhabited by simulated nodes, computers, sysadmins, users etc in which the USA can test-fire cyber weapons and practice cyber combat – is to reach demonstration status by July this year.

Lockheed Martin, working on the Range on behalf of the military warboffins, yesterday received an additional $7,360,467 modification to a $30.8m Phase II contract announced last January. According to the contract modification notice:

At the completion of the revised Phase II program, the contractor will demonstrate the capabilities of the flexible automated Cyber Test Range NCR ...  The work is expected to be completed July 7, 2011.

DARPA has previously specified that the Cyber Range is to be able to simulate a network on the same scale as the internet or the US military's Global Information Grid. In addition to the various kinds of machinery, the Range will also be populated by software "replicants" playing the part of human users, admins and other people whose actions would register on the network. The replicants' behaviour is to be affected realistically as the frightful code bombs and cyber missiles of tomorrow devastate their peaceful world, so modelling the war-warez' effects accurately.

The Range, like many meatspace military firing ranges, will be more than just a weapons test facility: it will also be used to train combatants as though in live-fire exercises. America's combat geeks, packing the bleeding-edge products of "technology thrusts [and] classified cyber programs" will tangle with the shadowy OpFor (Opposing Forces), who will be tooled up with weapons-grade, "nation-state quality" network weaponry of their own.

Presumably the experience of being a hapless replicant bystander ground between the millstones of the US cyber war machine and the OpFor would be an unpleasant one, if software people were capable of actually feeling fear or stress – rather than merely simulating their effects accurately.

Similar pocket-universe cybergeddon sims are set to be unleashed in Blighty: the UK has a cyber range project too, being set up near Portsmouth by BT and the British tentacle of US defence mammoth Northrop Grumman. ®

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