Feeds

Spies in the sky: The leaps and bounds from balloons to spook sats

A brief history of aerial surveillance around the globe

SANS - Survey on application security programs

The Soviet menace....

As the dust settled on WW2, the West turned its attention to the Soviet threat. The US obsession with what exactly was going on behind Iron Curtain prompted it to sink huge resources into three lines of surveillance attack.

A Skyhook balloonThe first was an evolution of the balloon platform, which used the US Navy's enormous "Skyhook" meteorological globes (pictured) as a basis for dispatching camera gondolas over the Soviet Union.

In 1956, the resulting "WS-119L" system was ready to fly into enemy airspace, under the codename "Genetrix". The balloon was designed to float at around 16,800m for airborne payload recovery by a converted C-119F cargo aircraft.

For the effort and expense required, the results from Genetrix were modest. Almost 450 balloons were launched, of which around 380 actually reached their target airspace, where 300 were either shot down or came down prematurely due to malfunction.

Simultaneously, work was progressing on the U-2, whose high altitude capability was intended to keep it out of range of Soviet fighters and surface-to-air missiles.

While the WW2 reconnaissance Spitfires and Mosquitos relied largely on speed for safety, the U-2's modest 690km/h cruise speed wasn't though to be an issue at its 70,000 feet operating altitude.

A U-2 'Dragon Lady' takes off from the Osan Air Base, South Korea, flightline Oct. 21, 2009, during the base Air Power Day air show. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson)

The first U-2 overflight of the Soviet Union was in July 1956. Notable successes during the aircraft's career included the revelation of Baikonur Cosmodrome to US eyes, and identification of Russian missile sites during the Cuban missile crisis in 1962.

Russian missile site on Cube as seen from a U-2

However, the belief that altitude alone meant immunity from enemy intervention proved erroneous, as pilot Gary Powers found out when he was downed over Sverdlovsk in May 1960 by an S-75 Dvina surface-to-air missile.

The capture of Powers and the remains of his aircraft proved a huge embarrassment to the US. In October 1962, Major Rudolf Anderson was killed when his U-2 was downed over Cuba, again by an S-75 Dvina. To address the U-2's shortcomings, work began on the SR-71.

SR-71 'Blackbird' during testing. Pic: US Air Force

The SR-71's 25,900m ceiling was impressive, but its Mach 3.3 (approx 3,530 km/h) top speed allowed it to simply outrun the opposition, including missiles.

It first flew in December 1964, completing over 3,500 mission sorties (all variants) until its swansong flight in 1999. Of the 32 examples built, 12 were lost to accidents, and none to enemy action.

Like the U-2 over Cuba, the aircraft proved a useful tool in providing evidence of Soviet activity in America's back yard. In 1982, the US released an SR-71 photo of enemy merchant ships in Corinto, Nicaragua, as part of its campaign to demonstrate the USSR's backing of the Sandanista government:

SR-71 image of Corinto, Nicaragua, showing soviet merchant veaasels

3 Big data security analytics techniques

More from The Register

next story
Most Americans doubt Big Bang, not too sure about evolution, climate change – survey
Science no match for religion, politics, business interests
KILLER SPONGES menacing California coastline
Surfers are safe, crustaceans less so
Discovery time for 200m WONDER MATERIALS shaved from 4 MILLENNIA... to 4 years
Alloy, Alloy: Boffins in speed-classification breakthrough
LOHAN and the amazing technicolor spaceplane
Our Vulture 2 livery is wrapped, and it's les noix du mutt
Liftoff! SpaceX Falcon 9 lifts Dragon on third resupply mission to ISS
SpaceX snaps smartly into one-second launch window
STEALTHY NANOROBOTS dress up as viruses, prepare to sneak into YOUR BODY
Cloaking techniques nicked from viruses tackle roadblocks on way to medical frontier
Elon Musk's LEAKY THRUSTER gas stalls Space Station supply run
Helium seeps from Falcon 9 first stage, delays new legs for NASA robonaut
prev story

Whitepapers

Mobile application security study
Download this report to see the alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, as well as the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.
3 Big data security analytics techniques
Applying these Big Data security analytics techniques can help you make your business safer by detecting attacks early, before significant damage is done.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Securing web applications made simple and scalable
In this whitepaper learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.
Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.