Air Force Investigating Classified Network Outage at Creech

The Air Force is investigating a recent outage at Creech Air Force Base, Nevada, of its Secret Internet Protocol Router Network, a classified system of interconnected computer networks accessed by Defense Department personnel.

Creech Air Force Base operates MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted aircraft missions and is one of the service's central bases for armed drone operations across the globe.

The service confirmed the outage, which took place in early September, to Military.com on Wednesday. The issue was first reported by Buzzfeed News.

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"As to concern about the Sept. 9th SIPR connectivity issue, the investigation into the issue is ongoing, and for operational security reasons, we typically don't discuss the specific impacts of a network outage," Air Combat Command spokeswoman Maj. Malinda Singleton said in an email.

Singleton could not provide a timeline into the investigation, but said that the network is "back up and running."

Speculation into the matter was prompted by a FedBizOpps.gov solicitation, posted Oct. 7.

The contract request noted, "On 9 September 2016, the SIPRNet system currently in operation at Creech AFB failed and critical services were impacted. The services were somewhat restored with the use of multiple less powerful devices. This temporary solution stabilized the services, but will not be able to maintain the demand for very long. If this solution fails, there is currently no other backup system."

The outage would not have affected remotely piloted aircraft missions because those flights are not operated on the SIPR network.

"There are various failsafe mechanisms, redundancies and preprogramming that allow our aircraft to retrace flight paths and to communicate with terrestrial, space-based navigation and through air traffic control systems to safely carry out their mission," Singleton said. "The bottom line is the Air Force conducts global [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] operations from multiple locations, each of which can take over if one node goes down.

"There is no correlation between SIPR network issues and the disruption of the MQ-1 [Predator] and MQ-9 flight operations," Singleton added. "We do not rely on SIPR Networks to conduct MQ-1 and MQ-9 operations. Therefore, if there are any issues on a SIPR network, it would not disrupt flight operations."

The wording in the FedBizOpps solicitation was crafted as part of a network computer upgrade. The effort is designed to ensure a backup system is procured in case the network went down.

The Creech outage was likely unrelated to three recent U.S. drone strikes that took out friendly targets. The incidents are under investigation.

On Sept. 17, a U.S.-led strike killed 62 Syrian soldiers and wounded 100 when the U.S. hit targets misidentified as Islamic State militants south of Dayr az Zawr, Syria. U.S. Central Command said it is investigating the incident.

About 15 civilians were reportedly killed by a U.S. drone strike in Afghanistan on Sept. 28. That same day, another U.S. drone strike in Somalia reportedly took out more than 20 Somali military members.

The types of aircraft in the bombings were not identified.

In most cases, Air Combat Command isn’t authorized to release investigations from incidents that took place in overseas theaters.

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at@Oriana0214.

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