Written by Robin Berger
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Topics: Cards, Air Force

Sunday, 24 September 2006

image for US Air Force implements "Smart Card Logon" for aircraft, missiles
Crew chief MSgt Carlos Rodriguez inserts his CAC into a missile during an F-16 Fighting Falcon preflight inspection at Hickam AFB, Hawaii

All U.S. Air Force pilots will soon be required to use Common Access Cards, or "smart cards," to log on to aircraft and missiles. USAF is moving away from unsecure access in an effort to thwart saboteurs and terrorists from putting critical weapon systems at risk through unauthorized access, according to a recent news release. According to the release, the switch to the new system is necessary.

"This is a move in the right direction," said Lieutenant Sully Wayne of the 62nd Communications Squadron. "The new system adds a much higher level of security when it comes to using an aircraft or nuclear missile. I mean, most of our planes are basically just parked on a flight line where anyone can walk up to them."

There have been more than 5,000 attempts to hijack Air Force aircraft this year, Lieutenant Wayne said. Using the Smart Card Logon greatly increases weapon system security through "two factor authentication," which requires pilots to have both a CAC and personal identification number.

"Pilots won't be inconvenienced much by this," Lieutenant Wayne asserted. "They've been using aircraft-assigned credit cards for years to purchase fuel. The CAC is just a smart card for the aircraft, that's all."

By mid-October, the primary method for flying an Air Force aircraft will be by CAC logon, according to the release. To start the aircraft, pilots will insert their CAC into a reader and enter the associated six to eight digit PIN they created when the card was issued.

"Pilots should be cognizant of the need to take their CAC with them if they bail out of an aircraft," Lieutenant Wayne added. "We don't want it falling into the hands of the enemy."

Initially, not all personnel will be able to use a CAC for logon, according to the release. Such examples include contracted maintenance personnel not eligible for a Department of Defense identification card or locations where use of the CAC is impractical or impacts mission effectiveness. These and other issues are next steps in the Air Force-wide initiative.

As the Air Force moves closer toward the mandated CAC logon for aircraft and missiles, those users who are not CAC-enabled may be exempted from the policy by the commander of their major command, according to the release. However, exempted individuals may be prompted to follow more stringent pre-flight checks to avoid unnecessary risks to the weapon system.

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