Top Gun crew wards off cyber age enemies

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 04 September, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 04 September, 1997, 12:00am

US aircraft carriers have come a long way in the short time since Tom Cruise was in Top Gun, but the electronic wizardry built into the revamped Constellation presents hazards which could be woven into a Hollywood sequel.

Since April, the 4,700 sailors and Marines on the floating city-cum-airfield have been able to communicate with loved ones back home at the press of a computer keyboard. But the convenience of e-mail over airmail poses security risks.

Lieutenant-Commander Jeff Breslau admitted yesterday that one malicious or thoughtless crew member could compromise a mission by revealing sensitive information which could fall into the lap of an enemy.

He said: 'Having e-mail has been a tremendous help for crew morale because crew can solve problems at home very quickly, which they couldn't in the past.

'It is monitored and most people are briefed constantly about not giving away the ship's position or any sort of potential missions we may be involved in. If we were going to make a strike on somebody, they would probably shut it down to prevent a security breach.' There is also the risk of computer viruses corrupting the ship's other systems. He said: 'Every computer involved is equipped with the latest IBM anti-virus program. We have further reassurance against a virus invasion through the uplink in Hawaii. Everything is scanned and checked by the time we get it.' The Constellation, which cost US$400 million when it entered service in 1961 and has not seen combat since Vietnam, does not have a McDonald's yet, like some other American aircraft carriers, but there are numerous Coke machines and ATM tellers dotted around the ship.

The giant 335-metre-long flight deck has four steam-powered catapults which are able to launch an aircraft every 30 seconds, accelerating them from zero-to-160 knots in less than two seconds.