U.S. Navy researchers are developing a state-of-the-art encryption device for integration onto KC-130 tankers and unmanned aerial systems. An existing version of the device is being installed onto B-52 bombers, E-4s, which serve as airborne command centers for the U.S. president and other National Command Authority officials, and E-6s, which are command and control centers for nuclear weapons. The encryption system can be integrated into virtually any platform and offers backward-compatible, software-definable algorithms that can be updated during operations without downtime.
It is that ability to load algorithms without downtime that researchers tout as one of the biggest benefits of the new system. “This is critical for the ability of the warfighter to be able to replace algorithms as they become obsolete. You don’t have to take a platform offline like almost every other crypto out there now,” says Stanley Chincheck, director, Center for High Assurance Computer Systems, Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), Washington, D.C. “You can do that while it is up and running. That is a unique feature that many crypto devices just don’t have.”
Chincheck cannot reveal a lot of details because of security concerns, but KC-130s and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) will receive the next incarnation of the Programmable Embeddable INFOSEC (Information Security) Product (PEIP, pronounced peep). The version under development is known as PEIP III. The other aircraft—B-52s, E-4s and E-6s—are receiving the current version, PEIP II.
PEIP first was developed in the early 1990s and has been installed onto nuclear-powered attack submarines, ballistic missile submarines and submarine tenders that provide logistics and maintenance support for nuclear attack subs. PEIP II was developed later that same decade and is used with the Minimum Essential Emergency Communications Network and Navy ground-based Fixed Submarine Broadcast System, which provide U.S. forces with a link for reception of emergency action messages from the president and secretary of defense. Additionally, the Fixed Submarine Broadcast System provides a link for the reception of critical intelligence and operational messages for Navy submarines.
PEIP III is scheduled for certification testing late in fiscal year 2014; certification is expected early in fiscal year 2015. The KC-130 tanker will be the first to receive the new version, and UAVs will be next. “The PEIP III right now is under development. We have some initial models in-house,” Chincheck reveals. “Let’s just say there are some unique features needed to support a lot of the things UAVs have to provide in terms of their mission agility, and so we’re having to do some very interesting things to support those missions.”
Chincheck adds that space and power concerns are critical, especially for UAVs. “The challenge is developing an even smaller package than we had before. And we want speeds that are hundreds of megabits—if not close to a gigabit—throughput on a very, very, very small card because platforms such as UAVs have both space and power constraints. We want a lot of capability in a very small, low-power package, which is not easy to do,” Chincheck offers. “But it is going to be possible. Absolutely.”
Although PEIP is a Navy product, the U.S. Air Force leads the effort to integrate the system onto its own aircraft. The Air Force has teamed with Rockwell Collins, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on the project.
PEIP implements existing cryptographic algorithms and has been designed to accommodate new algorithms as they are developed. It is adaptable to a variety of input and output modules to allow implementation in applications as varied as aircraft, submarines, Minuteman silos and manportable systems, among others. “It can be installed onto anything,” Chincheck declares. He adds that it can easily be included on a common computer bus known as a peripheral component interconnect , or PCI, card and can secure an Ethernet connection.
PEIP II comprises both hardware and software. It is on a 4-inch by 6-inch card. “It has 10 channels. You can load up to 20 different algorithms. You can load 1,000 keys into it, and you can pick any key and associate it with any algorithm,” Chincheck reports. When it is time to move to a new encryption key, users simply switch simultaneously to a different channel. “You pick the right key, you load it up and you go,” Chincheck states. “It’s very flexible, which a lot of people like and which is why it ended up on so many platforms.”
In the 1990s, U.S. Defense Department officials became aware that a considerable amount of cryptographic technology was reaching obsolescence, not only from an algorithm standpoint but also from a sustainability and reproduction standpoint. “A lot of the products that were being used to protect a lot of the links were just unable to be sustained and used,” Chincheck explains.
In response, the department initiated the Crypto Modernization Program. One of the first major areas to be addressed was the modernization of the KG-3X family of cryptographic devices used to protect emergency action messages received via the Minimum Essential Emergency Communications Network and Fixed Submarine Broadcast System. PEIP II was the cryptographic module chosen to address the KG-3X modernization. “That was where the program initiated. We had some targeted systems we knew were reaching obsolescence and used those as the crash test dummies for this new architecture and approach,” Chincheck recalls.
NRL officials opted for a software reprogrammable solution, but first they had to convince others that their path was the right one. “It was more of a radical approach that was more of a challenge than we thought,” Chincheck reports. The challenge was largely because officials at the National Security Agency (NSA), which evaluates, certifies and accredits encryption technology, “weren’t quite where we had all hoped they would be at that point,” Chincheck states. He adds, however, that NSA officials have been cooperative, supportive and helpful. “It’s just that this was outside of the normal way they did business,” he says.
The original PEIP product was being developed at about the same time that another software reprogrammable system—the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS)—was in the works. The JTRS program was supposed to provide a family of voice and data radio systems to be used across the Defense Department, but the program was eventually terminated after years of delays. Chincheck argues that the inability of JTRS to download encryption algorithms efficiently was one of the program’s weaknesses. “At the time when we were developing PEIP for different applications, JTRS was supposed to solve world hunger, and that’s what the services—especially the Army and Marine Corps—were supposed to buy. Our stuff was being used in other platforms where JTRS wasn’t going to be the solution to end all solutions,” Chincheck declares. “One of the issues that wrapped JTRS around the axle was that if you wanted to change an algorithm, you had to take the device offline and download all the software and all the other algorithms all bundled together, which means you were offline anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes to hours.”
Once PEIP III is fielded, the program essentially will come to an end, unless additional needs arise. “If there are unique platforms out there that need this kind of technology that PEIP III or PEIP II can’t support, we will certainly consider another version of it. It depends where the future goes and what the needs are,” Chincheck suggests.
He also reports that NRL officials have considered the possibility of commercializing PEIP. “We’ve talked about making it available to the banking industry and others. It does hold the potential for commercialization. Right now, we’re still trying to deal with the depth of the current Defense Department programs and its demands and needs, but we certainly see this as something that could clearly benefit the commercial world,” Chincheck concludes.
VIDEO: Nuclear submarines are among the recipients of the Naval Research Laboratory's Programmable Embeddable INFOSEC Product: