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Integrated Technologies Create Compact Loads

May 2007
By Rita Boland
E-mail About the Author

 
The AN/PSC-14 combines a Broadband Global Area Network (BGAN) terminal with an inline encryptor. The integration of the components creates a secure satellite terminal small enough to fit into a rucksack.
Companies collaborate to generate secure communications tool that requires less equipment.

Troops on the move soon will find connecting to other service members much easier and less cumbersome. A satellite terminal in development will put connectivity at the fingertips and on the backs of warfighters. This ruggedized manpack combines a satellite terminal and High Assurance Internet Protocol Encryptor Type 1 security tool into one device. The terminal will give the military an Internet protocol advantage by providing secure, high-speed Internet access.

Forces will be able to access secure and nonsecure data and legacy voice services through the terminal’s combined communications security and broadband speed. The AN/PSC-14 is small enough to fit into a rucksack, and it can be mounted on moving vehicles to give troops flexibility and portability to carry out missions in harsh and remote environments.

ViaSat Incorporated, San Diego, is developing the terminal in a project co-funded with Inmarsat, London. The technology targets the defense sector, specifically U.S. and NATO forces. The AN/PSC-14 integrates Inmarsat’s Broadband Global Area Network (BGAN) technology with ViaSat’s AltaSec Internet protocol inline encryption equipment. An inline network encryptor (INE) encrypts and decrypts all of the traffic passing through it, typically fitting between the user local area network and the transmission system leading to a network external to the user. The goal, according to ViaSat officials, is to make the AN/PSC-14 easier for tactical use. Sal Manno, director, army programs, government services, Inmarsat, says his company regularly participates in such business deals.

Though the new terminal is not smaller than other BGAN terminals, which come in a large range of weights and sizes, including less than two pounds and 7.8 inches x 5.5 inches and greater than six pounds and 11.4 inches x 15.7 inches, the integration of the encryption device reduces the amount of excess equipment such as cables and adaptive power supplies that troops must carry. Those additional components result in transport cases the size of briefcases or roll-on suitcases. They also require time and effort to assemble. The AN/PSC-14 includes all necessary equipment in one smaller case that weighs 25 pounds, including batteries, and is 11.5 inches x 5.2 inches x 17 inches.

The terminal reduces the amount of necessary equipment and the setup time. Users slide on the antenna and aim it toward the satellite to reach operational status. “We’ve tried to make it fit into military logistics as easily as possible,” says Mark Schwene, director of strategic initiatives, Government Satcom Systems, at ViaSat. Manno emphasizes the advantages of users carrying a single, integrated multifunctional device instead of hauling two different units that must be attached to one another.

Warfighters use the terminal in the same way they use a radio—by turning it on, affixing handsets, attaching personal computers and aligning antennas. The AN/PSC-14 employs the same batteries required for tactical radios. The device also includes a vehicle mount and mobile antenna so troops can use the capability in vehicles on the move or when the unit is dismounted. The unit’s batteries can be recharged in the vehicle mount. The AN/PSC-14 has a long battery life—both in standby and operational modes—compared with current technologies, and it uses fielded power supplies. In standby mode, batteries last 12 hours or 160 hours with the inline network encryptor turned off. The power source also provides four hours of transmit time or 12 hours without the inline network encryptor functioning.

Troops carrying ultrahigh frequency (UHF) radios and an AN/PSC-14 could use the same batteries in either. The AN/PSC-14 also has a variety of connectors and potential interfaces to devices including telephones and computers.

Unlike other terminals that Inmarsat has helped to develop, the AN/PSC-14 is a military device designed to stand up to environmental conditions encountered by service members, and it contains the inline encryptor. According to Manno, other terminals that the company creates are typically for commercial use and are unable to handle the extreme environments faced by the military.

 
When troops receive the AN/PSC-14, currently in development, they will have a secure BGAN terminal that they can carry easily. The new unit reduces the amount of equipment that troops must carry.
The AN/PSC-14 endures higher temperatures than do standard commercial terminals. It can operate in temperatures from –4 degrees Fahrenheit to 131 degrees Fahrenheit and can survive extremes from –40 degrees to 176 degrees Fahrenheit. It also can survive immersion in up to 3.3 feet of salt water.

Manno explains that the INE is a U.S. government concept-controlled item and is not readily available to the commercial industry. A commercial user wanting similar protection could develop a similar tool using a commercial inline encryptor.

The terminal results from the integration of existing hardware into a new configuration rather than from the creation of new technology. Currently available technologies include BGAN service that allows users to access digital subscriber line data rates in a laptop-size terminal or smaller, but users need an additional encryption device to protect information. “We integrated a BGAN engine with a ViaSat encryption device, and then we had to do all the interfacing between them to make sure we met all the standards for a secure device,” Schwene describes.

Integrating the components and working out the interconnections within the device and within the case posed little difficulty for developers. Manno shares that BGAN was designed for ease of use by people who are not satellite communications experts, and the two companies easily rectified interface issues.

The cryptographic and BGAN components can be used together or separately, allowing the unit to run in different modes. In plain text mode, BGAN will operate and the encrypting device will be turned off. In this configuration, users can send encrypted data only if they attach another cryptographic device not integrated into the unit. In cipher text mode, the BGAN unit is turned off and does not transmit via the satellite, but troops still can use the AN/PSC-14 as an encryption device. In this configuration, users can communicate securely over a device such as a hotel telephone using the AN/PSC-14 as long as the intended recipient also has the same device. This feature enables warfighters to user higher data-sharing rates than BGAN can support. As part of the system’s flexibility, it also includes modes in which users can transmit black and red communications simultaneously.

ViaSat ruggedized the components after talking to service members about what they wanted in equipment of this sort. Developers also intended the AN/PSC-14 to be easy to use in the field. The unit has a personal-digital-assistant-type device that separates from the main unit but remains connected by wires so users can set up the AN/PSC-14 and control it without holding the terminal in an odd position. “We tried to [include] features that the tactical user would find desirable,” Schwene states.

Warfighters will initialize and access the menu of functions via a screen on the terminal. Once users turn the terminal on, they typically will experience a 30-second to two-minute delay to enter the system. Schwene likens it to turning on a cell phone after an airplane flight—the device searches for a signal.

He believes the technology can enhance special operations missions because troops require higher data rates than they can achieve currently with UHF technology. The device also could improve remote command post environments. If the military configures it as a router, 11 users could take advantage of the capabilities simultaneously. In addition, the device can create a small local area network, but it does not have wireless capability. Schwene explains that troops told developers they had no interest in a wireless feature because of the detectable radiation it emits. “There’s a security issue with that,” he says, adding that the terminal is tailored to tactical military users.

“Tactical dismounted users currently don’t have the data throughput that they need to conduct the modern net-centric warfare missions,” Schwene shares. The AN/PSC-14 fills a need troops have to access services with reliable, ruggedized terminals that remain functional in areas with sand and extreme temperatures.

The device facilitates jointness by connecting users directly to the secret Internet protocol router network and tying users from commercial service to the U.S. Defense Department Global Information Grid. These tools allow troops in any service to work with counterparts in other military branches.

ViaSat is field testing the product and plans to have production units available this summer. Developers must ensure that the new terminal does not interfere with other configurations on the Inmarsat system. After the terminal receives Inmarsat certification, it will require government certification.

Schwene says that ViaSat plans to run a beta test in which it will provide certain military users with units for testing. ViaSat is unsure who those testers will be—probably individuals in the target markets such as special operations troops. The company can demonstrate the product at its facilities but has not produced enough units to distribute. The terminal has been in development for approximately one year.

ViaSat officials are considering extending the product line to the international market and are examining the issues with choosing encryption devices to use internationally. The company also is considering building ruggedized units without integrated cryptographic capabilities.

 

Web Resources
ViaSat Incorporated: www.viasat.com
Inmarsat: www.inmarsat.com
Global Information Grid: www.nsa.gov/ia/industry/gig.cfm?MenuID=10.3.2.2