No Ties to Bind Secure Internet Links
Land, sea and air forces can have this wireless connectivity over several miles.
Maj. Sammy Smith, USA (r), and Maj. Romeo Caschera, USA, align a dish antenna atop a building in Texas to establish wireless secret Internet protocol router network (SIPRNET) links. Successful experiments by a team from the U.S. Strategic Command’s Joint Information Operations Center achieved this wireless connectivity over 40 miles.
Optical fiber may be losing one of its last advantages over wireless as military experimenters have demonstrated the ability to establish secure Internet radio frequency links over more than three dozen miles. This capability can be established to serve land forces on the move, aircraft operating in a small area or ships sailing near unfamiliar coastlines.
No longer will
The experiment that established this capability is known as operation Distant Flare. Emerging from the U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM) Joint Information Operations Center (JIOC), Lackland Air Force Base,
Maj. Sammy Smith,
“With this technology, all you need is one single access point to SIPRNET. This could be an existing satellite link. You can throw one of these [wireless networks] up in a matter of minutes, and you would be SIPRNET hot,” the major says.
The JIOC teamed with the U.S. Navy regional command in
Engineers climbed two water towers to mount the network’s line-of-sight dish antennas as high as they could. Another antenna was placed atop a port operations building at Naval Air Station (NAS) Ingleside. The longest link in the chain was 40.1 miles between an antenna at NAS Kingsville and the one atop the water tower at NAS Corpus Christi. Another link from that water tower to a site across the bay provided an additional 10.8 miles of wireless connectivity. An omnidirectional antenna also at NAS Kingsville provided connectivity within an 8-mile radius. All told, two users about 60 miles apart would have been part of the same high-speed wireless SIPRNET hookup.
In addition to the commercial antennas, users had personal digital assistants (PDAs) for the field testing.
That demonstration took place under less than ideal conditions. What
The key technology for the entire system is a SecNet 11 secure PC card made by Harris Government Communications Division,
With this card, handheld devices possess the necessary cryptographic and keying capabilities to become part of a wireless SIPRNET, Wilson explains. The NSA approval provides the necessary piece of the puzzle. Most of the other equipment used in the demonstration was commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) gear that could be exchanged for other hardware from a variety of firms.
This hookup provided a data rate of 11 megabytes per second. As more users joined the link, they reduced its available capacity accordingly. At a certain point in network participation, additional users would require an additional repeater. Signals were transmitted at 2.47 gigahertz at 1 watt of power.
The engineers observed U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations in setting up this system. “We wanted to stay within the FCC rules and regulations as they govern wireless,” Maj. Smith relates. “We want this thing to be able to be used anywhere in the world. The
This wireless approach provides SIPRNET connectivity without many of the cumbersome accoutrements needed on the battlefield. Rapidly deployed forces that find themselves in an area without SIPRNET bases, hubs or cabling can leave that hardware behind and avoid having to string fiber for three days. Instead, they will have wireless SIPRNET on arrival,
“It has all the advantages of being wireless, but it has the additional advantage of being very secure,” he emphasizes.
|Maj. Caschera and Maj. Smith unpack the self-contained power supply and repeater set for the wireless SIPRNET system. The total system weighs 47 pounds and is designed to be set up by two people in one hour.|
The system does lend itself to an urban environment. It might require signal repeaters for that type of situation,
Maj. Smith observes that when a J-2 or J-3 officer flies into a theater of operations, that officer must receive operational updates on arrival. If the landing area is covered by an omnidirectional wireless SIPRNET umbrella similar to the one set up in
In addition to desert environments, shipboard applications also can benefit from these wireless SIPRNET links.
The system’s security prevents easy data intercept, but it is not immune to other active countermeasures. An enemy that had enough power under the omnidirectional antenna’s signal bubble could knock out the signal. The point-to-point dish antennas produced a fairly narrow bandwidth that would be more difficult to block, although not impossible,
Maj. Smith warrants that even though the signal is jammable, it is just as secure as fiber optics, which are cuttable. And, if an enemy is able to intercept a signal, the message has no headers or protocols that might give away its nature.
The major adds that ground forces on the move could establish their own “cones of connectivity” by building a wireless network with wireless access points throughout the force. Then, whenever and wherever it moved, the force would have wireless SIPRNET connectivity under that cone.
He emphasizes that, in addition to rapid setup and ease of use, this wireless SIPRNET also offers considerable cost savings. The readily available COTS gear used in this setup is “extremely low-cost,” he states, and the savings in fiber optic cable will be substantial. “When a unit moves forward, it either abandons all that fiber optic cable in place—which is very expensive to do—or pulls it all up from the trenches in which it had just been buried. Then, it has to roll it up, move forward and establish communications again with the same process of digging trenches and laying lines.
“Instead [with the wireless network] you could be moving forward within your cone of connectivity,” he points out.
This also applies to ships entering an unfamiliar port area. For example, when Navy ships responded to remote Asian coastlines to provide relief after last winter’s tsunami, they needed to establish communications with ground personnel across vast areas that had been stripped of infrastructure. A ship with this type of wireless SIPRNET capability would be able to send a signal well into the stricken land areas to provide emergency high-bandwidth IP links with relief forces. If those forces have the same handheld devices that were used in the
Maj. Smith relates that the next experiment may be to build a wireless network using an Inmarsat terminal. Currently, the wireless SIPRNET system still needs a SIPRNET terminal to serve as a gateway to the secure network. If Inmarsat can serve as that gateway, then forward-deployed teams will be able to build their own wireless SIPRNET system using only an Inmarsat terminal to tie into the network. “The technology is there,” the major says. “We just have to get people out of the old way of thinking.”
SecNet 11: www.govcomm.harris.com/secure-comm