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WIFI Under Fire

The onward march of WIFI and LTE service provision on the battlefield shows little sign of abating

PacStar has confirmed to MONch that its new Secure Wireless Command Post Controlled Unclassified Information (SWCP CUI) package is now in service with the US military. The device allows soldiers to perform secure data communications using WIFI or LTE (Long Term Evolution) enabled devices. This can include bespoke and off-the-shelf smartphones, tablets and laptops. Once connected a soldier’s device can carry voice, data and imagery traffic securely across battlefield WIFI or LTE networks via the SWCP CUI. The company took its Integrated Solution, already in service with the US military, as the baseline for the SWCP CUI. The latter product allows users to access the NIPRNet (Non-Classified Internet Protocol Router Network). NIPRNet is a US Department of Defence IP (Internet Protocol) network used for the exchange of information among participants, and to access the internet.

Charlie Kawasaki, PacStar’s chief technical officer, told MONch that the SWCP CUI can work with “any kind of IP enabled device that can run WIFI in AES-256 mode … This means laptops, smartphones and tablets.” AES-256 is an advanced encryption protocol which has been established by the US National Institute for Standards and Technology and uses a block cipher standard with 256 bits. One of the attractions of the built-in AES-256 encryption is that it removes the need to use a separate so-called Type-1 cryptographic system. In the latter scenario, communications devices lacking this level of encryption must have their traffic routed through a crypto device to ensure it is secure. This translates into an extra item for troops to carry, and a security nightmare if such a device is lost or stolen.

Beyond these devices, communications with an IPSEC VPN (Internet Protocol Security Virtual Private Network) protocol, which can include standard military tactical radios capable of transmitting IP, can use the SWCP CUI. Moreover, the system is ‘future proofed’ and will be able to work with the forthcoming so-called 5G (fifth-generation) cellular communications technology which will be rolled out globally over the coming decade. This will be the successor to the current 4G LTE standard. 5G communications use wavebands below six gigahertz and above 24GHz. Mr. Kawasaki states that the SWCP CUI “will work fine when 5G becomes readily available.” The company states that each single SWCP CUI can support up to 100 devices. “We believe it can support more, but we are comfortable claiming 100,” Mr. Kawasaki noted.

Regarding deployment, the company states that the SWCP CUI can support an array of Command and Control (C2) and situational awareness requirements. These include “equipping command posts with wireless infrastructure for transmission of C2 reducing the command post setup time.” Meanwhile the product can provide “soldiers with dismounted situational awareness while vehicles provide the network infrastructure/radios and WAN (Wide Area Network) connectivity.” The SWCP CUI is already in service with the US armed forces, however “we can’t say which ones because of confidentiality requirements,”

Dr Tom Withington


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