Cyberdefense and Information Assurance, Defense Department, tech

DOD sets security policies for Tactical WiMAX

Bill Jackson reports that DOD has issued a directive on how to secure networks using IEEE 802.16, commonly known in the commercial world as WiMAX.

WiMAX is just starting to build up steam in the US as a commercial Internet service (some of us in Maryland have access to the XOHM service, which uses Sprint’s cell towers to deliver broadband), but DISA has been working on an 802.16 capability for tactical networks since 2007, predating the WiMAX standard.

WiMAX is one of the waveforms–along with the Wideband Networking Waveform (WNW) and Soldier Radio Waveform– being embedded into the JTRS Handheld Manpack and Small Form Fit (HMS) form factor radios. HMS radios will provide broadband networking not just to soldiers, but to sensors and even munitions.

DISA has been working on a “Tactical Service Provider” capability demonstration, and last June selected Alcatel-Lucent to provide the technology for the proof-of-concept tactical WiMAX net. The Joint Capability Technology Demonstration for TSP sought to evaluate WiMAX as the “first mile” networking technology to bridge the gap between satellite communications and units on the move.

Currently, battlefield satcom systems like JNN, the first phase of the Army’s WIN-T tactical satellite communications program, can only operate “at the halt”–in park. So to push data back and forth between the folks on the front line and back over the reachback to regional commanders, the Army needs something like WiMAX.

The problem is making it secure. That means crypto gear, and that’s what DOD is trying to standardize now. So, back to Bill’s article–the directive specifies the use of FIPS 140-certified AES encryption for unclassified networks, and NSA Type 1 High Assurance IP Encryptors (HAIPE) for classified networks up to secret.

AES is going to most likely be the waveform chosen for plugging into Handheld Manpack Small-formfit, because using HAIPE means you have to have a security clearance–and if they start giving ground sensors a security clearance, they’ll have to give EVERYBODY a security clearance. But the HAIPE encryption will be used on the WiMAX connection from the guys towing the satellite dish out to the forward commander. And that means that they’ll be able to pass broadband data — like large imagery, video, and the like–back and forth to the rear echelon.


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