Next Generation Defense Communications Network
Taking defense communications to the next level
In early September, I visited the Defense and Security Equipment International show (DSEI) for the first time. What an amazing event. As expected there was lots of military equipment and machinery: tanks, helicopters, and even battleships, moored outside. However it wasn’t just about the equipment, there was also a huge amount of incredibly advanced command and control systems. These ranged from systems capable of providing the headquarters and/or mobile command posts with in depth “situational awareness” of the whole battlefield across multiple operations, through to in-vehicle systems providing vast amounts of operational information to the crew and back to the command posts.
For these systems to give a complete picture, gigabytes of real-time data is be collected from all areas of the modern battlefield; air, sea and land.
- We see a huge amount of network of sensors producing data ranging from videos taken by drones, through to text files and satellite imagery.
- We also see a rapid increase in the amount of data generated by all munitions systems, e.g. armoured vehicles, missile systems, planes, ships. This ranges from detailed command and control information through to telemetry about the performance of the system itself
To transport all the data generated from this vast array of diverse information points to the big data analytic engines, used to generate real-time operational intelligence, requires a high-bandwidth telecommunications network. But the battlefield is not static, so this communications network must be dynamic enough to move connectivity to wherever it is required, whenever it is required. At the same time many of the command and control systems require data to be transmitted in a totally deterministic manner; either with guarantees around maximum latency, maximum latency variation and/or available bandwidth. And, of course, some systems require the absolute minimum latency possible as being the first to pull the trigger can make all the difference. In addition, reliability is absolutely key, the network must be as close to always-up as possible, losing some data or not being able to communicate, even for the shortest period of time, could be the difference between a positive result or a catastrophic outcome. On top of this, the network is expanding at almost overwhelming rates, so the communications network must be agile enough to support rapid growth, whenever and wherever required.
Does the need for:
- highly dynamic bandwidth,
- on demand,
- high reliability and minimal latency,
- with the agility to support rapid and massive growth
If the answer is yes, it might interest you to know that these are also the exact transport requirements for 5G networks. These requirements will enable 5G networks to support massive IoT, ultra-reliable low latency communications (URLLC) and enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB).
Hence, it should be of no surprise to discover the features and techniques being implemented in the IP and Optical transport for 5G are directly appropriate for defence networks.
Focus on security
In defence networks, security and data integrity is of paramount and over-riding importance. As mentioned previously, losing communications or having the incorrect information fed into the communications network, even for the shortest period of time, could have extreme implications. Perhaps as a result of this, military communications networks have become principal targets during any military engagement.
To protect against cyber-attack, the security measures required for military communications networks need to operate on multiple levels, including:
- Intrusion detection – Use of physical measures and analytics to identify tampering and physical intrusion.
- MACsec – Ensures that only authorized data streams are allowed.
- L1-L3 encryption – All the data, including the in-band optical management channels, are encrypted.
- IPsec – Used to secure the VPNs.
- Network segmentation – The ability to guarantee isolation of one part of the network from another
- Secured DCN – Protects the DCN and each site in the DCN. Stops one site from being able to launch an attack on another.
- Secured access - Authentication with at least two factors.
Many of these mechanisms use the techniques and approaches already applied in the packet and optical communications networks of today’s Service Providers and critical infrastructures.
However, network segmentation for security is something new. This has become important because joint forces command and control are looking to get a complete overview of the battlefield, linking together the data from all of the battlefield elements and forces; air, sea and land. However, this also becomes a risk if infiltrating one element allows malicious forces to impact or infiltrate the rest of the network.
5G transport technology also offers a solution for this. Network slicing can be used to provide the segmentation and segregation required to create multiple virtual networks (slices) each slice isolated from each and every other slice.
The increasingly connected battlefield and major advancements in military sensors are transforming the methods, means and weapons of war. The digitized battlefield is now the name of the game. To control the battlefield, a communications network is required which can assure the dynamic delivery of deterministic connectivity in a constantly changing hostile environment.
The next generation IP and optical transport technologies proposed for 5G are ideally suited to meet this challenge. So whilst it might be sometime before 5G new radio is deployed in the battlefield, the IP and optical technology is ready today.