July 13, 2012

Network Integration Evaluation speeds fielding of Army encryption capability

by Amy Walker
Aberdeen Proving Ground, MD.

A 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division soldier uses the Joint Tactical Radio Systems Rifleman Radio to communicate during the NIE 12.2. The Rifleman Radio is a two-pound radio carried by the individual Soldier for voice communications and to transmit position locating information. Used by team leaders and above, the Rifleman Radio can also link with handheld devices to transmit text messages, GPS locations and other data.

The Army’s 75th Ranger Regiment is already reaping the benefits of advanced encryption tools for their Rifleman Radios in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, as a direct result of successful participation in the Network Integration Evaluation 12.1.

This Network Integration Evaluation, or NIE, process enabled the Army to field these capabilities much faster than normal acquisition cycles would have allowed.

“Our efforts to support the 75th Ranger Regiment by updating our existing systems were based upon the positive Soldier feedback we got from NIE 12.1,” said Chris Manning, project director for Communications Security, or PD COMSEC. “That direct feedback was utilized for the radio-loading, mission-planning, and COMSEC-planning solutions that the unit eventually deployed with.”

PD COMSEC participated in NIE 12.1 in support of the Joint Program Executive Office for the Joint Tactical Radio System’s, known as JPEO JTRS’s, Project Manger Handheld, Manpack and Small Form Fit, or HMS, which manages the Rifleman Radios. As part of the Army’s Agile Process to field new technologies to Soldiers at a faster pace, NIEs are a series of semi-annual evaluations, held at White Sands Missile Range, N.M., designed to integrate and mature the Army’s tactical network.

Several adaptations of PD COMSEC’s cryptographic network planning and management solutions were again put to the test and integrated into radio and tactical communication network systems during the more recent NIE 12.2, which took place in May and June. These cryptographic key management solutions will be incorporated into Capability 13 – the first integrated group of network technologies to be fielded to eight brigade combat teams starting in October.

Among the systems that utilized these solutions during NIE 12.2 were updated versions of three Army radios: the JTRS Rifleman Radio with an improved graphical user interface, the JTRS-HMS Manpack and the Harris Falcon AN/PRC-117G.

PD COMSEC’s cryptographic network planning solution – Joint Automated Communications Electronic Operating Instructions, or CEOI, System / Automated Communications Engineering System, or JACS/ACES, referred to as “ACES” – provides the soldier the ability to perform cryptographic network planning, management, generation and distribution. It also performs Electromagnetic Spectrum Operations and Signal Operating Instruction management, and currently supports more than a 130 different cryptographic devices.

“ACES is a very simple drag and drop, Windows-driven menu system,” said Eric Adair, product director for Key Management, which is assigned to PD COMSEC. “The code is easy to manipulate and it keeps everything down to a very basic level.”

A member of the 75th Ranger Regiment in Afghanistan wears the Joint Tactical Radio Systems Rifleman Radio.

ACES works in conjunction with the Simple Key Loader, or SKL, which is a ruggedized Personal Digital Assistant that loads cryptographic “key” material into radios and other communications equipment. All of the secure data that comes out of ACES goes into the SKL, to then be loaded and utilized by the intended communication system, such as a radio. This secure data, known as “key” material, facilitates the encryption of data transmission and the scrambling of voice transmission so the enemy cannot decipher communications. The cryptographic key material can be used to either encrypt, decrypt or both.

Another version of ACES was vetted at NIE 12.2 and employed with the second generation of the Army’s tactical communications network, Warfighter Information Network-Tactical, known as WIN-T, Increment 2, whose Initial Operational Test and Evaluation was held in conjunction with NIE 12.2. ACES software was operated with WIN-T Increment 2 as part of its Network Management System and Tactical Key Management System, which helps plan, generate and distribute cryptographic keys within the WIN-T architecture. By having ACES employed with WIN-T, the Army will realize an element of Network Operations convergence and achieve efficiencies of fiscal and operational costs, Adair said.

When capability gaps are identified, the Army can now use the NIE and the Agile Process to provide Soldiers with new equipment and advanced technology insertions faster than ever before. However, when new capability is brought in so rapidly, it is imperative that the infrastructure that supports that new capability also advances, Adair said.

“We’ve been able to steer our team to support the rapid change of new radios and communication equipment,” Adair said. “And we make the required changes into ACES so it can support the system’s overall cryptographic key management plan.”

As the Army modernizes its force through the fielding of integrated capability sets, ACES will be able to support an increasing array of integrated communication systems. PD COMSEC, assigned to the Army’s Program Executive Office for Command, Control and Communications-Tactical, known as PEO C3T, is working with other project managers, known as PMs, as they bring new communication technologies through the NIE to ensure that the various system profiles can be supported within ACES and that the new systems and upgrades have a proper cryptographic key management and distribution plan in place, Adair said.

Currently for CS 13, PD Key Management is working with other PMs, such as PM WIN-T and PM JTRS-Network Enterprise Domain, to combine redundant radio planning capabilities into one ACES platform. JTRS Enterprise Network Manger, which enables signal soldiers to manage the networks of JTRS software-defined radio sets; Tactical Internet Management System – Radio Based Situational Awareness Monitor, which provides monitoring of Joint Battle Command – Platform; the Mounted Computing Environment; along with other Lower Tier Network Environment and radio monitoring requirements are all being combined into this single box concept, Adair said.

Streamlining these capabilities could pose a huge cost avoidance to the Army and it has the potential to eliminate multiple laptops from Capability Set 13, which will reduce operational burden, Adair said.

“ACES is required as part of cryptographic network management and distribution, so by also leveraging it as the Army’s platform to consolidate radio and COMSEC planning software, it makes it easier on soldiers because they don’t have to maintain multiple laptop systems to plan, configure, and manage the tactical radio network.” Manning said. “It does everything in one shot.”

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