Leveraging Mobile Security: How To Shape a Way Ahead for a 5th Generation Military


By Robbin Laird

In my discussions at Penten, I learned of a very innovative approach to providing for the security for mobile systems.  They have developed an approach which allows the user to connect with a variety of security systems through a very innovative USB device which allows a mobile platform – phone, computer, etc. – to connect to a range of unclassified networks to deliver information needed at the point of use.

The importance of such a capability is significant for what the Aussies define as a 5thGeneration military and its operational needs.

I had a chance to discuss both the evolving requirements of a networked fifth generation force and the kind of capability which the Penten approach could bring to solving those requirements with Air Vice-Marshal (Retired) John Blackburn, one of the architects of the RAAF and ADF’s approach to shaping a 5th  Generation force.

As Blackburn put it forcefully about a core aspect of the transition:

“Networks as a term for describing connectivity among the forces is becoming obsolete.

“Nodes, communication bearers and protocols will become the focus as a 5thGen “Information Management Environment (IME)” is generated and built to handle emerging 5th Gen operational requirements. 

“Networks will be the transportation layer in broader 5th Gen IME.

Question: How would you describe the challenge posed by the current information networks?

John Blackburn:  The challenge that we face today is that the existing communications and information networks were not designed as an integrated system and do not appear to be a good foundation upon which to build the 5thGen communications and information networks we will need in the near future.

This issue was highlighted at a recent US Conference held by Defense News; presenters identified that a major impediment to multidomain operations is the disparate communications and information networks in the US Armed Forces.

They noted that the US has magnificent platforms but that it needs an integrated communications architecture and network …a systems of systems level approach is needed.

A recent Air Force Times article[1]also concluded that the US military isn’t quite at the point of the multi-domain command and control capabilities envisaged by the USAF Chief, General Goldfein.

General Goldfein was reported as saying that the biggest gap he sees is a set of common architecture standards that the Pentagon can hand to defense industry partners so that everything they build can connect.

An example of where private industry is heading with an internet framework that provides multiple independent pathways that can be used by the military for communication and information networks was raised as a model that Defence Forces need to consider.

The change in the USAF force architecture also becomes evident if we look at the proposed USAF Advanced Battle Management System.

A recent AW&ST article,[2] reported that the implication of the demise of the J-Stars recapitalization program is becoming clear and that the pending retirement signals a fundamental shift in acquisition and operational strategy.

Instead of concentrating a critical sensor and battle management center on a single platform, the distribution of such capabilities across a resilient and adaptable network, consisting of multiple, smaller platforms is envisaged.

The article noted that the USAF’s Next-Generation Air Dominance program could follow a similar model.   If battle management is to be performed by a network of multiple platforms then there will need to be an integrated communication and information network that will integrate multiple platforms and systems not originally designed to communicate with each other.

These nodes on the network will need the processing power to correlate / fuse the streams of data.

This transition has profound implications for the USAF’s acquisition community.

AW&ST reported that Will Roper, the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, is considering creating a new function of a systems architect. 

The systems architect will approach the program with a system-of-systems mindset, shifting requirement sets between different platforms within the overall system as necessary.

So, to the question of what this means for Australia.

The journey to transform the Australian Air Force, and ideally the whole of the Australian Defence Force, into what has been termed a 5thGen Force is underway.

Whilst some in Australia might only think about 5thGen as being the platforms such as the JSF, the implications for how we network, integrate and use the force are fundamental.

Existing Defence C4ISR networks in Australia appear to have been driven by the incremental acquisition or upgrade of capabilities that require connectivity and by a platform-centric culture.

The lack of an integrating design authority for all of the Defence communications / information networks also means that confusion arises when new projects attempt to identify how their classified system will be connected and supported.

Compounding this issue is a general lack of integrated systems of systems design experience in Defence; it wasn’t really a requirement until recently.

Defence acquisition processes are consequently project focused vice program or systems focused, in the absence of a comprehensive system level architecture.

There are currently a multitude of dedicated information networks in operation in Defence with a number of network managers who attempt to manage them.  This results in considerable management overhead that could not really be described as cost effective.

Deployable networks with different security level requirements also generate significant resource demands and produce mobility challenges, particularly for tactical level HQs.

Despite the valiant efforts of communications engineers, there appears to be ongoing issues with connectivity, bandwidth availability and resilience; there is little “graceful degradation” design in our C4ISR networks today.

When we talk in terms of a 5thGen Force, it would not be unreasonable to describe our current information network design as being a mix of legacy components.

As the ADF transitions to a 5thGen platform/systems-equipped force over this next decade it will need 5thGen information systems to cope with the sensor and data rich 5thGen system components.

In my discussions with Australian systems engineers, I have been advised that “networks” as a term will become obsolete.  Nodes, communication bearers and protocols will become the focus as a 5thGen “Information Management Environment (IME)” is generated and built to handle emerging 5th Gen operational requirements. 

Networks will be the transportation layer in broader 5th Gen IME.

So, the key question that we need to think through is “how do we move from a legacy infrastructure to a future 5thGen IME infrastructure?” 

Can we utilize the private sector developments discussed by the USAF Chief to provide much greater resilience and redundancy?

If we cannot address this question properly, then Defence will not realise the potential of a 5thGen integrated force.

Question: The key demand is to have a networking system as flexible as the multi-domain assets coming into the force demand.

How to do this?

John Blackburn:  The future 5thGen force will be generating large volumes of fused / correlated information.  This will require a significant increase in classified network bandwidth and network complexity as new sensors and platforms are acquired with increasing integration demands resulting from capabilities such as Cooperative Engagement and Integrated Fires.

We will likely need a system comprised of interconnected and interoperable legacy and 5th generation systems, communications links, IP based networks and waveforms.

The stove piped model of current networks will create bottlenecks for the passage of essential, time-critical information and would also constrain the passage of that information to a limited number of classified pathways.

Changes in technology of networks, for example IPV6 based systems such as Boeing’s Currawong Battlefield Telecommunications Network for the Army and the security technologies offered by SMEs such as Penten suggest that we need to look to innovative industry developments and how they could support an new, emerging, IME architecture approach.

Question: If we look at the technology Penten has developed, maybe we don’t need to build separate infrastructure that’s supporting transmission of information at particular classification levels if we encrypt data at each node or sensor.  

We could have a communications network that has drop off points, or gateways if you like, for each of those information types or classification types. 

Do you think that this a feasible option?

John Blackburn: I think that emerging technologies, such as those developed by Penten, offer really interesting options for us to consider.

If we took an approach where the node / sensor levels are encrypted, we could employ a much wider array of data pathways, including those currently being developed and deployed in the civilian sector.

We would not be limited to using only legacy classified network pathways.

This could, in turn, make it more difficult for an adversary to interdict our operations.

It is about reinventing the infrastructure to support the warfighter at the point of operations rather than trying to push an ever-growing mass of data down thestove piped model of current classified networks.

Question: Clearly, the Twitters and Facebooks of the world are moving forward with how to deliver relevant information to the users, why can not the military move in the same direction?

John Blackburn: We need to rethink our current design approach for networks and achieve security in a different way, one built around how a 5th Gen combat force needs to operate.

The alternative is to take 5thGen platforms and connect them to the legacy architecture which is based on a hierarchical stove piped design.

We need to imagine a mobile and agile force that will generate information on the fly and the combat clusters or task forces that need information appropriate to their ability to attack and defend against an adversary in a fluid combat situation.

We have built the platforms; but we are shackling them with yesterday’s security and IT solutions.

Given the example of some emerging Australian technology solutions, perhaps we can shape a more effective way ahead for the ADF; a 5th generation force is not going to function without a 5th generation integrated communications and information management environment design.

[1]Air Force chief lays out future fight against peer-level adversaries, Kyle Rempfer, Air Force Times, https://www.airforcetimes.com/news/your-air-force/2018/09/13/air-force-chief-lays-out-future-fight-against-peer-level-adversaries/

[2]J-Stars Demise Paves Way For Radical Shift In U.S. Air Force Strategy”,Steve Trimble, AW&ST, Sep 20, 2018

A key strategic dynamic is to expand the flexibility of the basing and operations of combat forces.  This will put a premium on being able to connect key elements of the force structure into offensive and defensive force packages.

The featured photo highlights one aspect of this challenge, namely providing the information for logistical support to a mobile air combat force.

(L-R) Leading Aircraftman (LAC) Baker, a Communications Electronics Technician (CETECH) from No.1 Combat Communications Squadron (1CCS) Richmond, and LAC Damien Humphries, also a CETECH at 1CCS are attached for the first time with Expeditionary Health Squadron (EHS) during exercise Talisman Saber.

LAC Humphries and LAC Baker are pictured in front of a Sinclair antenna attached to a Raven General Purpose Mast. Their team will work on the Defence Mobile Communications Network providing communications support for the EHS detachment. 

RAAF Base Tindal comes alive as Talisman Saber 2009 (TS09) provides the opportunity for Combat Support Group (Combat Support Group)to develop and trail aspects of the deployable airbase wing construct during Exercise ABW DT&E (Air Base Wing Develop Test and Evaluate). Exercise ABW DT&E commenced on the 18 June 2009.  

The purpose of installing an ABW structure at RAAF Tindal to support TS09 air activities in a ground threat environment will provide realistic conditions to develop and validate the ABW construct.  

Combat Support Group elements providing an ABW construct consist of an ABW Head Quarters, an Airbase Support Squadron, an Airfield Defence Squadron, and an Expeditionary Health Squadron.

Realism for deveolping the ABW construct is provided by supporting high-end war fighting operations during TS09 in a simulated ground threat environment.  

Exercise Control (EXCON) consisting of Airfield Defence Gaurds, Explosive Ordnance Demolition,Security Police, Clerks, Logistic Officers, Doctors, Nursing Officers and Ground Defence Officers are providing threats to help test and run ABW.

The ground threat involves Australian Forces in the country of Monmir engaging in enemy attacks against Kamarian Forces. EXCON are providing threat scenarios on a regular basis twenty fours hours a day to help test and run the ABW during this exercise.  

This ABW DT&E will trial one possible version of the Combat Support Group deployable

July 5, 2009

Australian Department of Defence

As Matthew Wilson, the CEO of Penten, noted during out interview in Canberra last month:

What we’ve essentially done is to take a heavy flyaway kit which was a network extension node and simply replace with a small USB device that enables the user’s laptop or tablet directly.

Through the use of the USB device and the authentication process, your mobile device is a peer network device on whatever network you are working on.

We have been focused to date primarily on two situations or con-ops. The first is working with the various secure buildings to be able to bring the information to the work situation in which they are engaged with others in the organization.

For example, we are working with the ADF on enabling a brigade headquarters to go wireless within a mobile HQ.