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Tactical routers – the backbone of secure communication

Konstanz, 14.09.2017. Lossless, delay-free transmission of information is an essential prerequisite for the basic command and control capability of an operational force on the digital battlefield. Command superiority can only be achieved with a functioning communication network. At the heart of such an information network is the tactical router.

The tactical router provides the full communication capability by meshing various independent subnetworks into a single superordinate network so that all participants can communicate with one another. However, this also requires the autonomous connection of internal network participants to external networks in observance of IT security and quality of service. This meshing may also call for transcoding and/or concentration of data in individual cases. This results in a gateway capability at the higher ISO levels.

In multinational scenarios, the tactical router can serve as a voice and data gateway between nations, including the implementation of various encodings and standards if necessary. It must also have the ability to connect future waveforms and command and control resources.

Such a communication network can only be established through the intensive exchange of information about the network infrastructure. This necessitates stringent network management. Keep in mind that not only the actual routing information for distributing the network topology can be seen, but also the exchange of IT security data, such as the protocols for dynamic key negotiation or PKI messages (cryptology), consisting of certificates, revocation lists and policies.

The router’s tasks in the communication network

The tactical router initially serves to set up a tactical communication network that is available to all units, from the command post down to the dismounted soldier. These facilities and participants are represented by their respective IP address in the network.

However, there is a need for further communication beyond this. Worth mentioning here are video and audio streaming services (VoIP), which must be available via proportionate broadband telecommunications connections. Here, the tactical router would have to provide the function of a corresponding server (call manager) for local VoIP subscribers.

Sensor elements have to be connected to corresponding applications internally. A direct connection to external clients, i.e. clients that can be reached via the network, also increasingly comes into consideration here. DHCP and DNS services are necessary for the internal connection of many different participants so that the external participants can recognise and use the services in question. Other participants can be found in logistics and on-board diagnostics. Here, the tactical router provides interfaces and transmission services for the connection of on-board diagnostic equipment according to VG96922. Services required internally include:

  • a uniform management and configuration interface to control all (communication) devices in a vehicle which are enabled for this purpose;
  • connection of non-IP-capable sensors that provide their information both locally and in the communication network in real time;
  • a central test node with online/offline test systems for fault localisation in IT devices enabled for this purpose;
  • a PKI agent for dismounted units that cannot continuously connect to a certification authority (CA) directly;
  • the provision of servers for GPS/time information as well as for DNS and DHCP services.

The router becomes tactical

The tactical router has to take various boundary conditions and requirements into account in fulfilling the aforementioned tasks and associated services. Communication-related parameters such as quality of service are the first thing to consider here: bandwidth, response times, real-time capability, reliability, availability, workload, costs, etc. There are also the different command and control resources and communication networks to be used, from narrowband VHF troop radio to multi-channel satellite links. Rapidly changing topologies in the tactical environment present another challenge here, caused by scenarios such as changes to the chain of command, task forces, etc. or periods when individual participants are cannot be reached due adverse terrain, etc. The applicable internet standards (RFCs) also have to be taken into account.

Finally, observance of military standards (STANAGs) as well as special military requirements such as EMCON, IT security, end system without router function and restrictions imposed by international law, turn a router into a tactical router.

The tactical router as a system

How can system of the tactical router be established? To do so, it must be taken into account that

  • the tactical router must have scalable, modular hardware and software architecture so that it can be easily adapted to all of the aforementioned scenarios and boundary conditions;
  • all communication nodes (vehicles, command posts) that require full functioning; the differences here are just the number of interfaces required and the characteristics of the services;
  • information has to be meshed and transmitted differently, even in supposedly “simple” vehicles.
  • Regarding the question as to whether the tactical router is merely “a little bit of software,” the following points need to be given some consideration:
  • With a pure software solution, the hardware that forms the basis has to meet the requirements of both systems: those of the tactical router and those of the application software to be used. However, these are different applications. For instance, battle management systems require more graphics processing and greater database access, whereas a router needs more computing and I/O power.
  • Different software suites inevitably result in much more logistical effort for software maintenance measures on account of the greater (mutual) demands for IT security verification and evaluation.

For that reason, the tactical router should be designed and executed as a stand-alone device. ATM ComputerSysteme GmbH has long-standing experience in the design and implementation of scalable and modular communication systems in hardware and software.

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78467 Konstanz

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