Monday, 17 December 2012

Military Wifi, warzone connectivity

WiFi is a popular technology that allows an electronic device to exchange data wirelessly (using radio waves) over a computer network, including high-speed Internet connections. Wi-Fi has had a checkered security history. Its earliest encryption system, WEP, proved easy to break. Much higher quality protocols, WPA and WPA2, were added later. However, an optional feature added in 2007, called Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS), has a flaw that allows a remote attacker to recover the router's WPA or WPA2 password in a few hours on most implementations.
Wireless networks have been a tremendous boon to the network connectivity industry, in the corporate and the home markets. Wi-Fi, the moniker invented by a marketing company, is everywhere. Restaurants, college campuses, churches and even whole cities provide free Wi-Fi access to anyone who can connect with their wireless computing device. While this always-present availability of network connectivity has advantages, it is important to know that there are also some disadvantages.
Wireless computing has brought about a mobility that transcends traditional boundaries. Computers equipped with broadband cards connect to the Internet from virtually any location. Smartphone technology facilitates connection to the Internet, and from there to a business computer in the office or a desktop at home. This move toward mobility has also created a huge market for mobile applications that range from serious apps such as mobile banking, to not-so-serious apps that are just for fun.
The disadvantage  of WI-FI networks is their limited range, especially in buildings. In an office building or home the signal has a range of about a hundred and fifty feet. Outside, where there are no walls, the signal may travel as far as several hundred feet. You must place the wireless access point in a location that is central so that all computers can attach to the network.
The benefits of mobile connectivity has open communication channels for the general public to socially flaunt their social status and have instant assess to news networks and entertainment. While the general public are enjoying the benefits of mobile Internet access, the military are considering a similar avenue for their soldiers.
For example In the final days of the war in southern Lebanon in the summer of 2006, Israeli commanders were desperate. Nimble teams of well-trained Hezbollah insurgents had shocked the high-tech Israeli army.
There was a problem. Israeli communications systems didn't work very well in the mountains and ravines surrounding the Saluki River deep into Hezbollah territory. To get better comms coverage for its fixed command posts, the Israeli Command, Control, Communications, Computers and Information, or "C4I," directorate dangled radio transmitters to tethered balloons and floated them high over the Saluki. The Israeli army took a hard look at its tactics and equipment. For one, the army needed better communications.
Israel would need comms at least as flexible and reliable as Hezbollah's. It took four years of research and development, The key, as with Hezbollah's mix of commercial radios and cell phones, was resisting the urge to reinvent the wheel. The army's new "Afik Rahav" comms network is based on existing WiMax technology, with a twist.
While built on a commercial WiMax foundation, Afik Rahav boasts several unique features. Civilian WiMax typically beams 360 degrees from its router. For security, and to conserve power, an Afik Rahav system directs just two separate, encrypted "cones" of wireless connectivity. To avoid interfering with civilian Wi-Fi, the military network is tuned to special frequency set aside by the NATO alliance. Range is classified.
Before, Israeli commanders could count on only 1 or 2 Mb/sec of data through their landlines or point-to-point wireless connections. Afik Rahav supports up to 30 Mb/sec. Plus, it's mobile. In 2006, most Israeli commanders directed their troops from stationary command bunkers. By contrast, Afik Rahav works wherever its trucks can safely roam, and can go from standby to full operation in as little as 15 minutes.
In battle, the Wi-Fi trucks might remain a few miles behind the advancing tanks, providing connectivity between the combat troops and commanders riding in their own vehicles. When the tanks and commanders reach the limits of the network's range, the Afik Rahav operators shut down the routers, scoot forward in their trucks and resume operations, ideally within minutes. "We are working to eliminate gaps in the commander's access to information at any given time," explains Lieutenant Colonel Shimon Abutbul, who oversees training for the system.

With a relatively simple and inexpensive command system, the Israelis have achieved what bigger and wealthier nations have consistently failed to do. The United States and Great Britain both have struggled to develop mobile command networks to complement and eventually replace traditional communications.
In 2003, the US Army launched its "Future Combat Systems" program, which aimed to build a vast fleet of robots and new armored vehicles connected by a wireless-style data network. The basic component of the network was the so-called Joint Tactical Radio System, also known as "Jitters."
The British Army's Bowman radio, a scaled-down version of Jitters, performed only a little less miserably. It cost more than two billion pounds to get Bowman ready for fielding, which began in 2004 -- nine years late. The early models suffered "shortfalls in capability," according to the National Audit Office.
In contrast to the Americans and British, the Israelis were eager to blend civilian technology into their new command system. Israeli officers thinks that this blended approach to weapons development takes advantage of the recent explosive growth in the Israeli tech section. Recalling the days when his troops had to dig trenches for telephone wires, Abutbul praised Afik Rahav's hybrid design. "Today's Israelis are far more prepared to work these computerized system, thanks to our high-tech economy."
Ever since Apple Inc. introduced the iPhone in 2007, consumers have the chance to carry phones that amount to pocket computers, providing both Internet access and specialized software. Only recently the military are beginning so see the benefits of a multi purposeful tool such is a smart phone.
Darpa, the defense research arm that contributed to the development of the Internet, has launched an effort called Transformative Apps under which it has developed a few dozen smartphone applications that work on a number of mobile devices it is evaluating. In addition to mapping, the apps can do things like identify explosives and weapons and help navigate parachute drops.
 Darpa has also launched three programs aimed at developing fixed and mobile wireless networking systems working with traditional defense contractors. The Army doesn't have a plan to give every soldier a smartphone. But Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the Army's vice chief of staff, recently said that if the devices proved themselves in testing, the service would "buy what we need for who needs it now."
Many of the applications the Army wants to develop for instance, the ability to watch full-motion video shot from a drone can already be done with equipment now in the field. The potential advantage of smartphones and tablets is their lighter weight and ease of use.
DARPA are also working on the development of a wireless communications link that is capable of 100 gigabits per second over a range of 200 kilometers (124mi). Officially dubbed “100 Gb/s RF Backbone” (or 100G for short), the program will provide the US military with networks that are around 50 times faster than its current wireless links. Home WiFi network probably exceeds its top limit of 100Mbps, some hundred times slower.
Alternatively visible light links that operate at speeds up to 2.5Tbps but usually over a distance of one meter. Free-space optical communication isn’t reliable, because clouds tend to get in the way when you’re talking about 200-kilometer-long links. The only real option is RF, but again, transmitting 100Gbps over a 200-kilometer RF link is very tough.
In essence, DARPA wants to give deployed soldiers the same kind of connectivity as a high-bandwidth, low-latency fiber-optic network. In the case of Afghanistan, for example, the US might have a high-speed fiber link to Turkey but the remaining 1,000 miles to Afghanistan most likely consists of low-bandwidth, high-latency links. It’s difficult (and potentially insecure) to control UAVs or send/receive intelligence over these networks, and so the US military instead builds its own wireless network using Common Data Link.
Common Data Link (CDL) is a secure wireless protocol that networks together a US military deployment, for shuttling around imagery, intelligence, orders, and so on. UAVs, aircraft carriers, helicopters, forward operating bases they’re all connected together via wireless CDL links, bounced via high-altitude aircraft or orbiting satellites. Exact, up-to-date specs are hard to come by, but it seems like the US military’s existing CDL links max out at around 250Mbps. DARPA now wants to push these speeds up to 100Gbps, while using equipment that retains the same weight/power requirements of CDL i.e. these 100G systems must be deployable in the field.
The only RF link that is really comparable is ViaSat-1, a geosynchronous Ka-band communications satellite that sits above the USA, which has a total capacity of 134Gbps — but that’s the combined total of 56 Ka transponders, so the actual bandwidth per link is much lower. In all likelihood, DARPA’s 100G program will probably use the lower-frequency Ku band, which is less susceptible to rain fade (or degradation caused by other inclement atmospheric conditions). Assuming the right encoding/multiplexing techniques can be discovered, there should be plenty of bandwidth in either the Ka or Ku bands to hit 100Gbps. DARPA clearly states that the 100G program is for US military use but it’s hard to ignore the repercussions it might have on commercial networks, too.
The modern battlefield is evolving to a ad-hoc tech war, whereby problems in combat over terrain or tactics are overcome with electronic solutions. In the past the field of battle the gun could be your only friend, but in the modern war a smart phone and a strong line to the command center will be the best advantage. As each square area is reclaimed, UAVs will be uploading enemy positions or tagging hidden bases. Its hard to say if the modern battle field will drive the enemies with low technology underground or that a counter strike will overcome a modern army's hi tech arsenal. The advantage is that some of the tools of war filters through for the civilian sector to benefit, in other cases civilian tech is being used aid soldiers. In any case War is a high price to pay for better technology...

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