By: Carlo Munoz, Jane's International Defence Review, Published on November 5, 2020

Data and network encryption programme engineers at General Dynamics are teaming up with Klas Telecom and DTech Labs in support of their expeditionary networking platforms, partnerships that potentially could result in a new satellite communication (satcom) suite for the US Army’s Expeditionary Signals Battalion-Enhanced (ESB-E) units.

Beginning in May 2019, General Dynamics collaborated with Cubic Mission Solutions‘ DTECH Labs to team up its TACLANE-Nano 175N data encryptor with the family of DTECH M3X network module stacks, enabling the man-packable module stack to receive and transmit data at the top secret/sensitive compartmented information (TS/SCI) level. The TACLANE-Nano is a smaller, ruggedised variant of the TACLANE-ES10, and supports asymmetric data transfers at up to 200 megabits per second (Mb/s) of aggregate throughput.

TACLANE Nano in Hand Cut-outThe US National Security Agency (NSA) certified the TACLANE-Nano for transmission of Type 1 TS/SCI data and communications in October 2019. The system was also High Assurance Internet Protocol Encryptor (HAIPE) v.4.2.5 compliant, while also including selective adoption of open architecture standards. The TACLANE-Nano’s predecessor, the TACLANE-Micro 175D, “is probably the most widely used network encryptor in the US”, with 125,000 units currently fielded with US armed forces, said Dave King, chief technical officer for Cyber at General Dynamics Mission Systems. “The 175D [variant] ... is 200 [Mb/s] but it is a quarter of its size,” he said of the TACLANE-Nano’s data transmission capabilities, given its size, weight, and power requirements.

On the network module side, the DTECH M3X can establish a network connection without the use of an external ethernet or external power cable under austere conditions, via a raised-angle connector, according to a company fact sheet. The modular stack can also be configured to meet mission requirements, while housing the power, router, server, and network switch components via an interlocking rail system. The lack of a traditional rack for the M3X reduces size and weight requirements for use in expeditionary operations, the fact sheet stated.

System engineers and encryption specialists at General Dynamics also partnered with Klas Telecom to integrate the TACLANE-Nano into the company’s own tranche of modular networking platforms dubbed the ‘Voyager System’. Designed to integrate “common form-factor, rugged, low SWaP, Cisco-based networking modules and chassis” to establish security networked communications from static and mounted positions, the family of Voyager systems have already been evaluated by ESB-E units for expeditionary operations.

A Voyager 8 networking module, as part of the Joint Enabling Capabilities Command’s Joint Communications Support Element (JCSE) JBLOX equipment set, underwent field tests with elements of the 50th ESB-E in November 2019. Those tests were part of pilot experiments for early commercial off-the-shelf variants of the new ESB-E satcom system.

Klas Telecom and DTECH Labs, along with PacStar, are competing to develop the new satcom kit. The US Army Futures Command’s Network Cross-Functional Team (N-CFT) in June awarded all three companies support contracts to provide network and mobile communication hardware for the three ESB-S systems slated for field tests. Army officials plan to field 24 new network communication systems, one for each of the service’s ESB-E units. That said, two of the three systems slated for field tests will likely feature the TACLANE-Nano encryptor.

King declined to comment on the ongoing testing and down-select process for the new ESB-E system, but he did note that the company’s encryption products are the ideal solution for Type 1 encrypted communication and data transfers in an expeditionary combat environment.

“The DTech people have pretty good technology in their MX3 rugged network gear and the Nano adds that gateway protection for Type 1 encryption, even before you get into the server,” he said on 22 September. “So the idea is that people like Klas, people like DTech, they can put together the strong solutions for [expeditionary] networking that they are known for, and we are just that stand alone, Type 1 high assurance wedge between their [system] and the mean outside world,” King noted, adding, “even if they may have never seen a Nano before, they will be familiar with how it works”.

The 50th ESB-E and the 57th ESB-E have been tapped to conduct field tests of the three new satcom prototypes, with army officials in the midst of selecting the third ESB-E unit to participate in those field tests. The field evaluations will be integrated into the selected units’ normal rotational exercises and would serve as an early soldier touchpoint for elements of the ESB-E, enabling programme officials to gauge the successes and shortfalls of the three variants.

Aside from its work on the TACLANE-Nano, programme engineers are also working to secure data storage in combat environments. The company’s KG-204 ProtecD@R is a multi-platform encryptor that “safeguards classified information even in the event of a loss or compromise of a hard drive, allowing for sustained collection of intelligence by unattended or autonomous systems”, according to a company fact sheet. Company officials fielded the first tranche of KG-204s in support of US government-run unmanned intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) programmes in September.

“TACLANE is really a data-in-transit solution within the confidentiality of the network. ProtecD@R, even though it may run at similar data rates or it may run the same algorithms ... but the requirements for data at rest vary quite a bit from data in transit,” King said.

“If you lose the encryptor that has the hard drive glued next to it, someone has an eternity to try figure out the data and they have the keys right there [in data at rest], with data in transit it is ephemeral – it is here today and gone tomorrow [in] like a nanosecond later,” he explained, noting that data in transit requires somewhat fewer encryption capabilities compared with encryptors used for data at rest.

General Dynamics has positioned itself to play a large role in the US Army’s eventual satcom solution for the ESB-E units. Collaborating with Klas and DTECH on their premier, ruggedised expeditionary network modules – systems that are likely to be featured in each company’s prototype satcom proposal – General Dynamics’ TACLANE-Nano will likely become the standard-bearer for portable, Type 1 encryption capabilities for the ESB-E. The company’s ProtecD@R is a multi-platform encryptor that could also feature heavily in the proposed satcom system, depending on how requirements for future iterations of the ESB-E kits evolve.

Note - This article was republished with the permission of Jane's International Defence Review.