NRL Demonstrates Airborne SIPRNet and Multi-Level Security Architectures for OSD Horizontal Fusion Program

12/13/2004 - 51-04r
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Researchers at the Naval Research Laboratory's Optical Sciences Division have successfully demonstrated two major advancements required for the integration of Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) systems into net-centric war-fighting capabilities. These advancements are:

  • an architecture that gives airborne platforms which normally carry only a sensor suite access to secret-level information and communications over a two-way encrypted TCP/IP connection on SIPRNet (Secure IP Routing Network), allowing net-centric control and utilization of scarce ISR assets, and

  • a "cross-domain" capability that allows unclassified information and data, such as from sensors or war fighters, to transfer into classified networks, i.e., low-to-high, irrespective of data type or file format.

According to Dr. John Lee, NRL program manager, "The SIPRNet node and the sensor suite were installed in its entirety on one of NRL's P-3 research aircraft and participated in the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) Horizontal Fusion program demonstration exercise that took place in August 2004. The NRL system allowed for obtaining nearly real-time electronic intelligence (ELINT), panchromatic imagery frames and hyperspectral scans providing users with high-resolution images and spectral signatures of targets that were often first detected by ELINT hits within the exercise area. Camouflaged nets, ground vehicles, and ships were detected with hyperspectral instruments using anomaly-detection and spectral matched filter algorithms for detection of targets located within a variety of backgrounds during the P-3 flights over Webster Field, Maryland; Fort Benning, Georgia; Eglin AFB, Florida/Gulf of Mexico; and Chesapeake Bay, Maryland. Unclassified information was routed back to NRL for transfer into the SIPRNet via the cross-domain solution.

The high-speed airborne and ground network allowed the sensor data to be exploited and fused by a number of geographically-dispersed workstations, and the cross-domain solution allowed posting of unclassified sensor data on classified servers such as the Image Product Library at the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGA). Web-based tools developed under the OSD program, were employed on the airborne SIPRNet node, which allowed any number of users both direct collaboration with the P-3 sensor platform and access to P-3 sensor products via a Federated Web Search. This Collaboration and Federated Search capability allowed ground troops at Ft Benning, Georgia, to obtain up-to-date imagery from the P-3. Unclassified ground information was disseminated back over to SIPRNet, enabling both the P-3 aircraft and headquarters access to this information."

The research team reports, "The airborne SIPRNet architecture was developed and demonstrated in conjunction with NRL's Information Technology Division. The wireless link to and from the P-3 aircraft was provided by L-band transceivers, called NRL Link, which operates irrespective of the transmission protocol. Wireless transmission of TCP/IP traffic, however, presents a security challenge. To overcome this situation, strong encryption was employed at the transceiver sites, encrypting both the control as well as data signals. KG-175 TACLANE encryptors were employed on NRL Link, and a separate KG-175 was employed for the SIPRNet terminal, i.e., the through-the-air signal was doubly encrypted. On the terrestrial side, a single bridged subnet connected the aircraft to the SIPRNet connection site. A connection range of more than 50 miles was achieved during the demonstration."

The low-to-high cross-domain solution was developed and demonstrated in conjunction with NRL's Center for High Assurance Computer Systems Branch. A schematic and photograph of the cross-domain solution are shown in the attached figure. The heart of the solution consists of the NRL Network Pump developed by the NRL team, and evaluated favorably by National Security Agency cross-Domain solutions group. It has received the Navy Type Accreditation by Chief of Naval Operation designating it as a high-assurance component of a cross-domain solution. To implement a complete solution, a low and a high host computer/server was integrated to the corresponding sides of the pump, to connect to the unclassified network and to the SIPRNet, respectively. "Pusher-catcher" software was written for these hosts to implement firewalls, check person identities and metadata tags, implement virus- and malicious code-checking, and log all activity.

In the August demonstration, the cross-domain solution provided error-free automated file transfers, and rejected unauthorized entries. Based on security testing to date, an Interim Authority to Connect (IATC) this solution to SIPRNet has been granted. A permanent Authority to Operate is expected after further testing. It is reported that future work will explore a limited high-to-low solution with the approach demonstrated here.

"These initial flight demonstrations of the net-centric multi-INT system have shown great promise for real-time airborne multi-INT fusion target detection, exploitation, and dissemination and takes airborne reconnaissance into the 21st century, integrating advanced hyperspectral and panchromatic sensors with real-time digital recoding, data-link transmission, and exploitation over a distributed network," concluded Dr. Lee.

This work is funded by the Office of Secretary of Defense for Networks and Information Integration (OSD-NII).

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