The U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command has greatly strengthened the Army’s ability to securely communicate with allies in real time through the development of a new technology that bridges radios while using host nations’ existing crypto.
Devised, fabricated and proven by the command’s Communications-Electronics Center, or CERDEC, the Radio Interoperability Capability-Korea, or RIC-K, is a retransmission capability that is enabling direct radio communications and secure voice traffic between the Republic of Korea, or ROK, Army and the Eighth United States Army, or EUSA, without an intermediary.
Engineers from the center’s Cryptographic Modernization Branch, or CMB, were on assignment in ROK deploying an encryption management application when they were asked to lend their expertise to a radio interoperability problem that had plagued EUSA for four years. Within six hours, they were able to successfully bridge the two host-nation radios and address a pending request from theater for radio interoperability to support Joint and Combined operations while decreasing the potential of fratricide.
Moreover, when ROK forces informed the engineers that a separate device was used to provide host-nation voice traffic security, the engineers successfully designed a new communications cable to interface directly with the existing equipment, which saved time and money while leveraging the radio technology in place.
Next, they developed two prototypes that combined specially crafted circuit boards, fully encrypted voice and push-to-talk capabilities, and a four-foot cable to connect radios. Within two months, the center delivered a limited run of 40 fully functional and tested RIC-K systems to the EUSA.
“This is an example of how we can provide rapid innovation to transform capabilities in the short-term and the long-term,” said Matthew Lazzaro, CMB chief. “We were able to configure a more versatile solution and leverage our partnership with the National Security Agency to create a customized solution for Soldiers to operate securely while allowing the Soldiers to be as lethal as possible.”
The engineers tested the RIC-K along with three commercial voice bridges during an in-theatre interoperability exercise. Not only was its size, weight and power superior to a traditional voice bridge, but it successfully bridged encrypted frequency hopping between EUSA and ROK radios when the commercial solutions did not work or when they provided unacceptable risk.
Moreover, as a government-owned solution, any echelon of the Department of Defense could use the technical data package to fabricate the RIC-K as part of a low-cost, small business contract, helping the Army potentially save $8 million in cost.
“The RIC-K has proved itself when using different frequencies, hop sets, communications security and waveforms between ROK and U.S. radios. It provides us with an immediate fight-tonight capability, needed during combined operations,” said Col. Randolph S. Wardle, EUSA Assistant Chief of Staff for G6.
The RIC-K also supports one of the Army’s Six Modernization Priorities — Network Communications, Command, Control and Intelligence, or C3I, which is committed to delivering a tactical communications network that guarantees the Army can win against any adversary by utilizing next generation technology.
Full Rate Production of the RIC-K is being handled by the Small Business Innovation Research program via the Defense Logistics Agency, and the center has produced and distributed a Technical Bulletin and testing fixture that personnel are using to test the RIC-K’s functionality prior to its deployment to U.S. Forces Korea, or USFK.
The RIC-K will be issued to each command post under the EUSA umbrella and will be required for each unit conducting joint operations with the ROK.
The effort marks the first time U.S. personnel in theater have interacted with the ROK cryptology community, and, as a result of the success, USFK have engaged the center about assisting with other requested needs within the region.
“The EUSA and the ROK 17th Infantry Division conduct missions as one team, so maybe this is just a starting point; naturally, we want to have data interoperability in a tactical level, so perhaps there is work we can do after this with e-mail, chat and tactical file-sharing,” said Jinwoo Park, the center’s Science Advisor to Korea.
The center has also recently developed a universal cable tentatively known as Radio Interoperability Capability — Universal, or RIC-U, which will allow the interoperability of disparate waveforms and frequencies to safeguard U.S. Army radio networks against disruption attacks while executing missions with any of its coalition partners.
“This new technology will be critical to the Army’s future voice communication in the absence of a unified radio that can work between the Army and its coalition and non-coalition partners,” said Lazzaro.
Bill Toth, who helped develop the new technology, said the secure voice bridge will protect against a known-plaintext attack, or KPA, which is an attack model for cryptanalysis.
“If an attacker has access to both the plaintext and encrypted communication, it may ultimately help them to reveal further secret information through derivation of the encryption keys,” said Toth, who noted that the device is not only cost-effective and reliable, but it is also completely government owned.
“Once we get a patent, the Army can go to its vendors and ask them to implement this technology without being charged any type of licensing fee,” he said.
The RIC-U is in the patent-pending phase, which could take anywhere from 15 months to years. In the meantime, engineers are working with Program Executive Office, Command, Control, Communications – Tactical and the Network C3I Cross-Functional team to identify any ongoing interoperability challenges that the technology could address.
Filed Under: Aerospace + defense