COTS eyed for information warfare

Sept. 1, 1997
Experts determine that information warfare equipment typically operates in a benign environment, making this discipline a strong candidate for commercial- and industrial-grade components purchased right out of the catalog.

Experts determine that information warfare equipment typically operates in a benign environment, making this discipline a strong candidate for commercial- and industrial-grade components purchased right out of the catalog.

by John Rhea

Electronic warfare designs, once considered the exclusive domain of custom and mil-spec equipment, is offering an increasing opportunity for suppliers of commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) hardware components and software.

Driving electronic systems designs toward COTS equipment is the discipline`s apparent merging with information warfare, which seeks to safeguard friendly computer data and deny it to the enemy as electronic warfare seeks to do the same with RF sensors and voice communications.

Traditional electronic warfare was conducted in a tactical environment as forces sought to negate the electronic assets of their foes. It still is. But information has become an increasingly more valuable asset in its own right and is vulnerable on a global basis. As a result, the physical environment in which information warfare systems must operate can be considered benign from a design standpoint although the technical complexities may be greater.

The classical definition of electronic warfare - the ability to use the entire electromagnetic spectrum for all command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance purposes, while denying that capability to an adversary, applies equally to electronic warfare and information warfare.

Vernon Luke, executive director of the Association of Old Crows in Alexandria, Va., makes the distinction between information warfare, which involves the protection of information assets during wartime while attacking enemy information; and information operations, which is a continual defensive requirement.

Furthermore, the information assets to be protected extend beyond the military sphere - for example, banking and other financial information. These are becoming increasingly vulnerable in a world of instant global communications, Luke says.

COTS opportunities

"There`s more to do, more vulnerabilities," he says. "You must first protect your own information and then disrupt your enemy." This is where he sees opportunities for COTS and dual-use technologies as military systems designers turn to commercial suppliers for state-of-the-art systems.

"We`re moving into uncharted waters. There`s a lot available for purchase now, not just weapon systems, but `smarts`", Luke notes. Rather than what he calls the "intelligence-driven" electronic warfare of the past, the new information warfare/information operations capabilities must involve counter-countermeasures to defend not only information assets but also offensive weapons from a broad spectrum of yet-undetermined threats.

"Information warfare brings a new meaning to extending the littoral battlefield," adds Russ Adamchak, Navy and international sector manager for the Mercury Computer Systems office in Vienna, Va. "We`re not confined to the theater, but to the whole infrastructure of a country." Mercury Computer Systems, headquartered in Chelmsford, Mass., specializes in digital signal processing, parallel processing, and massively parallel processing systems.

The DOD infrastructure is well bounded, but the commercial world is less controlled, Adamchak notes. The integrity of information in the public domain must be maintained, but the privacy of users also must be protected. He described the threats as "subtle and pervasive," ranging from terrorism to the pranks of computer hackers.

A model for DOD applications, Adamchak says, is the experience of banks, which have established fire walls and secure networks. The real threat is to the networks, he says, due to today`s universal access to the Internet.

Barry Isenstein, vice president for advanced technologies at Mercury`s Chelmsford, Mass., corporate headquarters, describes a new dimension in information warfare that he calls "metadata," or the feeding of many types of media, such as still images, video, audio, and "plain old bits," from several sources into a single focal point for analysis and action.

Multimedia data sources

An example is the data streams from unmanned aerial vehicles, which provide the data in an accessible form to a customer base, much as the commercial world operates.

"Think of it not as a SAR [synthetic aperture radar] image, but as a package for multiple users," Isenstein says. In either case, the information must get to the users who need it without disruption or interception by an adversary - and the users must be assured of its integrity.

This is where COTS can play a role, explains Gorky Chin, vice president for advanced technology at Vista Controls Corp., a supplier of ruggedized and mil-spec VME single-board computers and other board-based components, based in Santa Clarita, Calif.

"Ninety percent of our new programs have reduced specifications," Chin says. This means increasing use of plastic packaging and surface-mounted components, including for ground vehicles and airborne reconnaissance. Vista Controls engineers has been able to use commercial-grade 1553 data bus interface boards, rather than those ordered to military specifications, with options for upgrading to fiber optics in several electronic warfare systems.

Gail Walters, executive vice president of CPU Technology Inc. of Pleasanton, Calif., says she is looking to use COTS technology for what she calls "defensive posturing." Company designers are working on a concept known as "behavior verification technology," in which systems are probed to exploit weaknesses and thus determine potentially invasive threats. Systems designers could apply the concept, which would have dual-use applications, across a wide variety of platforms, she says.

Another approach to information security is on the table of engineers at Systran Corp. in Dayton, Ohio, who have developed a system for the simulation facilities of the nearby U.S. Air Force Flight Dynamics and Avionics directorates of Wright Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. The idea was to be able to transfer data back and forth from Systran`s SCRAMNet network in asynchronous transfer mode (ATM) packets.

ATM network bridge

Many experts consider ATM to be less secure than other protocols for fiber optic networks, so Systran designers build a bridge to the existing system, which they call "Phoenix." Rather than allocate the laboratory`s research money for encryption of SCRAMNet traffic, their idea was to build a piece of hardware able to translate SCRAMNet into ATM, thus using the existing GTE Fastlane ATM encryption system.

The solution not only enabled the use of existing COTS components, Systran officials say, but permitted designers to link the networks over ATM channels without encryption when dealing with non-sensitive simulations. Systran specialists designed the single-board Phoenix computer under the small business innovative research program and is currently in beta test.

Anthony Jordan, product line manager at UTMC Microelectronic Systems in Colorado Springs, Colo., says he sees greater use of performance specifications and reduced high-reliability parts in such areas as radar and missile warning. The problem with performance specifications, as he puts it, is that the customer has to do more work at his end, particularly when it comes to documentation, but this continues to be DOD`s approach for retrofits and for the few new programs in development.

"It`s a more competitive market, and the programs are few and far between, and that puts pressure on the suppliers," Jordan says. "Customers are requiring lower prices for their semiconductor products."

For mission-critical applications, strict specifications (including no plastic packaging) continue, but board suppliers are using more commercial- and industrial-grade parts in systems that operate in a controlled environment and have support readily available.

"The trend toward COTS is the number-one driver in this business," says Dwight Streit, director of the microelectronics technology center at TRW in Redondo Beach, Calif. Streit stresses that the physical environment for information warfare is relatively benign and adds that the primary threat concerns software in what he calls the "information bombs" that he considers serious threats to networks.

COTS as a necessity

Security in the United States is becoming more dependent on electronic information transfer, he says, and among the challenges is building better fire walls.

Jeff Milrod, president of Ixthos of Leesburg, Va., points out that using COTS components in information warfare systems is a virtual necessity because of the advanced technology involved. "It`s not so much technology as leading-edge technology," Milrod explains. Parts meeting rigid specifications require a lot of chip "real estate" to meet conduction cooling requirements. Surface mounting is "absolutely" the way to go, he says.

At the Air Force`s Rome Laboratory in Rome, N.Y., computer scientist Joe Giordano concedes that the increasing use of commercial communications lines constitutes a danger, particularly when they have to be used in what he calls "stressed times." DOD leaders use the Internet and similar networks for logistics functions, just as commercial organizations do, and the computers and software were created without security in mind, he points out.

Giordano, a member of the Rome Lab Information Warfare Team, is looking at ways to wrap systems with better security functionality against such problems as unauthorized entry and computer viruses. He insists that system software shell should be secure and non-invasive. The idea, he says, is to accept COTS for the inner core of the system but to develop the software shell to rigid military security requirements.

In the case of intrusion detection, for example, the method has been point solutions when what is really needed is cooperating components, such as fire walls and filtering routes, Giordano says.

Rome Lab experts have been conducting risk assessments, but Giordano notes that today the tools are very "expertise-intensive," or mathematics based, and this requires putting values on the information.

But for the DOD the loss is not money, but a mission. There are trade-offs involved here, and one is establishing the necessary ability to detect attacks or suspicious behavior without generating a high level of false alarms.

Information recovery

Another area under study is how to recover information systems after they have been breached and how to determine the validity of the data. Giordano refers to the three categories of recovered data as cold, hot, and warm. "They may be subtle changes," he says, "but decisions based on corrupted data can be very bad, like bombing the wrong target."

Nonetheless, there is plenty of dual-use potential in the military`s information warfare programs, he adds, citing fire walls, encryption, and auditing tools.

While the military-unique aspects of electronic warfare and information warfare continue to require ruggedized hardware capable of surviving battlefield conditions, the increasing migration of the information flow to the commercial sector enhances the opportunities for the application of COTS.

Click here to enlarge image
Click here to enlarge image

Experts at Sanders, a Lockheed Martin company, recently completed wind tunnel tests of their Fiber Optic Towed Decoy (pictured above) at Lockheed Martin`s wind tunnel in Grand Prairie, Texas. In November they deliver six of these systems to the Lockheed Martin "Skunk Works" in Palmdale, Calif., for high-altitude flight testing.

Click here to enlarge image

Officials of UTMC Microelectronic Systems in Colorado Springs, Colo., see increasing use of performance specifications and reduced numbers of high-reliability parts in such areas as radar and missile warning. Pictured above is the single-chip UTMC SuMMIT Mil-Std 1553 data bus interface with automatic message handling and external memory.

Electro-optics in electronic warfare

Sanders, a Lockheed Martin company based in Nashua, N.H., is building on its core competence in electronic and optical warfare to branch out to unmanned aerial vehicles and the high-altitude U-2 reconnaissance aircraft under its Integrated Defensive Electronic Countermeasures (IDECM) program for the U.S. Air Force.

Sanders officials recently completed wind tunnel tests of the Fiber Optic Towed Decoy (FOTD) at Lockheed Martin`s wind tunnel in Grand Prairie, Texas.

In November Sanders engineers will deliver six FOTD systems to the Lockheed Martin "Skunk Works" in Palmdale, Calif., for high-altitude flight testing early next year.

The idea is to achieve commonality among the high-altitude platforms and the FOTDs for the F/A-18E/F fighter-bomber, B-1B jet bomber, and F-15C/E jet fighter, says U-2 defensive system program manager Maj. Verle Johnson.

The flight tests will use two aircraft, says John Watkins, business development manager for IDECM at Sanders. The FOTD will be mounted in the Global Positioning System pod of a U-2 test aircraft, and a two-seat U-2 trainer will be used as a chase aircraft. -J.R.

COTS in reconnaissance applications

A lightweight video reconnaissance system adaptable to several different airborne and ground-based applications is using commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) technologies, including the Intel Pentium 100 MHz microprocessor and PCMCIA cards to work with existing video sensors, says Allen Butler, image transmission systems marketing manager at the Raytheon TI Systems office in Arlington, Va.

Raytheon TI officials market the product line under the PhotoTelesis name (a company that Texas Instruments bought) and is being sold in turnkey applications using the company`s proprietary Integrated Communications Environment software.

The software is the "glue" in an open-system, plug-and-play approach to integrating multimedia information. One version even interfaces with the local telephone system.

Designers have used variations on the same system in U.S. Army helicopters (AH-64 Apaches used in Bosnia), the Navy P-3C (also used in Bosnia), and the ground control stations for providing live video from the Outrider unmanned aerial vehicle.

The system has evolved incrementally since 1986, Butler says, and now Raytheon TI Systems engineers are looking for commercial spinoffs in law enforcement and similar applications.

COTS hardware includes commercial camcorders and printers. - J.R.

COTS on the battlefield

Engineers at Computing Devices International of Bloomington, Minn., are using 100 percent commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) hardware in their Battlefield Awareness and Data Dissemination (BADD) program - and that means "catalog COTS" in the workstations and laptops - according to Raja Suresh, director of advanced systems.

BADD incorporates the Computing Devices "Wearable" personal computers into a network of theater and national information sources - including the Global Broadcast Satellite - into an open architecture that can accommodate legacy systems.

Computing Devices designers have been working on the system for nearly a year, Suresh says, and are building it within the common operating environment of the Global Command and Control System, but will not use the Ada programming language. - J.R.

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