Military Embedded Systems

The DoD addresses security challenges and harnesses emerging technologies


August 07, 2023

Scott Aken


U.S. Army photo.

There exist several challenges and complexities associated with the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) migration to 5G communication networks. A series of approaches can be studied to address these challenges to ensure the integration of the various technical components of the 5G infrastructure as well as the secure and reliable operation of 5G networks within the DoD’s infrastructure. These solutions depend heavily on early collaboration between military and commercial stakeholders to avoid proprietary “island” solutions that defeat the opportunity of the unifying network approach. Such initiatives also require cooperation to develop new integration and security guidelines to ensure network visibility and security monitoring, demand network security driven by machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI), and require expansion of training and education for the expansive technical skills needed.

The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) is actively embracing 5G technology to bolster the military’s communication capabilities and facilitate the integration of new and unique applications. As electronic warfare (EW) and multidomain operations become increasingly prominent, the need for unified networks with 5G at the core is underscored by the U.S. DoD Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2) program. The JADC2 program aims to amalgamate applications and sensors from all military branches into a cohesive network to expedite information-sharing and optimize decision-making processes. The Air Force has been designated to spearhead the technology within this program, with the ultimate goal of rapidly comprehending the battlespace, expediting force deployment, and delivering synchronized combat effects across all domains. Despite its myriad benefits, 5G technology presents substantial security hurdles that warrant a thorough investigation. It is crucial to consider the potential risks of this new technology and develop effective strategies to mitigate them.

5G: The appeal for military applications

5G, unlike the previous mobile network standards such as 3G and 4G, defines an end-to-end delivery system and framework for not just the wireless transport but the entire application infrastructure needed. Referencing several other standards and guidelines, 5G defines how to connect mobile end-devices safely and fast with applications delivered via a physical, virtual, or cloud infrastructure. This approach offers major benefits, especially for military applications:

  • Connects more devices and end users, which is essential when quickly building up massive networks with thousands of devices communicating across a single infrastructure. 5G accounts for the diverse types of end devices beyond just smartphones, including robotic devices such as uncrewed aerial systems (UASs), video surveillance, or sensors monitoring everything from weather data to warfighters’ vital signs.
  • High-speed, high-bandwidth interconnect at extremely low error rates is important for data-intensive applications such as video surveillance at high resolution or for augmented-reality/virtual-reality (AR/VR) imagery.
  • Low-latency communication is essential for applications that require fast response times and timely delivery of time-sensitive data. Examples include machine control data of robotic devices, including UASs and that used for swarm intelligence, creating decentralized, self-organized systems. Multi-access edge computing (MEC) also benefits from 5G by aggregating and processing mission-critical data on the battlefield, reducing the need for slow and unreliable long-distance connections.
  • Operates across a broad spectrum from less than 1 GHz up to 5 GHz that allows it to adjust to its application with a single communication network. Lower frequencies enable larger networks that reach further but are more easily detectable. Higher frequencies, however, create shorter reach for fewer devices (i.e., microcells) and are therefore less likely to be detected.
  • Highly secure architecture: 1) All user and control traffic has highly sophisticated encryption methodology such as TLS 1.3, which more securely encrypts both data transport and the initial authentication; and 2) 5G is designed to use software-defined networking to create a highly segmented network to limit lateral movement, separating user and controlling traffic more effectively.
  • Efficient energy consumption: 5G enables more efficient energy consumption, which is essential for small devices such as microdrones, UASs, or wearable sensors.
  • A worldwide standard enables sharing and communicating across battlefield infrastructures more easily for the varying national military services and allied partners.

5G difficulties and solutions

The implementation of 5G technology calls for innovative solutions:

  1. Scale: To handle the vast scale and complexity of 5G networks, the DoD should adopt automation and orchestration via machine learning-enabled security solutions that can detect and respond to anomalies in real-time. Additionally, leveraging network slicing can provide better resource allocation and isolation, ensuring that critical applications have the required resources and security.
  2. Security: Multilayer end-to-end encryption will challenge current monitoring approaches, requiring closer collaboration between encryption and monitoring solutions. The industry needs new security tools that can operate effectively within encrypted environments and will ensure proper key-management solutions are in place. This solution involves sharing encryption keys in real time with monitoring applications and implementing additional end-point protection.
  3. Interoperability: Despite detailed 5G wireless standardization, the end-to-end implementation of 5G – in combination with encryption, network virtualization, battlefield technologies, and the monitoring of this infrastructure today – is left to the vendors to figure out. This leads to potential siloed solutions, undermining the intended ubiquitous connectivity that 5G can provide. To address the lack of standard components and implementations across these diverse suppliers and system integrators, military leaders should consider an industry initiative that develops open standards and frameworks for all 5G components for a reliable, high-performing, and secure infrastructure. Such an approach will promote seamless integration of various components and innovation within the 5G infrastructure and encourage industrywide standardization.
  4. Training and education: Addressing the lack of required technical skills and expertise is vital for successfully implementing 5G technology. The military should collaborate with academic institutions and industry partners to develop specialized training programs and certifications to enhance the knowledge and skills of military personnel working with 5G wireless and networking technologies.

Going forward

To mitigate the issues associated with the DoD’s shift to 5G, collaboration between military and commercial stakeholders is essential. The DoD needs to work closely with the commercial industry to ensure that solutions align with the security and operational requirements of the military while enabling easy interoperability. This reality will require DoD and commercial enterprises to develop common standards in interfaces and APIs that enable seamless integration of various components within the 5G network infrastructure and to promote standardization across the industry. Additionally, the DoD should prioritize the deployment of advanced security-monitoring tools, develop new security standards for end devices, and expand training and education programs. By addressing these aspects of 5G and harnessing the potential of emerging technologies, the DoD can realize the full benefits of 5G technology while safeguarding against potential security risks.

Scott Aken is chief executive officer of Axellio. His background includes more than 20 years in cybersecurity and mobile technologies. Previously, Scott was president of Charon Technologies, a subsidiary of CACI International. He has also held key leadership roles in L-3 Communications and SAIC. Scott built his cyber expertise as a Special Agent with the FBI where he conducted numerous cyber counterintelligence computer-intrusion investigations and was a member of their elite Cyber Action Team. Prior to his career at the FBI, Aken spent a decade working in the software and internet industry, holding leadership positions at VeriSign/Network Solutions, GE Information Services, and Manugistics, Inc, a JDA Software company.



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