USA — Uncovering the colorless core of the Army’s network

WHITE SANDS, N.M. — The name may sound like some super hero pow­er tak­en from the pages of a com­ic book, but the “col­or­less core” is car­ry­ing the Army’s net­work into the future, enabling Sol­diers to send infor­ma­tion across the bat­tle­field secure­ly and effi­cient­ly, even when on the move.

Sol­diers trained on-the-move on a Tac­ti­cal Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Node dur­ing the Warfight­er Infor­ma­tion Net­work-Tac­ti­cal Incre­ment 2 New Equip­ment Train­ing at Fort Bliss, Texas, on March 13, 2012.
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In prepa­ra­tion for the Warfight­er Infor­ma­tion Net­work-Tac­ti­cal, or WIN‑T, Incre­ment 2 Ini­tial Oper­a­tional Test and Eval­u­a­tion sched­uled for May. Sol­diers trained on-the-move dur­ing the WIN‑T Incre­ment 2 New Equip­ment Train­ing at Fort Bliss, Texas, on March 13, 2012. The con­voy includes a Sol­dier Net­work Exten­sion (front), and a Tac­ti­cal Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Node, which are both WIN‑T Incre­ment 2 plat­forms.
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In prepa­ra­tion for the Warfight­er Infor­ma­tion Net­work-Tac­ti­cal Incre­ment 2 Ini­tial Oper­a­tional Test and Eval­u­a­tion sched­uled for May. Sol­diers trained on new equip­ment, such as this Satel­lite Trans­portable Ter­mi­nal Plus, at Fort Bliss, Texas, on March 13, 2012.
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“Think of the col­or­less core as cloak­ing device for data,” said John Kan­tonides, lead sys­tems engi­neer for Warfight­er Infor­ma­tion Net­work-Tac­ti­cal, or WIN‑T, Incre­ments 2 and 3. “It hides the data when we trans­port it across satel­lites and across line-of-sight links. It can’t be inter­cept­ed because no one can see it.”

WIN‑T Incre­ment 2, the sec­ond gen­er­a­tion of the Army’s tac­ti­cal com­mu­ni­ca­tions back­bone, will pro­vide an on-the-move col­or­less core, enabling com­man­ders to com­mand and con­trol their units with­out fear of the ene­my inter­cept­ing sen­si­tive infor­ma­tion.

“Net­work man­age­ment and poli­cies allow crit­i­cal mes­sages like call for fire and mede­vac to be processed ahead of oth­ers, and it is inher­ent­ly sen­si­tive data. The col­or­less core is going to pro­vide the oppor­tu­ni­ty to pro­tect that data and secure that back­bone from inter­cept by ene­my forces,” said Lt. Col. Robert Collins, prod­uct man­ag­er, or PdM, for WIN‑T Incre­ments 2 and 3, which are assigned to the Pro­gram Exec­u­tive Office for Com­mand, Con­trol and Com­mu­ni­ca­tions-Tac­ti­cal, known as PEO C3T.

The col­or­less core will be among the many capa­bil­i­ties to be assessed dur­ing the WIN‑T Incre­ment 2 Ini­tial Oper­a­tional Test and Eval­u­a­tion, or IOT&E, sched­uled for May. The WIN‑T Incre­ment 2 IOT&E will uti­lize a divi­sion slice worth of WIN‑T Incre­ment 2 con­fig­u­ra­tion items, with the main effort to be held at White Sands Mis­sile Range, as part of the Net­work Inte­gra­tion Eval­u­a­tion, or NIE, 12.2. To tru­ly stress and test the sys­tem, WIN‑T Incre­ment 2 nodes will also be spread across 2,000 miles of the Unit­ed States and involve more than 4,000 Sol­diers and civil­ians for the test.

The three-week IOT&E is the Army’s record test to ful­ly assess the suit­abil­i­ty, sur­viv­abil­i­ty and effec­tive­ness of the WIN‑T Incre­ment 2 equip­ment with an oper­a­tional unit. It will pro­vide the Army with valu­able feed­back to make any need­ed doc­trine, orga­ni­za­tion, mate­r­i­al or train­ing improve­ments. The analy­sis and test results from the IOT&E will be used to sup­port the Full Rate Pro­duc­tion Deci­sion sched­uled for the fourth quar­ter of fis­cal year 2012.

A suc­cess­ful deci­sion would allow for the field­ing of WIN‑T Incre­ment 2 to maneu­ver units across the Army.

“The WIN‑T Incre­ment 2 col­or­less core is going to offer a more effi­cient way for the IP [Inter­net Pro­to­col] lay­er to be encrypt­ed and tra­verse the net­work,” Collins said. “So pro­tec­tion and opti­miz­ing the use of band­width will be two of the key fea­tures of the col­or­less core.”

Much like a home Inter­net con­nec­tion, WIN‑T Incre­ment 1 pro­vides Sol­diers with high-speed, high-capac­i­ty voice, data and video com­mu­ni­ca­tions to units at bat­tal­ion lev­el, with Sol­diers hav­ing only to pull over to the side of the road to com­mu­ni­cate. WIN‑T Incre­ment 2 sup­plies a self-form­ing, self-heal­ing ini­tial on-the-move com­mu­ni­ca­tions net­work that reach­es down to the com­pa­ny ech­e­lon for the first time.

“While WIN‑T Incre­ment 2 is being designed to incor­po­rate col­or­less core, it will also be intro­duced to WIN‑T Incre­ment 1 through the WIN‑T Incre­ment 1b upgrade,” Collins said. “The 1b base­line will bring the col­or­less core tech­nol­o­gy to exist­ing WIN‑T equip­ment to improve capa­bil­i­ty and to ensure inter­op­er­abil­i­ty between the two incre­ments.”

Work has also been con­duct­ed on oth­er sys­tems that pre­vi­ous­ly did not have col­or­less core require­ments, such as SIPR/NIPR Access Point, known as SNAP, satel­lite ter­mi­nals, to pro­vide them with this capa­bil­i­ty and to increase inter­op­er­abil­i­ty with­in the net­work, Kan­tonides said.

In the past with WIN‑T sys­tems such as the Joint Net­work Node, unclas­si­fied and secret infor­ma­tion were not encrypt­ed in the same way. The Army only encrypt­ed secret infor­ma­tion, leav­ing unclas­si­fied infor­ma­tion unen­crypt­ed. In 2007 the Defense Infor­ma­tion Sys­tems Agency decid­ed that every­thing in the tac­ti­cal are­na should be hid­den in a black core, now referred to as “col­or­less core,” so that all data traf­fic mov­ing among the core’s com­po­nents is encrypt­ed from end-to-end.

“The rea­son it is called ‘col­or­less’ is that the Army often places col­or codes on cer­tain secu­ri­ty enclaves, with secret typ­i­cal­ly being des­ig­nat­ed as red and unclas­si­fied as black,” Kan­tonides said. “In the col­or­less core, since you can’t see the infor­ma­tion, you don’t know what col­or it is. No one knows whether it is secret or unclas­si­fied, so unclas­si­fied infor­ma­tion is just as hard to obtain as secret.”

In the WIN‑T Incre­ment 2 col­or­less core archi­tec­ture, dou­ble pro­tec­tion is pro­vid­ed by encrypt­ing the infor­ma­tion twice, once at the net­work lay­er and then again at the link lay­er. The infor­ma­tion must also then be un-encrypt­ed twice.

For exam­ple, infor­ma­tion sent from one WIN‑T Incre­ment 2 con­fig­u­ra­tion item to anoth­er con­fig­u­ra­tion item is sent in the same way, such as a Point of Pres­ence, or POP, that only allows access to secret users, to a Tac­ti­cal Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Node, known as a TCN, that allows for both secret and unclas­si­fied users.

First an Inline Net­work Encryp­tor, or INE, is used to encrypt the infor­ma­tion from the POP before it sent across the Wide Area Net­work, known as the WAN. Then the infor­ma­tion goes into a router that decides the best path to send it. The router could pos­si­bly send the infor­ma­tion to a line-of-sight High­band Net­work Radio or to a Net-Cen­tric Wave­form radio.

Once the radio receives the infor­ma­tion, it puts a sec­ond lay­er of encryp­tion on top of it. The dou­ble-encrypt­ed infor­ma­tion is then sent across the air to the sec­ond radio. The sec­ond radio un-encrypts the radio por­tion and sends the infor­ma­tion to the new router. The new router sends it to the new INE, which takes off ini­tial encryp­tion and sends the infor­ma­tion to the prop­er user.

“The main advan­tage of the col­or­less core is to hide the data to keep it safe,” Kan­tonides said. “The col­or­less core pre­vents the ene­my from being able to locate, view or inter­cept any of this infor­ma­tion.”

The col­or­less core makes it eas­i­er to add new trans­mis­sion medi­ums with­in the WAN archi­tec­ture. For exam­ple, when two vehi­cles such as TCNs are very close togeth­er, instead of using satel­lite com­mu­ni­ca­tions, or SATCOM, they can just add a line-of-sight link between the two routers with­out wor­ry­ing about the secu­ri­ty of the data pass­ing back and forth. If the two TCNs move apart, the con­nec­tion can sim­ply be dis­con­nect­ed.

Pre­vi­ous­ly it would have been nec­es­sary to match secu­ri­ty lev­els to com­mu­ni­cate over line-of-sight, a far more dif­fi­cult endeav­or. So the Army will now be able to use less SATCOM and more line-of-sight, which is much cheap­er, pro­vides bet­ter through­put and less laten­cy.

“The WIN‑T Incre­ment 2 col­or­less core capa­bil­i­ty is a key com­po­nent in pro­vid­ing secure mobile com­mu­ni­ca­tions to our forces,” said Col. Ed Swan­son, project mMan­ag­er for WIN‑T. “The col­or­less core capa­bil­i­ty guar­an­tees the secu­ri­ty of the infor­ma­tion while pro­vid­ing addi­tion­al oper­a­tional flex­i­bil­i­ty to the net­work.”

U.S. Army