Military Embedded Systems

The Internet of Things for the intelligence community


July 23, 2015

Chip Downing

Real Time Innovations (RTI)

The Internet of Things (IoT) is an initiative to integrate a wide variety of technical and commercial information-generating components to provide new business opportunities based upon device and system intelligence. This technology is the large-scale commercialization of technology that has been developed and proven by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) and the intelligence community (IC) over the past fifteen years. In much the same way that NASA and the early space program in the 1960s spurred innovations in chip technology, automation, propulsion, and miniaturization, solutions developed from the concept of network-centric operations (NCO) translate directly to the foundations of today's commercial IoT. Given that IoT concepts originated in the military/intelligence sector, does the commercialization of IoT provide new opportunities for this community itself? If so, how can vendors exploit these opportunities using commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) technologies?

Advanced sensor-to-cloud intelligence gathering allows today’s security agencies to make decisions based on real-time analysis generated by integrating information from a wide range of sensors on a global basis. These systems provide a constant stream of data to agencies where it is analyzed and integrated with other data sources to enable comprehensive situational awareness of security-sensitive arenas.

Figure 1: Network-centric operations.

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This network-centric intelligence collection/analysis scenario sets the stage for how today’s commercial IoT works (Figure 1). Whether in critical infrastructure, industrial control, or consumer wearables, these IoT systems use similar data-collection, distribution, feedback, and analytical technologies.

Challenges facing the intelligence community

The primary challenge for the military/IC sector is managing the ever-increasing volume of data generated by their system and open-source systems in an efficient and timely manner. Intelligence is based on a tasking, collection, processing, exploitation, and dissemination (TCPED) process, based primarily on a “send it back” model; unfortunately, a large portion of the “collection” in this model goes to archive, unanalyzed. There has been a large growth in the use and adaptation of automated data processing/decision support tools to fix this TCPED logjam, but the growth of data-generating resources, and increasing demand for speed of action, has shown the current architecture to be losing the battle of efficient and reliable information management.

There exist several specific areas where advances based on IoT concepts and technology could positively affect the current system. The first is TCPED architecture. The current reliance on centralized data-processing systems has proven to be incapable of keeping up with the growing sources of collection and data. “Virtualization” would allow the traditional sources and locations of networks, data fusion, and decision support to expand to include many if not all of the sensors, systems and devices deployed forward.

Another area is beyond line-of-sight (BLOS) communication. The TCPED and command-and-control (C2) process reliance on bandwidth/throughput-constrained satellites and other BLOS communications platforms is the Achilles’ heel to IC/military operations. A decentralized operational functionality needs to be implemented to diversify the risks of this powerful but communications chokepoint. Lastly, look at the multilevel security (MLS) management area, which covers the need for supporting multiple services, agencies, coalition partners, and new operations partners with automated connectivity, discovery, and security separation of multiple levels of IoT data and intelligence at the user-specific access level without human intervention. This functionality extends to private/personal systems from commercial and government systems, increasing the level of access and collaboration while maintaining data protection and access profile management.

If the challenges in these areas can be solved, there is an opportunity to multiply our force capabilities exponentially. Our global military and intelligence assets are now deployed in many hot spots around the world. Moreover, our technology has matured to the point to where we can finally push data, data fusion, and decision support forward into a new soldier-enabling architecture where NCO-enabled personnel can access a real-time common operating picture (COP) and command data immediately from a Tactical Cloud Forward to solve immediate engagement challenges and identify/react to emerging opportunities faster. Such capability would significantly accelerate the observe, orient, decide, and act (OODA) loop over today’s standards. The key elements of this new NCO architecture are:

  • Intelligence ubiquity: Every device, sensor, and system contributing to and enabling the Tactical Cloud Forward are available to the mission/operations commanders.
  • Multiple cloud availability: Connections back to national and commercial cloud systems will be used when available, but a forward-unit, operationally capable subset of all the attributes and capabilities will provide a sustainable operational capability and allow for “graceful degradation” regardless of area of responsibility (AOR) threat level.
  • Single cloud view: Access to cloud services will appear as a single cloud architecture worldwide, with a fully functional cloud (“overcast cloud”) capable of gracefully breaking into “broken” and even “scattered” clouds but retaining basic multisensor/system fusion, data distribution, and access, adapting to the assets available at any given moment.
  • Multilevel security: The access to all cloud and systems services will have a natural, embedded, MLS method to autonomously filter data to warfighters and mission personnel, with automatic discovery and control to provide the most complete COP.
  • Self-repairing systems: The flow of data must be self-repairing, able to reconfigure automatically and adapt to new sensor and systems availability, while maintaining and updating prioritization processing as information channels morph into new improved/degraded scenarios.
  • Open standards/open architectures: All components of this architecture must be based upon open standards and open architectures; this ability enables the rapid insertion of new capabilities and the modification/adaptation of existing ones in order to support new and modified mission scenarios.
  • Platform consolidation: The use of consolidation platforms using common core processing platforms with rapid, dynamic insertion capabilities is mandatory.
  • Secure remote management: Edge-management systems and control systems must have secure remote management for reconfiguration to new environments and responding to changes in the threat landscape.
  • End-to-end security: An end-to-end security architecture must be designed, deployed, and maintained. This security architecture must include both hardware and software as a combined, complementary solution and include both legacy (brownfield) and new system (greenfield) platforms.
  • Platform simulation: A systems simulation/virtualization model of each hardware element will enable exhaustive testing, including scenario, reconfiguration, and degradation testing, on the overall system at any time. These simulation models can be made available prior to the availability of the actual hardware, allowing for security and robustness testing and design changes in advance of hardware readiness, accelerating time to deployment and boosting overall security robustness.

A fully functional, fully virtualized, self-repairing combat/tactical cloud is the foundation of next-generation intelligence systems. Currently, each military service/coalition partner has its own infrastructure. Transitioning to a combat cloud infrastructure would offer huge operational advantages, with greater ability to export both data and assets in the field for joint operations, providing all connected entities a real-time COP.

Transforming legacy systems into the combat cloud

Next-generation TCPED and Tactical Cloud Forward systems must be based upon advanced network servers to both provide high availability and enable new approaches to controlling and provisioning network systems by delivering full network function virtualization (NFV). NFV offers the operator the ability to dynamically configure the network infrastructure through sophisticated management protocols such as OpenStack, which gives operators the option to optimize for different network situations and demands, such as giving priority to certain data flows, or protecting parts of the network from cyberattacks (Figure 2).


Figure 2: center

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Along with NFV capabilities, new technologies such as multicore silicon and virtualization can help create affordable solutions to these challenges. Virtualized systems enable the continued use of legacy software applications while combining them with new capabilities on new operating environments. The use of modern multicore technology can mitigate performance and separation risks in silicon, separating legacy and new environments on separate cores and networks to achieve the goals of affordability, performance, and mission-capability enhancement well beyond legacy single-core processors.

In the IoT era, consumers are realizing the benefits – and businesses are monetizing the intelligence – gained from technologies tested and proven in the intelligence community. This commercial investment is driving huge cost savings for next-generation security agency systems. With a trusted technology partner, the intelligence community can now reap the benefits of transforming its systems into the next generation of high-value network-enabled solutions, increasing the knowledge, speed, and utility of future security-agency systems.

Chip Downing is the senior director of business development for aerospace and defense at Wind River Systems. He is a 20-year veteran of the embedded systems industry and a pioneer in safety certification for commercial real-time operating systems. Downing is also chair of the Future Airborne Capability Environment (FACE) Business Working Group Outreach Committee. Readers may reach him at [email protected].

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