NEWS FROM EWC: SOCOM Wants ‘Cyber-Secure’ Hyper-Enabled Operators

By Connie Lee

Photo: Navy

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Special Operations Command is working to ensure that its hyper-enabled operator concept will be “cyber secure,” a top science and technology official said Oct. 23. 

In 2018, the command announced an initiative to enhance its warfighters with technologies that would provide them capabilities such as improved situational awareness.

Now, in an era when adversaries are building up their electronic warfare abilities, the command is examining how it can safely field these technologies with a cyber-secure network, said Lisa Sanders, the director of science and technology for Special Operations Forces, acquisition, technology and logistics.

SOCOM is considering questions such as: “Is it something [that requires] an algorithm on top of the communications node in order to make that cyber secure? … Is there a way to throw an encryption key on top of it so that I don’t lose it?” Sanders said.

Many of these technologies fall within the commercial domain, she said during the National Defense Industrial Association’s Expeditionary Warfare Conference in Annapolis, Maryland.  

For example, the Android tactical assault kit uses the same processing board that comes with the smartphone instead of one that's specific to SOCOM, she said. The device sits on the operator’s chest and provides them with additional situational awareness. 

“We're playing with those commercially available tools to try to understand where does the system break down,” Sanders said. The command will then work to address capability gaps, she added.

SOCOM must experiment with these technologies because — unlike the commercial market — warfighters may face instances in which adversaries attempt to jam their network.

That’s something the command “does a lot of — just trying things to see how they work,” Sanders said. 

Some of this experimentation will include determining how much communication is needed, she noted. SOCOM has become used to working in uncontested environments where it can perform actions such as sending full-motion videos. Now, it must consider the possibility of having no connectivity. Additionally, it is particularly difficult to communicate underseas, she noted. 

“What does that do to my ability to achieve that mission?” she said. “We'll play with all [the] extremes of it, ranging from fully available satcom, what's a commercial network look like to ‘Hey look, you’ve got nothing.’” 

However, SOCOM will not be able to operate without an electronic signature, she noted. 

“The world is different than it was in the past, there's just too much that's out there,” she said. Going forward, operators will need to consider what type of signatures they use and how long they can use it without being detected. 

“That's going to become more relevant,” Sanders said. 

Topics: Cybersecurity, Cyber, Special Operations

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