Digital Battlespace

Link security key aim for cyber age

24th June 2019 - 11:00 GMT | by Gerrard Cowan in London


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Cyber security has rapidly grown as a priority for Link 16 and C2 tactical data links more broadly, according to Northrop Grumman, with the company looking to bolster the protection of the Integrated Air and Missile Defense Battle Command System (IBCS) and other products that utilise the tactical data link. 

Northrop Grumman carries out a range of work using Link 16, including C2 for Forward Area Air Defense (FAAD) and other systems. 

There is now an increasing emphasis and focus on the cyber protection of such networks, according to William Lamb, the company’s director of international battle management. This is particularly important from a coalition perspective, where NATO allies are operating closely with one another and need to share data between various different member states. 

'In order to be able to share data across networks, you must be confident that if I connect to your network, your network is secure and vice versa so neither network faces a cyber threat,' he told Shephard

'That’s a really key component when you think in terms of a single integrated air picture that’s shared across the NATO alliance, and you need to have cyber-protected networks to be able to achieve that.'

Lamb highlighted a number of other challenges with using Link 16 in air and missile defence, notably regarding data latency: the time it takes for data to be transferred between different locations. This is a particular concern ‘because you want to be sure that when you engage a particular threat, it is still located where you believe it to be.’

For this reason, Northrop Grumman does not use Link 16 within the internal IBCS network architecture, though it does deploy the data link to communicate with other C2 systems externally.

Nonetheless, Lamb said Link 16 remains ‘the most prevalent [choice] for a standardised, tactical data link message format’, playing a key role in building an integrated air picture. That picture has grown vastly more complex with the proliferation of cruise missiles, unmanned systems, the emergence of hypersonic missiles and other threats, alongside theatre ballistic missiles. 

‘You have a very cluttered battlespace,’ he said. ‘What Link 16 affords is the ability to create an integrated air picture, so that if you're on the ground or at sea or you're flying an aircraft, you have an air picture that's projected onto your screen.’

Lamb said there has also been a good deal of improvement in the way Link 16 is implemented, notably advances from a bandwidth perspective and in communications ‘to enable improvements in how we create that air picture.’

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