DARPA to test secure warfighter mobile devices in June

DOD's research arm is getting ready to test mobile devices that permit information-sharing across multiple security levels from a single platform.

hardware secured smartphone

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency will soon begin testing new devices that can house and share information on multiple security levels.

The devices are part of the Secure Handhelds on Assured Resilient networks at the tactical Edge (SHARE) program, which aims to solve three issues with information-sharing specific to the Defense Department: housing multiple security levels on a single device, improving tactical network technology to support those levels at scale and deploying software to auto-configure the network and speed up provisioning devices.

Joseph Evans, SHARE program manager for DARPA’s strategic technology office, told FCW that the Army and Marines will being testing approximately 100 devices in June . The goal is to begin transitioning a finished capability to the services by 2020.

Through the testing exercises this summer, Evans expects to get operational feedback regarding the devices and the interface with the primary GPS mapping app, called Android Windows Tactical Assault Kit (ATAK or TAK). The Google Maps-like app is used by both DOD and the State Department and helps with visualizing the environment and soldier or coalition partner positioning shared over the network.

The SHARE program, now in Phase II, was born out of challenges discovered during DARPA's Remote, Advise, and Assist initiative, which helped special forces operators to talk to coalition partners as part of the Islamic State counterterrorism effort.

Mobile devices, such as cellphones and tablets, had only one security level, which restricted information sharing. SHARE focuses on accessing multiple security levels on one device attached to a tactical network that can support and secure the information shared with coalition partners.

DARPA still has some refining and integrating to do with each of the technical areas and plans to move them to a single platform before deploying test devices this summer.

Evans said the biggest challenge is the network, which relies on a next-generation architecture called Named Data Networking and needs to be proven in the field.

“The NDN in the tactical environment ... needs to be matured and demonstrated,” Evans said, adding that the result should be a much improved networking behavior with this new protocol.

The way network connection works now is similar to phone call, he said, where the call has to be remade if the connection breaks. With NDN, data packets can standalone, are individually signed and encrypted to make them “more resilient and secure,” he said.

“These are new concepts that were developed in the National Science Foundation-funded Future Internet Architectures program in the 2000s,” Evans told FCW. “We’re taking these new protocols and trying to exploit all of that research for the tactical environment.”