Case Studies

Secure Router/Processor for Airborne Multi-Link Communications Gateway

September 12, 2016

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Modern Network Centric Warfare (NCW) initiatives traditionally aim for warfighters in the air, on the ground, and at sea to be connected over Tactical Data Links (TDLs) to exchange information for Situational Awareness (SA). Ubiquitous Ethernet and Internet Protocol (IP) technologies are notably helping facilitate this shared SA. The unfortunate reality, however, with many of today’s defense forces is that relatively few platforms are networked and most struggle with incompatible data link systems, information assurance(IA) constraints, and limited Line of Sight (LOS) radio ranges exacerbated by complex mountainous terrain or other geographic challenges. Gaining a common operational picture for an aircraft in the sky and a vehicle on the ground requires an advanced secure network gateway infrastructure capable of extending communications ranges and bridging between different radio frequencies and legacy communications devices.

A major U.S. system integrator required an airworthy secure IP network router and rugged multi-core processing subsystem to serve at the core of its next-gen tactical network gateway system. To fully achieve the vision for networked forces, the gateway would leverage a rugged network router to interface with various TDL devices, while utilizing the processor to host high-bandwidth, multilink Radio Frequency (RF) networking software developed by the integrator. The mission computer would also need to interface with legacy avionics devices on-board the aircraft platform over a MIL-STD-1553 data bus.

Given the sensitive nature of tactical data shared over this particular network, demanding IA requirements were imposed for all Ethernet devices, including Common Criteria validation on the National Information Assurance Partnership (NIAP) evaluation list, as well as support for sanitize procedures and removable data storage. Adding to the integrator’s challenges were several short-fuse customer commitment dates to perform technology demonstrations across multiple continents.


Leveraging rugged COTS Small Form Factor (SFF) modular subsystem technology and responsive aerospace quality (AS9100)-audited manufacturing and engineering services, the system integrator was shipped on-time all of the computer/router units they ordered and successfully integrated them onboard their target aircraft platforms in time to support their technology demonstration exercises. The technical capabilities of the system provided the customer’s latest airborne network gateway solution with best-in-class secure network routing, information assurance, and multi-core processing along with avionics interfaces and removable data storage in a SWaP-C optimized package.

The customer intends to use the subsystem as the core of their new product line to showcase their multi-link RF networking software and the advanced NCW/SA capabilities available to domestic and foreign defense forces. This solution will empower defense users with enhanced capabilities for bridging the communications gap of air and surface forces that traditionally rely on disparate, non-networked data links.

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