Naval Information Warfare Systems Command (NAVWAR)’s Fleet Readiness Directorate (FRD) completed operational testing of the Commercial Cellular as a Transport (CCaaT) capability to increase cyber readiness for USS Gabrielle Giffords (LCS 10) outside the continental United States (OCONUS), June 9.
The CCaaT effort uses commercial 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) cellular modems to connect ships directly to the Internet using the commercial wireless provider’s network. This offers an alternative network path connection between ship and shore when satellite communications and pierside connection are not available. CCaaT also helped to keep the ship’s crew safe and connected during the COVID-19 pandemic by allowing remote assistance by technical experts through the use of distant voice and chat communications.
The OCONUS testing demonstrated how systems are able to maintain their cybersecurity updates while in foreign ports that either have no Navy pierside network or have limited pierside bandwidth. Testing of this capability also allowed FRD to measure CCaaT’s throughput, latency and large file transfer times.
“It is critical that we maintain operational readiness,” said NAVWAR Commander, Rear Adm. Christian Becker. “As more systems are turning to software solutions that need push improvements and security updates, the CCaaT capability will give the ship the ability to remain secure even when facing bandwidth challenges.”
CCaaT will provide the bandwidth needed to download large security patches, as well as allow cyber information technicians to log in to remote scanning servers to launch scans, review results and pinpoint cyber vulnerabilities. The increased off ship bandwidth would also allow tools to operate as designed, providing the ability to detect deviations from authorized configurations, as well as the capacity to restore systems remotely or by pushing critical updates in the event of a cyber incident.
“The initial results from OCONUS testing are positive in showing how we can leverage commercial technology to get the fleet important cyber software updates quicker and more reliably,” explained Nick Freije, NAVWAR FRD technical director. “Downloads and updates that used to take hours, can now be done in a matter of minutes.”
Funded by Commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet, Naval Information Warfare Center (NIWC) Pacific originally designed CCaaT as a rapidly prototyped pilot effort to determine the feasibility of implementing a cellular capability. In June 2019, NAVWAR FRD and the NIWC Pacific teams demonstrated the use of a commercial 4G LTE connection as an alternate pierside connection on Gabrielle Giffords in San Diego, which securely transports ship network traffic.
“Prior to the operational demonstration in June last year, we conducted thorough lab testing at our NIWC Pacific facility to verify proper configuration and integration into the simulated ship and shore networks. The CCaaT testbed also served as an important platform to implement information assurance and cyber security controls,” said Kevin Sorrell, NIWC Pacific CCaaT technical lead.
During both CCaaT demonstrations in June 2019 and June 2020, the ship never experienced a system outage tied to the cellular network of CCaaT hardware and Gabrielle Giffords’ network demands never strained the CCaaT system.
Crew feedback noted an improvement when completing tasks such as a casualty report (CASREP) message. With higher available bandwidth and lower latency, the process of navigating, drafting and completing a CASREP message was reduced from more than 25 minutes on the existing connection down to 5 to 10 minutes when CCaaT was used to provide the off ship communications path.
“The LCS platform continues to demonstrate its versatility in a variety of ways, both in warfighting and systems development, regardless of location,” Capt. Ann McCann, Commodore of Destroyer Squadron 7. “Using tools developed by the Navy, USS Gabrielle Giffords’ crew worked closely with the CCaaT technicians to test the new system’s operational ability for the first time, while forward deployed, and provided invaluable feedback that will benefit ships fleet-wide.”
NAVWAR FRD and NIWC Pacific are continuing to look at providing the CCaaT capability during ship and submarine modernization to ensure the fleet has cyber updates prior to leaving commercial shipyards where they often have limited connectivity. FRD is also working with the Navy’s Tactical Networks Program Office to see how CCaaT can support all Navy piers until they are upgraded to higher bandwidth that meet the fleet’s cyber patching requirements.
Attached to Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 7, Gabrielle Giffords is on a rotational deployment to the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations in support of security and stability in the region, and to work alongside allied and partner navies to provide maritime security and stability, key pillars of a Free and Open Indo-Pacific.
Kara McDermott, Naval Information Warfare Systems Command