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DARPA IAMANET developed scalable and secure Mobile Ad Hoc Networks (MANETS) to support an entire battalion

The modern battlespace is an irregular, against a tech-enabled enemy, and within urban environments and/or complex terrain. Traditional communications infrastructure like cell phone towers are centralized therefore vulnerable to single point failures such as physical damage to their central server, or compromised by a cyber-attack. During disasters like earthquakes, tsunamis and nuclear disasters, infrastructure can be rendered unusable. Therefore a tactical network should be able to be resilient to node failures and operate with little or no backbone infrastructure.


Mobile Ad-Hoc Network (MANET) is an infrastructure less wireless network of autonomous collection of mobile nodes (Smart phones, Laptops, iPads, PDAs etc.) that distribute coordination and control. All the nodes are free to move and organize themselves into a network. These devices collaborate with each other to offer the essential network functions in a distributed manner. In a MANET, a node functions both as a host and as a router to forward the packets in appropriate direction.


All the mobile nodes can communicate each other directly, if they are in other’s wireless links radio range. Since MANETs allow ubiquitous service access, anywhere, anytime without any fixed infrastructure they can be widely used in military battlefields, crisis management services, classrooms and conference halls etc. MANETs offer several significant advantages to a military force; they support radio links in operational areas lacking either a fixed infrastructure or line-of-sight communications. A MANET’s ability to self-form and self-manage eliminates the need for intensive central management of network links, thus reducing support personnel and equipment requirements in forward located areas.


“A MANET of a thousand nodes could support an entire battalion without the need for manual network setup, management and maintenance that comes from ‘switchboard’-era communications,” said Mark Rich, DARPA Program Manager. “This could provide more troops with robust services such as real-time video imagery, enhanced situational awareness and other services that we have not yet imagined.”



These benefits, however, do not come without some disadvantages. In a MANET, the entire network infrastructure is moving along with the user nodes. As the nodes move, point-to-point links may be dropped due to terrain interference or simply because they move beyond range of other nodes. Node mobility also leads to a network topology that is highly dynamic and prone to frequent changes and errors. Due to this dynamicity, routing protocols which work well in fixed networks do not show the same performance in MANETs.


Although voice and short text messages are the main applications for tactical networks it is also important to support standard applications used on today’s Internet, to e.g. provide maps or other content. The obvious solution to support standard applications would be to treat MANETs as a general Internet system and use standard TCP/IP. However, TCP was designed as a reliable end-to-end connection-oriented protocol for data delivery over somewhat unreliable wired networks. In a MANET, which have a substantially higher packet loss rate and jitter compared with a wired network, the performance of TCP dramatically degrades.


Research have mainly focused on CSMA based MANETs, i.e. using IEEE 802.11 radio cards. However, using a TDMA scheme has several advantages, e.g. QoS, bounded delays and a stable network under heavy traffic loads. Some of the other MANET technologies are DARPA’s Wireless Network after Next, the waveforms developed under the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) program, Soldier Radio Waveform (SRW) and Wideband Networking Waveform (WNW).


Military Requirements

In general characteristics of MANET systems should abilities of fast network formation, highly efficient routing, scalability, quality of service and security.


The highly mobile network nodes in military environment from fast jets, to ground vehicles and helicopters that move through urban environments or mountainous terrain, rapidly losing and reestablishing their line of sight with one another demands a MANET with high processing speed.


The terrain in ground environments can pose major challenges like mountains, city structures that can create line-of-sight and multi-path issues for MANET transmissions. As a result, waveform designs for MANETs operating in urban environments are necessarily complex.

The vision of Network-centric culture, organizational structure, and doctrine, is based on using information technology to interconnect all the sensors, soldiers, vehicles, and aircraft – the tactical warfighting nodes in addition to C4ISR centers. The resultant shared situational awareness shall achieve information superiority and enable agile employment of a lighter, leaner, more lethal combat enterprise that overwhelms any potential adversary before they respond.


Achieving this tactical edge connectivity will depend on the development of significantly improved MANET technologies. To deliver the capabilities that NCW enabled forces required at the tactical edge, an objective MANET must possess four general characteristics: strong connectivity, very high bandwidth, effective security, and survivability.


DARPA Seeks Clean-Slate Ideas for Mobile Ad Hoc Networks (MANETs)

A constraint with current MANETs is they can only scale to around 50 nodes before network services become ineffective. Due to constant changes created by node mobility, MANETs require a significant overhead in order to establish and maintain links and routes through the network, that reduce the scalability of the number of nodes in a MANET.


For the past 20 years, researchers have unsuccessfully used Internet-based concepts in attempts to significantly scale MANETs. DARPA is exploring new technologies unencumbered by Internet Protocols (IP) that could be the key to enabling large MANETs. Truly revolutionary ideas will explore new paradigms that allow users to effectively share information unshackled from existing constraints.


Security in Military MANETs

Security and reliability are crucial aspects of MANET, especially in security sensitive applications like military. The tactical communications in a threat environment can count on adversarial attempts to jam them, effective protection or response will depend on the type of jamming, or the method jammers use to introduce “noise” into the environment. Techniques like Frequency Hopping Spread Spectrum (FHSS) and beam forming is another technique for low probability of detection (LPD) and low probability of Interception (LPI).


It is also paramount that we emphasize protection of the wireless network from cyber attacks, robustness to survive and repel advanced attacks. Resilient Tactical Networks (RTNs), are advanced mobile ad hoc networks (MANETs) that are resilient against cyber-attacks and connection failures.


“The use of the Global Information Grid (GiG) and Mobile Ad hoc Networks (MANETs) to support the U.S. military’s operational concept of dominant maneuver and precision engagement must not be compromised or denied in combat or through the malicious activities of rogue states and individuals,” write Scott Alexander and others.


Unfortunately, the inherent model of assumed trust in the legacy Internet has resulted in an explosion of viruses, worms, and other malware that has seriously disrupted personal, commercial, and military use. Military networks are closed user-communities with nominally cooperative users and constrained security and allowed-use policies. This simplifies some of the security problems, as compared with the Internet. The threat level is much higher, though, since the adversaries may be well-funded nation states.


DARPA’s Assurable Mobile Ad hoc Network (IAMANET) program

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has initiated a program to develop an Intrinsically Assurable Mobile Ad hoc Network (IAMANET). The goal of Assurable Mobile Ad hoc Network (IAMANET) program is to design and develop a “clean-slate” approach for MANETs that will directly support integrity, availability, reliability, confidentiality, and safety of communications and data.


The DARPA IAMANET Program threat model chiefly concerns cyberattack in the information domain, including computer worms, pre-inserted malicious code, remote cyber intrusions, exfiltration, protocol exploits, misconfiguration, and infrastructure attacks, as well as halting and Byzantine failures.


Byzantine failures, in contrast to halting failures, involve unexpected and possibly malicious behavior, extending to collusion between multiple subverted system elements. System designs should also consider vulnerabilities in the physical, cognitive, and social domains.

The simplified version of this threat model is that nodes can be destroyed, disabled or captured. Once captured, an adversary can use the system’s features, protocols, and interfaces in an arbitrary manner intended to cause maximum disruption and damage to the remaining valid nodes. An adversary may also seek to insert “extra features” into our systems, via lifecycle attacks and insiders that can be activated at a later time.

The Phase I IAMANET program is developing two intrinsically Assurable Network Infrastructures (ANIs) that incorporate security features into the network core to minimize network subversion opportunities and consequences. An ANI provides preventative security that protects and resists attacks rather than detecting and responding to attacks.

Since an ANI may not prevent all cyber attacks, Secondary Defensive Subsystems (SDS) may still be needed to provide detect/response services such as hidden detection, traceback, and quarantine of malicious activity and attacks. These SDS may require obscurity if they rely on surprise, statistical analysis, or invisible logical redundancy.


Desired system features

The IAMANET Program described the system features that will be critical. In addition to providing these system responses, an IAMANET design must also carefully balance ease of use, security, and performance.

Authenticate and Account for All Actions

Without some form of authentication and accountability, malicious use of resources remains anonymous and untraceable. With effective authentication and accountability, unauthorized users and attack traffic can be tracked inside the network, and not just at end hosts, thus ensuring that the attack originator can be identified precisely. In addition, squelching can happen close to the attack source.

Deny by Default

Military tactical networks are closed user communities with a limited set of allowed applications. So, a “deny-by-default” policy (e.g., all actions that are not explicitly permitted must be denied) is organizationally feasible. The postulated benefits would be: a) new threats/actions are often denied a priori; b) denial-of-service attacks are harder to mount; c) “probing” is severely limited and easily curtailed; and d) anomaly detection is simplified due to the narrower scope of permitted actions.

Insider Threat and Byzantine Robustness

All systems have flaws in implementation and configuration. In addition, another nation-state can place both human and non-human insiders within our systems. These implementation flaws and insiders can cause “arbitrary behavior” to occur at any MANET node.

Trusted Hardware

It is likely that some parts of an IAMANET node must be protected against life-cycle attacks by other nation-states. However, a design which posits that the entire IAMANET protocol stack is implemented in tamper-proof or trusted hardware will not pass muster because of cost and flexibility reasons. As such, an important design objective is to identify the minimal set of IAMANET features that must be deeply evaluated and implemented in trusted and/or tamper-proof hardware.





The development of this technology will both improve the robustness of the class of wireless networks that are being procured and fielded in the near future, and also provide a reliable foundation on which to build the next generation of wireless systems. These new defenses will minimize the impact of attacks on network control and will force attacks to be observable and attributable in order to be effective.

There is a massive increase in using MANETS for an unmanned army system for both surveillance and future combat operations. MANET systems are evolving to support higher data rates to cater for the increase demand for high-quality video and other bandwidth-hungry communications.

The technologies like new link technologies, ability to dynamically allocate bandwidth among nodes and adding more, independent data streams achieved by using multiple-input-multiple-output technology are being applied. Software Defined Radio (SDR) serves as a building block for Multiple Input Multiple Output communications techniques and Cognitive Radio, which address the MANET issues of connectivity, bandwidth, and survivability. MANETs are well on the way to becoming an essential field communication technology for the soldiers.


Article sources include:

  1. http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/xpls/abs_all.jsp?arnumber=4753172&tag=1
  2. http://www.darpa.mil/news-events/2013-04-30
  3. http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/vencore-labs-wins-48-million-darpa-award-for-wireless-network-defense-300107234.html
  4. https://www.fbo.gov/index?s=opportunity&mode=form&id=86c6a3a9a9cfb196e087adeef6113a49&tab=core&_cview=1

About Rajesh Uppal

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