Is your military communications technology approaching a refresh or recertification cycle?
If the answer is "yes," you’ll want to be prepared well in advance so you can make the best, most cost-effective decisions about how to refresh your equipment.
There are a few steps you can take to make the process easier, and there may be options for a refresh that you aren’t aware of.
This article will help you think through your options as you approach your next technology refresh.
Evaluate your current military communications equipment performance
Before you begin the process of refreshing or recertifying your equipment, you’ll want to start by evaluating how your existing communications equipment has served you.
Get the team that is using the equipment in the field together and run a post-mortem on how your current technology has performed in the field.
You can ask questions like:
- Walk me through how you use the equipment today.
- Did our comms kits meet all the requirements that we originally set out for them?
- Did you have any problems with it?
- Where did it fail in the field?
- Was there something it could have done better or differently?
- What did it do well in the field?
- What features are very important to keep?
Understanding what worked well and what didn’t will help inform your requirements for the refresh. If you know what to keep, and where you need improvements, you'll be in a better position to identify what technology changes are needed to support those requirements.
Understand future requirements of your military communications equipment
Next, you’ll want to do a needs assessment aimed at identifying the requirements you'll have of your equipment until the next refresh cycle, typically about three years.
Some of the questions you can ask to guide this process include:
- Will I have new requirements that I didn’t before?
- Will I need new features?
- Will there be new security protocols or procedures I have to implement?
- Are there new data protection or security requirements I need to adhere to?
- Have any of the parts I’ve been using reached their End of Life?
- Will any of the parts I’m using reach their End of Life before the next refresh cycle?
Now that you know where you’ve been and where you need to go, you are ready to tackle the more technical aspects of planning.
Deciding how to approach your military communications refresh
Depending upon the type of solution you currently have in place, your options for moving forward might be different.
If you currently have a Type 1 solution:
When it comes time to refresh your equipment, you have the opportunity to choose between Type 1 Equipment or CSfC Certified equipment.
If you’ve been using Type 1, this may be a good time to consider making the switch to CSfC.
Some of the benefits of utilizing a CSfC solution include:
- Full end-to-end solutions: Leveraging multiple vendors and approved components to build your final solution allows you to meet the unique requirements of your project and be certain that the entire end-to-end solution is secure.
- Based on the highest standards: All CSfC approved components leverage open, non-proprietary interoperability and security standards that are driven and monitored by NSA and its team of engineers, threat analysts and cyber experts.
- No need for specialized training: Using Type 1 products requires advanced knowledge that you can’t develop overnight. CSfC, on the other hand, requires only knowledge of commercial technologies that already make up standard cybersecurity architectures, so in most cases, your team doesn’t have to go through special training to use them.
- Lower total cost of ownership (TCO): The upfront cost of CSfC is generally higher when compared with Type 1 solutions. But after several years, the TCO of CSfC decreases significantly, to the point where it becomes the much less expensive solution.
- Faster to start: Although it depends somewhat on the organization, it’s usually easier to get up and running quickly with a CSfC solution. This will only become truer as the adoption of the CSfC program increases. Type 1 can sometimes be quicker because it’s a known quantity for the “old guard” who have been in the field for decades, but this should change with greater awareness of CSfC.
- Higher technical flexibility: If you have limited options for backhaul on your Internet connection, CSfC is often the wiser choice as it enables you to use any common type of Internet connection, from satellite to 4G. Type 1, on the other hand, often limits you to certain satellite networks or dedicated Internet connections such as MPLS links, which can be very expensive.
- Less risk of ownership: Using CSfC products involves a lower risk of ownership due to the less stringent security requirements and the use of commercial hardware. For example, with CSfC, there’s no need to place all of the devices in a secure safe watched by guards 24/7, as is required with a Type 1 solution. This also means that CSfC is good for situations that are inherently higher-risk.
- Less concern for equipment loss: There are very strict requirements in place for how to dispose of Type 1 equipment for fear of it falling into the wrong hands. CSfC equipment does not pose the same risk, so if there is concern of equipment being lost or left in enemy territory, it is a much more attractive option.
Depending upon the existing components of your solution, switching to a CSfC solution may involve a simple retrofit, or require a full rebuild.
Start by reviewing the components in your existing solution and search the CSfC Approved Components List to see how many of your existing components are covered there.
You may find that many of your components are still usable in a CSfC deployment, and you simply need to replace a single component, or just a few components.
In the example outlined in this case study, it was as simple as retrofitting Archon’s GoSilent for use as a VPN gateway into an existing Type 1 communications kit, with no other major changes.
In other cases, you may find that you need to re-architect your solution completely using CSfC Approved Components. Again, you can use this comprehensive guide to help you learn more about the process of building a full CSfC solution.
Either way, once you have completed your design, you’ll need to submit the solution for the final CSfC certification.
If you currently have a CSfC Solution:
When your CSfC solution was initially certified, NSA will have provided a letter of acknowledgment that registration was completed and the time period for which that registration would last.
When your renewal period is approaching, the CSfC PMO will send notifications at 120 days, 60 days and 30 days out to remind you to renew your certification. You’ll be responsible for submitting an updated registration form and compliance checklist as part of the renewal process.
This is a good time to review the Archived Components list to ensure none of the components that are currently included in your solution have reached the end of life or the end of their certification. If they have, they’ll need to be replaced. (Keep in mind that you’ll have a full two years to replace any kits in the field should a component be archived.)
If you are making changes to your solution, you’ll need to update the package you submit and go through the full certification process again. Making sure to note what remains the same and which components have changed from your previous submission will often help make the process go faster.
NSA will review your updated forms to ensure you remain in compliance, and none of your components have moved to the Archived Components List. If approved, you’ll receive a new acknowledgment letter with a new period of certification.
A technology refresh cycle may seem like a pain, but it is really a blessing in disguise.
It gives you the opportunity to evaluate what has worked, or what you want to change when you might otherwise have just put up with a less than ideal solution.
It also gives you the opportunity to evaluate different solutions which may offer benefits you hadn’t thought of, or allow you to add functionality or features to your solution in a cost-effective way.