Sandia researchers are working with Time Domain Corp. (Huntsville, AL) and the KoolSpan Inc. Encryption Laboratory (Santa Clara, CA) to develop a secure wireless ultra wideband (UWB) data communication network that could help sensors monitor USAF bases and DOE nuclear facilities, and also control remotely operated weapon systems.
The new technology could open the door to a new generation of advanced sensors created by fusing UWB communication with UWB radar. These sensors could be used to detect hostile intruders and thus help protect tactical forces and forward bases such as those deployed in current conflicts. This is of particular value to the USAF Electronic Systems Center, which is sponsoring the work.
This secure form of wireless communication developed for practical use leverages UWB with the encryption protection of the 256-bit Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) to form UWB/AES. In countering RF attacks from high-tech enemies, UWB is of strategic value in that it hides within the noise floor where other forms of RF communication are nearly impossible.
UWB, also known as impulse radio, does not require a carrier but instead transmits a flood of ultrashort microwave pulses of energy with a duration on the order of 100 ps that extend over an extremely wide band that covers several gigahertz.
According to H. Timothy Cooley, Sandia's senior scientific engineer (photo), "With the spreading of impulse energy over such a wide frequency spectrum, the signal power falls near or within the noise floor, making these signals extremely difficult to detect, intercept or jam, and, when combined with AES, virtually impossible to crack." The UWB's enormous available spectrum also "improves wireless performance to accommodate the increased data rate needed by advanced sensors."
Among the key wireless features of the UWB/AES are its IP network compatibility and its per-packet rotating 256-bit encryption keys. The UWB/AES network architecture requires no computing infrastructure, provides real-time (hardware) encryption, and requires zero maintenance for complete self-recovery if interrupted or when a sensor goes down.
This spring, Sandia and KoolSpan demonstrated a wireless UWB network bridge with real-time 256-bit AES encryption for live-streaming video images generated from a surveillance camera or thermal imager. The tests used only microwatts of transmitted power, ~1/1000 the energy required by conventional wireless IEEE 802.11b or WiFi.