Northrop Grumman M5 launches latest Secure Communications System product

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Nigel Pittaway | Canberra


The SCS-400 is designed to provide a rapidly-deployable headquarters communications capability which can support up to 150 directly connected users.

It is intended to provide critical and secure communications capability in the field, prior to the establishment of more permanent capability and is ideal for use by organisations such as Special Forces, where mobility is the key, or by the first responders in a humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) situation where infrastructure has been destroyed and the establishment of a communications hub is therefore essential.

It provides simultaneous access to communications networks ranging from unclassified up to highly classified (black, blue and red networks) to deployed users using M5’s ‘layered’ approach to secure communications.

The SCS-400, like other elements in the broader M5 SCS system it is IP cryptology agnostic.

“The key to the SCS product line is in its use of public IP network infrastructure,” Northrop Grumman Australia chief executive, Ian Irving said.

“It maintains simultaneous connectivity using multiple IP bearers. It supports any IP cryptographic device and can enable interoperability across international and joint force elements.”

Each SCS-400 module weighs about 17 kg (or 32 kg with all elements, in a ruggedized packing case) so it is easily transportable.

The system takes between 15 and 20 minutes to set up (less if the mode of transportation is secure) and can be powered by AC or DC power, making it mobile if required.

An internal battery also provides approximately 25 minutes of back-up power.

It also features automatic network discovery, finding other SCS elements to establish direct communications or share bandwidth and provides multiple, simultaneous connections using 3G networking (upgrade to 4G as an option), Ethernet, Wi-Fi (client and hotspot) ADSL, home subscriber service (HSS), cellular radio or broadband global area network (BGAN) satellite. Future expansion cards will allow access to fibre-optic communications capability.

If a bearer is lost, the system will automatically switch to an alternative while maintaining connectivity.

“The user won't necessarily realise the system has cut over from one communication bearer to another,” Irving explained to ADM.

The intellectual property for the SCS-400, and indeed the IP for the SCS system as a whole, resides within Northrop Grumman M5 here in Australia.

At the present time the modules are manufactured in the United States, however a second manufacturer is currently being contracted and they will also be produced in Melbourne in the near future.

Because the IP is owned by Northrop Grumman M5 in Australia the SCS-400 is not subject to ITAR restrictions and likely customers include the ‘five-eyes’ nations (Australia, the US, UK, Canada and NZ), although Irving notes Northrop Grumman will be ‘very selective’ about who it is sold to.

The first unit underwent verification and validation testing in early October with the Department of Defence, followed by the delivery of a further four for training with the Defence Force School of Signals (DFSS) at Simpson Barracks in Victoria at the end of October.

“Once it gets into service, further development will be guided by our users and that is where the fun really starts for our development team,” Irving said.

“We are very excited about the delivery of the SCS-400 and we see it as a real game-changer for Defence.”

The SCS-400 joins other elements such as the earlier SCS-200 which is designed for use by one to six users (though anecdotally, Special Forces operators have managed to attached as many as 12 users to an individual unit); and the SCS-100 and SCS-100 Integrated Briefcase Solution which are designed to provide fully integrated secure communications for travelling officials that require classified access. 

“We've built a capability that enables users to operate in a secure environment to the outer edges of the network,” Irving said of the SCS system.

“The SCS range of products are being utilised by a range of Commonwealth customers, with ongoing applications for its use across the entire spectrum of federal and state government sectors, enabling the users to untether themselves from the confines of fixed infrastructure.”

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