Tempest products get a second lease on life

Super-rugged workstation to-go

The modular T2C3 product travels in three shockproof airline carry-on cases that serve as furniture when empty. What's inside:

  • Panasonic Toughbook CF 48, 73 or M34 notebook PC

  • 470-watt-hour battery recharged from a vehicle

  • LAN switch

  • Satellite edge media router

  • Type II encryption/decryption device

  • Two-way satellite phone

  • Two-way Inmarsat M4 secure terminal for 64-Kbps service

  • Receiver for satellite digital video broadcasts on the Ku or Ka bands

  • Radio-frequency-shielded tent from Bema Inc. of Manassas, Va., with outside support frame

After the Cold War, electromagnetically shielded Tempest computing and communications took a back seat to other security needs. Now, modern warfare has put Humvee wheels under new forms of Tempest equipment.

Tempest thwarted electronic spies in the 1980s by means of leakproof cabling, hardware and enclosures inside well-guarded walls. Today's Tempest users are more likely to encrypt and decrypt satellite messages on rugged notebook PCs inside metallized tents.

'Most of the Tempest vendors died in the 1990s,' said Stephen C. 'Pete' Harvey, president of Action Systems, a division of V&A Inc. of El Paso, Texas.

'Interest in Tempest dropped because it was relatively expensive and there was no more Soviet threat,' Harvey said. 'Then warfare turned asymmetric. We have to go wherever the threat is, but we need to exchange the same kinds of sensitive information,' for example, with U.S. allies and coalition fighters in Iraq.

Encrypted transmissions

'So,' he said, 'we had to reinstitute some of the protections. But now the bad guys might be inside the wire' instead of fenced out of a safe zone. Encrypted satellite transmission has become the key to mobile Tempest.

At this month's Government Video Technology Expo in Washington, Action Systems and SkyStream Networks Inc. of Sunnyvale, Calif., unpacked their mobile Tactical Tempest Command and Control Center.

Because 'satellites cover the Earth many times over, T2C3 users can receive signals almost anywhere,' said Tom Sauer, Skystream's director of federal systems. Users inside the tent also can communicate with IEEE 802.11b and 802.11g wireless signals, Sauer said.

Most of the several hundred T2C3 setups sold so far to military users have small tents and cost about $100,000 each on General Services Administration schedule contracts, Harvey said.

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