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05 27 2020

NATO Agency delivers seamless replacement of cryptographic equipment

Without the equipment to be mounted into a vehicle, a powerful V8 engine isn't much more than an expensive paperweight.

Similarly, a powerful cryptographic device is nothing without its appropriate accessories, including power supplies and physical interfaces.

The NATO Communications and Information (NCI) Agency is delivering critical accessories to enable the seamless replacement of cryptographic equipment on Nations' maritime vessels. Such equipment is needed for National vessels participating in Allied operations and missions, as they use it to establish secure communications with NATO Allied Maritime Command.

NATO Agency delivers seamless replacement of cryptographic equipment

The Agency began preparing the project at the end of 2019, and kicked off the project in January 2020.

By the end of April, the Agency had already manufactured and shipped the first batch of equipment to the first group of Nations. More equipment will be made and delivered during May and June.

"When the time came, people stepped up to the plate. Agency experts delivered the equipment ahead of schedule to meet operational demand," said Deepraj Das, Project Manager for the effort.

The Agency expects to finish manufacturing the components this summer.

The Agency-run NATO Cyber Security Centre led the project, which was sponsored by Allied Command Operations. The Agency's Prototype Engineering Centre in The Hague, Netherlands, did the bulk of the work preparing metal components, cables, power supplies, adapters and more.

"My team developed a case for the new cryptographic device," said Arne den Exter, Head of the Prototyping Centre. "This housing has the same form factor as the previous cryptographic device, so it is just a matter of taking out the old crypto and mounting the new one. In this way no modifications have to be made on the ships to communicate with other NATO entities."

Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, staff in the Centre managed to continue production by working in separate groups and taking other precautionary measures.

"In just a couple of months we developed the prototype, tested it, did the engineering, procured the parts, produced the hardware and wiring and delivered to the customers," den Exter said.

There was even an occasion where a supplier for a tiny but important component suffered delays due to COVID-19 restrictions.

"The supplier still managed to airfreight a batch from the United States to The Hague to prevent disruption," Das said.

Agency experts conducted scientific tests of the prototype to ensure the result was fit for purpose. The usefulness of the prototype developed is now two-fold: it meets NATO's requirements, and can be used as technical specifications for industry to fulfil future orders.

Crypto custodians at the Agency ensured the equipment was shipped in a timely manner, and issued the equipment upon arrival. They were also responsible for ensuring some legacy equipment that was no longer needed was disposed of properly.

"Allied Command Operations also helped greatly by ensuring we had the actual crypto devices delivered to our custodians in Mons, Belgium, already prior to Christmas," Das said.