The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) counter-jamming exercise known as JamX 2022, which was conducted April 25-29 at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, served two purposes: to assess the effectiveness of resilient communication training for operational and technical personnel and to evaluate technologies designed to identify, locate and mitigate spectrum interference and measure the impact of such interference on communication networks.
The exercise is coordinated by the DHS Science and Technology Branch and the Department’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency. Information shared at the event is expected to improve anti-jamming technologies and inform policy to ensure resilient requirements for first responder communication systems.
This year’s JamX, an exercise last held in 2017, was split into two parts. The first, Operation Trinity, involved federal personnel and first responders to evaluate the training. “Training courses covered everything from basic radio disciplines to spectrum interference,” reports Sridhar Kowdley, technical officer in the Science and Technology Directorate.
He highlighted the need for primary, alternate, contingency and emergency communications planning. “If you can’t switch to a channel, switch to another channel. If you cannot switch to another channel, switch to another frequency band. If that doesn’t work, switch to an entirely new system, until what we affectionately call the “sneaker network” where people post messages.
The second part of the exercise, Project Resilience, included universities, federal departments and agencies, and industry. “JamX 22 is a critical step toward nationwide communications resilience, bringing together a diverse group of participants with unique operational experiences to inform future research, development, and training,” Kathryn Coulter Mitchell, senior DHS official serving as Under-Secretary for Science. and technology, says in a press release.
This diverse group included approximately 220 individuals from multiple states, industry, academia, and federal, state, and local agencies. “The industry likes it because they don’t get work with these types of signals out in the open,” Kowdley offers. “It’s the aha for them so they can develop products and solutions.”
Staff from the Department of Defense’s Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering also participated, bringing a Cell On Light Truck (COLT), a system for experimenting with fifth-generation cellular capabilities. COLT ended up playing an important role. “When an operator pulled out of our event, we had no cellular infrastructure. They have a partnership with T-Mobile, so they came in to provide the service, not only to provide service to responders within range, but also to be a victimized system and collect data on their own,” Kowdley says.
JamX also included a few other surprises. “We didn’t expect some of the results that we found. In some cases, it was very, very difficult to blur things,” says Kowdley. “From an operational tactic, we learned a few things about how to interfere with systems.”
It will take DHS officials some time to analyze the data and fully determine lessons learned, but Kowdley says antenna bias appears to be critical. “Some of the products we buy have some bias, and that seems to make a difference. Observation and propagation analysis is another key element,” he adds. “Also, if you have systems multiband, looking at the power spectrum density of the jammers versus the actual desired signal makes a difference.”
The exercise included an array of technologies, most of which are designed to locate, identify and counter jamming capabilities. Kowdley cited antennas that cancel jamming signals but not desired signals.
The Science and Technology Branch added two systems under development: the Miniature Smart Spectrum Analyzer, MISCAN, which is a portable, vehicle-mounted device that detects and alerts first responders to radio interference, and PRiSM, a portable network scanner and spectrum analyzer.
The goal, Kowdley says, is to provide technologies that state and local agencies can afford, such as spectrum analyzer technologies that could potentially cost less than $1,000, but certainly no more than a few thousand rather than tens of thousands of dollars.
The red teams tried to prevent the blue teams from transmitting messages during the exercise. Kowdley equated jamming techniques with cyberattacks. “What we did in White Sands is a type of cyberattack because it’s a denial of service. If you attack by jamming the spectrum or interfering with the spectrum, you’re creating a denial of service attack, which is what we’re really operating against,” he says. “The idea is to operate through the attack.”
DHS officials don’t yet know when they’ll host the next JamX, possibly in two or four years. But they expect to focus on fourth- and fifth-generation cellular capabilities. “In the future, we will focus on advanced technologies, 4G and 5G. And we didn’t do millimeter waves. We definitely want to look at millimeter waves and some more advanced features in terms of jamming and resiliency,” says Kowdley.