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United States Wireless Networking Hardware

Wi-Fi Hack Aids Boarding Parties 69

Kage-Yojimbo writes with a link to the site Strategy Page. There, they're reporting on a military adaptation of civilian wi-fi equipment to use in boarding operations on the high seas. Modifications to normal off-the-shelf gear can result in a range of over 700 meters, allowing information to be passed through on-shore internet connections. "The main reason for all this was to speed up the transmission of passport photos and other personal data back to the ship, so that it could be run through databases to check for terrorists or criminals. This wi-fi hack cut several hours off the time required to check documents. The Expanded Maritime Interception Operations (EIMO) wireless system was developed last year, to provide several kilometers of range to the original wi-fi gear (which has been in use for over three years). Each pair of wi-fi units costs about $1400 to construct, using common parts to add more powerful antennae to standard 802.11g wi-fi equipment."
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Wi-Fi Hack Aids Boarding Parties

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  • $1400? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by PHAEDRU5 ( 213667 ) <instascreed@gma i l . c om> on Saturday May 26, 2007 @04:00PM (#19284921) Homepage
    Seems a lot for a Pringles can (
  • by zappepcs ( 820751 ) on Saturday May 26, 2007 @04:38PM (#19285155) Journal
    The military has much higher requirements for equipment. It wasn't until just recently that 'throw away' equipment became good enough for military use. By that I mean that the cost of replacement / repair became equivalent or parity. A cantenna and a $70 router can be replaced quickly without need for repairs... that is to say that the repair process is called replacement. This was never the case for military grade equipment in the past.

    The advent of surface mount parts caused the cost of manufacture to drastically drop while the cost of repair soared. This doesn't work for armored vehicles, but for electronics it does.

    You will notice other effects of 'modern warfare' also: the humble low-tech RPG has been a fiercely dangerous weapon. Very low-tech roadside bombs are rising in popularity too. While that has little to do with the cantenna and COTS 802.11g router, it does show that high dollar, high tech equipment is not always the best choice. If it works, well.. it works, and if people in the field find something that works, you will have trouble stopping them from using it.

    I'm sure that the Pringles company are more than willing to keep shipping chips to the middle east.
  • by ScrewMaster ( 602015 ) on Saturday May 26, 2007 @04:56PM (#19285289)
    This was never the case for military grade equipment in the past.

    Not so. The military has long found that it is sometimes more efficient to simply discard malfunctioning equipment. Remember, cost is not so much an issue as availability. A radio that's out for repairs is unavailable, and the cost of that unavailability can be higher than the price tag of a brand new unit. Trained service technicians are not always on hand either, particularly under battlefield conditions.

    My father was in the military a long time ago, and the techs he know would often just tag a piece of electronic equipment as "unrepairable" when the only thing wrong was something like a busted knob. That's because new equipment was readily available, tech time was expensive and limited and it just wasn't worth their time to try and fix it. They had more important things to do.
  • Re:$1400? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by who's got my nicknam ( 841366 ) on Saturday May 26, 2007 @10:55PM (#19288191) Homepage
    Okay - yes, Tranzeo, yes, in a marine environment, no, not on naval or patrol vessels, but on a commercial fishing vessel. 5 kilometres, ship-to-shore. $150 CAD per radio (2 required), 2.4ghz. Horizontal polarisation, approximate antenna height above sea surface was 5 metres. Sure, we had to manually keep the yagi aligned with the shore station, but that's because I was too cheap to build a gyro system. With a 30-degree spread, the yagi was actually pretty forgiving. Actual throughput around 1.8Mbps. On land, I have installed Tranzeo radios over 12km apart - and those are only putting out 80mw (19db gain flat-panel antennas). They rock. Back on topic, people have gotten 50km out of "off-the-shelf" wifi gear (ie, consumer-grade gear from Best Buy, like a Linksys box), simply by placing the antennas at the focal point of large parabolic dishes. This isn't an increase in power output, but rather an increase in GAIN. Antenna gain is the crucial thing here - but you need to have similar gain levels at both ends (duh). Back in the day, I was setting up wifi links in the 10km range using 30mw radio gear from Orinoco and high-gain parabolic (24db) grid antennas. That's not suitable for marine use of course, since those antennas have something like a 3 degree beam spread, so keeping them aligned would be a real bitch. But with 14db yagis, you'd be laughing. My conclusion is that this story is only significant because it shows how stupid the military folks are, not how innovative they are. A 700m ship-to-shore link can be done for cheap-as-free using bits from Best Buy (or my shelf). What they SHOULD have done was implemented a 128kbps VHF solution. For the kind of data they need to send, 128k is plenty, and the VHF is rugged, the signal is robust, the frequency is licensed, and the range is enormous. There's dozen (probably hundreds) of products that'll meet marine specs out there. Whatever.
  • a bit of history (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Arglebarf ( 1107929 ) on Sunday May 27, 2007 @01:09AM (#19289079)
    The initial work on this was done under the auspices an "off the shelf technology" program aboard USS Fletcher (DD 992) during work-ups and deployment in 2000, seeking to implement commercially available equipment in the tactical environment. This was a personal pet-project of one Capt. Noble, who went on to work at Defense Aqcuisitions at the Pentegon. The goal of the experiments then were to supplement the information broadcast over Link 11 systems with info from new-fangled digital cameras and personal GPS units. The difficulty then, and now, is that the system is standalone, i.e. the data broadcast over the wifi network is not immediately available to the battlegroup's common information systems. It must be copied from the communicating computer and manually copied to the ship's LAN. An example of this is the attempt to implement the wifi network on boarding support helicopters, which was halted upon realizing that the range was inadequate, it would require a fragile (by military standards) laptop aboard the aircraft, additional antennae would need to be mounted to the airframe, the aircraft's own datalink system combined with its own sensors often provided more tactically relevant information, and connectivity dropped out during any kind of maneuvering. This is not to say that there wasn't a need for the capability to transmit digital imagery to the on-scene commander, but the system as implemented suffered under the lack of integration with primary networks and the physical demands of boarding operations, usually carried out well beyond visual range of the mother ship, much less within reasonable wifi range.

"Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there." -- Will Rogers