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Encrypted mobiles with exclusive operating system — how Army is moving towards secure communication

Army initiates Project SAMBHAV under which 5G enabled mobile phones will use dual-use infrastructure but completely devoid of operating systems like Android or IOS

New Delhi: The Indian Army has created its own mobile operating system to be used on encrypted 5G enabled cellular phones for its officers to have a fool-proof communication system just like its internal landline network.

As part of the project, a total of 35,000 handsets for an end-to-end secure mobile ecosystem, will be configured in the next five months while 2,500 have already been rolled out.

Army sources said that mobile networks are prone to eavesdropping and thus information security of mobiles is at risk of being compromised.

An end-to-end secure mobile ecosystem, which is network agnostic, has been developed to provide secure communication with instant connectivity on the move. This leverages the potential of indigenous public cellular networks in the country. The ecosystem has 5G ready handsets using multi-tier encryption, the sources said.

The sets will be made available to almost all officers across the seven commands and other important appointments within the Army, a source said.

Under the project ‘Secure Army Mobile Bharat Version’ (SAMBHAV) ecosystem, the Army has indigenously developed cellular phones, which use dual-use infrastructure. The aim is to leverage the potential of indigenous public cellular networks in the country.

SAMBHAV will be having multi layered encryption with Pan India Secure eco system. The phones will have an indigenous operating system with a multi-layered encryption, which has been developed in collaboration with the centres of excellence in both academia as well industry, including IIT-Madras.

The ecosystem will use 5G-ready handsets using multi-tier encryption. Encryption is a method used to secure communication. It scrambles data which can be read only by authorised parties using a secret code, enabling the mobile phones to ride on a commercial network with inherent security.

Until now, such phones did not exist and officers used regular phones for communication if not the secure landline network. Even though the phones will ride on the civilian infrastructure, they will be end-to-end encrypted by the Army.

The radio equipment operated by the Army operates in a range of 8-25 km, depending on the terrain. If it is a mountainous and high-altitude area, it may be limited to just 2-3 km.

The range, in this case, will be decided based on the coverage of a cell-phone tower, the source said, adding that this will further augment the Army’s communication.

Currently, the Army uses landline connectivity using the Army Static Switched Communication Network (ASCON) IV. However, this is used for static communication and a need to have secure communication while on the go was felt, a second source in the security establishment said.

The source added that an experiment was done using the Code-Division Multiple Access (CDMA) technology more than a decade back, wherein Army personnel could speak to one another. However, the technology did not take off. Since these devices are encrypted, they are resistant to infiltration.

“There is a need for secure communication wherever the Army personnel go. Even though cell phones are carried by each personnel, these devices are susceptible to hacking and are not secure for communication to take place between Army personnel since it includes sensitive information,” the source added.

(Edited by Tony Rai)

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