Catalink

Preventing the onset or escalation of conflict by building a resilient global communications system

The problem

Today’s nuclear command control and communications systems (NC3) rely on both legacy and modern technologies that are increasingly vulnerable to rapidly emerging, disruptive capabilities. This fact compounds what is already an untenable reality of NC3 systems: the communications links that underwrite their credibility are the first targets in any escalating kinetic conflict. Despite these facts, if and when NC3 systems fail under stress, leaders must still be able to communicate to prevent large scale conflagration. 

The solution

The CATALINK: an internationally-driven, secure, resilient communications solution that has the potential to avert catastrophes amidst rising tensions between adversaries.

The system ⁠consists of an endpoint device called a Puck that rides on a global mesh-network called the ROCCS⁠. The CATALINK would build on the “hotline” model of previous generations, and rely on internationally driven open-source technologies to maximize user integrity and trust. It would exploit redundant transmission capabilities to ensure that multiple parties could connect under extreme conditions, including loss of power and the absence of cellular and/or internet connectivity. Endpoint devices would be designed for durability, availability, and ease of use, enabling parties to immediately connect with confidence amid crises. These endpoint devices would also be secure: the firmware, software, and hardware would all meet cutting edge world class requirements for security. Looking for examples of how to build international consensus around this concept, we took inspiration from the process that led to the creation of the National Institute of Standard and Technology Advanced Encryption Standard (NIST AES). To ensure the integrity and validity of the technical solution, we are building a community of passionate global citizens from varying professional backgrounds. 

The Puck: a simple, secure and robust device meant for dedicated communication between global leaders and officials during a nuclear crisis or other high-stakes events like disaster response. The Puck project consists of designing, developing and supplying the PUCK Platform board based on open-source platform design, to include consideration and agreement for applicable hardware (RISC-V), firmware (OREBOOT) and software.

ROCCS: the Resilient Omni Frequency Crisis Communications System based in a global mesh network. The ROCCS project works to utilize multiple networks and channels/wavelengths to ensure reliable communications of text messages, images,  and voice calls or messages between leaders of nuclear nations. ROCCS also recognizes and works to integrate the need for leaders to communicate in a crisis where all conditions are degraded by conflict including the effects of nuclear weapons on the atmosphere, cyber attacks, electromagnetic jamming, and perhaps even biological attacks.

The CATALINK project is a collaborative effort between our civil society partners, industry colleagues, and government officials from around the world. It is a proactively open process, and success requires active engagement with partners all around the world. If you are interested in joining in the design phase of this technology, please email CATALINK@securityandtechnology.org with your background, area of focus, and a detailed description of your interest in this work. We receive constant inquiries as to the status of the project and potential open roles, so please be detailed in your outreach and patient as we work to respond to your outreach.

External Resources

The Nuclear Crisis Group NATO-Russia Crisis Brief features recommendations from Rear Admiral John Gower and highlights IST’s CATALINK project as a modern, robustly encrypted, and survivable omnilateral solution.

The GitHub page n2vi/hotline, owned by Eric Grosse, provides a proof-of-concept exploration of just how small we can make such a system. This is still a long way from a product ready for real-world use but does contain working code that has actually exchanged a few messages. It is mainly intended to provide a basis for discussing possible approaches to then be more professionally created by an international technical team.