U.S. DoD Bets Big on 5G
Fifth-generation (5G) cellular networks are rolling out across the globe. Consumers are happily awaiting a host of new features that will enhance social media, entertainment, and myriad other applications. Public safety and military communications stand to benefit from 5G as well, while 5G non-terrestrial networks (NTN) boost connectivity and capabilities for satellite networks. Beyond these applications, however, little consensus has determined how 5G will impact military applications. That uncertainty quickly changed when the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) unveiled $600 million worth of contracts for five separate installations.
The DoD’s focus is on 5G testing and experimentation, with the goal of boosting warfighting capabilities and ensuring a competitive 5G edge for the U.S. The full-scale 5G tests for dual-use applications will take place across five sites. Each installation will combine industry expertise with military services and academic leadership. The following bases were selected because they can provide efficient access to spectrum bands and mature fiber and wireless infrastructure, according to the DoD. They also support new or improved infrastructure requirements and can conduct controlled experimentation with dynamic spectrum sharing.
- Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM), Washington – This base was chosen for augmented/virtual reality training. The project’s goal is to quickly field a scalable, resilient, and secure 5G network to provide a test bed to experiment with 5G-enabled augmented reality (AR)/virtual reality (VR) capability. Potential applications include mission planning, distributed training, and operational use. The partners at this site include GBL System Corp., AT&T, Oceus Networks, and Booz-Allen Hamilton.
- Naval Base San Diego (NBSD), California – Selected for the 5G smart warehousing contract, the goal for this base is to succeed in transshipment between shore facilities and naval units. Logistic operations continue to be time consuming and problematic. To alleviate this burden, this contract tackles identification, recording, organization, storage, retrieval, and transportation of material and supplies. Various additional 5G-enabled technologies will be tested, refined, and validated at this site. Among the NBSD site partners are AT&T, GE Research, Vectrus Mission Solutions Corp., and Deloitte Consulting LLP.
- Marine Corps Logistics Base (MCLB), Albany, Georgia – This site also focuses on 5G Smart Warehousing, but for vehicular storage and maintenance in particular. A 5G-enabled smart warehouse will be developed to improve MCLB Albany logistic operations, including identification, recording, organization, storage, retrieval, and inventory control of material and supplies. This site also will be a proving ground for additional 5G-enabled technologies. Partners involved in these efforts include Federated Wireless, GE Research, KPMG LLP, and Scientific Research Corp.
- Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada – Picked for Distributed Command and Control, the test bed developed at this site will aid in air, space, and cyberspace efforts while upgrading command and control (C2). Using the 5G network, existing CS architectures will be disaggregated and mobilized in an agile combat employment scenario. AT&T is the only named partner at this site so far.
- Hill Air Force Base, Utah – In this project, Dynamic Spectrum Utilization confronts some of the issues that will arise as radars share spectrum with 5G services. This project concentrates specifically on hurdles faced in enabling Air Force radars to dynamically share spectrum with 5G cellular services. The project will develop sharing/coexistence system prototypes and evaluate their effectiveness with real-world, at-scale networks in controlled environments. The goal is to design methodologies that allow the sharing or coexistence between airborne radar systems and 5G cellular telephony systems in the 3.1 to 3.45 GHz band. Participating industry partners are Nokia, General Dynamics Mission Systems, Inc., Booz-Allen Hamilton, Key Bridge Wireless LLC, Shared Spectrum Company, and Ericsson.
Through large-scale experimentation and prototyping of dual-use 5G technology, these contracts are expected to provide high speeds and quicker response times. They also can connect many more devices, greatly boosting military capabilities. In addition, many of the partners will employ artificial intelligence, machine learning, and other cutting-edge approaches in the 5G test beds, which could serve to simultaneously advance those capabilities.
More To Come
This first tranche of awards on 5G experimentation and testing is only an initial step, as additional sites will be announced in the future. The DoD’s goal is to quickly evolve U.S. military capabilities in these and more application areas using 5G, delving into the vast potential applications and dual-use opportunities that can be built upon next-generation networks.
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