AT&T, Northrop Grumman team for 5G 'digital battle network'

AT&T announced a new partnership with defense contractor Northrop Grumman to develop 5G products and services for the US Department of Defense (DOD). The announcement signals yet another step forward among 5G proponents to craft a version of the technology for soldiers and warfare.

"Northrop Grumman and AT&T plan to deliver a cost-effective, scalable, open architecture solution that will help the DOD connect distributed sensors, shooters and data from all domains, terrains and forces – similar to how smart devices connect and share data in our everyday lives," the companies said in a release announcing the teaming. "This digital battle network is expected to bring together the high speeds, low latency and cybersecurity protections of private 5G networks with the flexibility and scalability of AT&T's commercial 5G capabilities and offer a critical capability to support the DoD's vision for Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2)."

As Light Reading has previously reported, US military officials are in the early stages of developing a unified, comprehensive, interoperable wireless networking system that would basically connect everything owned and operated by the Pentagon. Commanders have envisioned the system as connecting "sensors with shooters across all domains, commands and services." It's called JADC2, and it's expected to heavily use 5G-capable connections and equipment.

A US Army Specialist adjusts his gunner's safety harness prior to a patrol in Afghanistan. (Source: Stocktrek Images, Inc./Alamy Stock Photo)
A US Army Specialist adjusts his gunner's safety harness prior to a patrol in Afghanistan.
(Source: Stocktrek Images, Inc./Alamy Stock Photo)

"By bringing our 5G services together with Northrop Grumman's powerful avionics and defense systems, we expect to create an ideal platform to deliver DoD's JADC2 vision," said Lance Spencer, the head of defense sales within AT&T's "Public Sector" business, in the companies' release.

There's nothing new about telecom companies like AT&T selling products and services to government customers, including those in the US military. However, the JADC2 concept is unique in that it would allow all branches of the US military to communicate with each other in real time through one global network. Such a network could rely on equipment – including satellites – that are owned by the Pentagon as well as third party providers like AT&T.

To be clear, AT&T and Northrop Grumman aren't the first big tech companies to cater to the DOD's JADC2 desires. For example, Lockheed Martin has been touting its 5G.MIL vision for several years now, and has already inked big deals in the effort with the likes of Intel and Verizon. According to recent rankings from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Lockheed Martin is the biggest defense contractor for the US, while Northrop Grumman is No. 4.

However, there are indications that the Pentagon's plans to implement JADC2 still have a long way to go. As noted by Breaking Defense, the DOD approved plans for JADC2 almost a year ago, but it only recently released an eight-page "summary" document that sets out goals for the program. It makes no mention of 5G technology or any other specific technologies.

"JADC2 provides a coherent approach for shaping future Joint Force C2 capabilities and is intended to produce the warfighting capability to sense, make sense, and act at all levels and phases of war, across all domains, and with partners, to deliver information advantage at the speed of relevance," the document states.

Nonetheless, Pentagon officials are promising to get started on JADC2 now. "It's now implementation time," Lt. Gen. Dennis Crall, CIO/J6 of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said late last year, according to Breaking Defense. "Planning is good. Talk is good. Now it's delivery time, and we've been given a clear signal to begin pushing these outcomes to the people who need them."

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Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

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