Lockheed Martin, the US military's biggest contractor, announced a new satellite dish the company said could be used for a 5G network that may eventually help to sync up every weapon under the Pentagon's control.
To be clear, Lockheed Martin's latest announcement represents one minor step toward a goal that military planners have set for the next decade or so. Nonetheless, it represents yet another tangible move toward a 5G-powered military.
5G.MIL and JADC2
In its announcement, Lockheed Martin said its new, inexpensive satellite dish sports a Wide Angle ESA Fed Reflector (WAEFR) antenna, which the company said can increase its coverage area by 190% compared to traditional phased array antennas.
Importantly, Lockheed Martin said its new dish falls into its "5G.MIL" effort, unveiled last year, that seeks to "bring together an array of high-tech platforms into one cohesive network that spans every domain for unmatched situational awareness powered with 5G technology," according to company CEO James Taiclet. Taiclet, a former US Air Force pilot who served a tour of duty in the Gulf War under the callsign "Cheetah23," was previously the CEO of cell tower giant American Tower before joining Lockheed Martin.
The company's new satellite dish is designed to help connect soldiers and military equipment into one vast communications network. "5G.MIL technologies like this will bring greater connectivity, faster and more reliable networks, and new data capabilities to support our customers as they navigate the complexity of 21st century battlefields," said Chris Herring, vice president of advanced program development at Lockheed Martin Space, in a release from the company this week.
Lockheed Martin isn't the only voice calling for this kind of technology. The US military has been taking steps toward a system they're calling JADC2 (Joint All-Domain Command and Control). It's ultimately intended to connect "sensors with shooters across all domains, commands and services" in order to "increase lethality."
It could also represent a major 5G network buildout, given the US military's international purview. After all, according to Bloomberg, US defense contract spending hit a record high of $447 billion last year – representing nearly two thirds of overall federal contract spending – and Lockheed Martin was the US government's top contractor during that period.
The ultimate high ground
According to Lockheed Martin, the US military's 5G network could encompass a wide range of elements, including network equipment on the ground and in space. The company boasted that it has been working on space-based communications technologies since the era of 1G.
"Space is the ultimate high ground and 5G, artificial intelligence, rapid technology insertion will all empower joint all-domain operations – which will help counter the rising threats we face today and tomorrow," Lockheed Martin wrote in a recent white paper.
Indeed, Lockheed Martin recently inked a new deal with Omnispace, which appears to be working with the US Space Force and others to test 5G transmissions across its S-band 2GHz spectrum licenses.
Lockheed Martin's 5G.MIL effort, and the US military's broader push toward JADC2, have some important implications for the commercial 5G industry.
First, they certainly dovetail with recent efforts by the commercial satellite industry to become more directly involved in the 5G opportunity. Satellite companies ranging from OneWeb to Inmarsat to Globalstar have discussed how their satellite constellations might be intertwined with terrestrial 5G networks. Other companies, like Lynk and AST SpaceMobile, have been promising to connect customers' existing 5G phones directly to satellites in the near future.
Spectrum sharing is "the new normal"
More broadly though, the US military's interest in interoperable communications in general and 5G specifically could have significant ramifications for domestic 5G operators like Verizon and T-Mobile. After all, the US Secretary of Defense, Lloyd James Austin III, earlier this month signed off on a program – called the Electromagnetic Spectrum Superiority Strategy's Implementation Plan – that will essentially allow soldiers to make use of whatever spectrum bands they need, whenever they need them.
That, according to military officials, could cut into 5G operators' hopes for spectrum license exclusivity.
"We are looking to partner with industry on advancing new sharing technologies and concepts. We believe that sharing has to be the new normal. With 5G here and 6G next, we, like everybody else, are going increasingly wireless. As the environment gets more crowded, sharing spectrum will be the only way to meet everyone's needs," explained Vernita Harris, the Defense Department's director of spectrum policy and programs, during a recent media event. "In the US, we want to be the leader in pushing for innovative spectrum sharing technology solutions. We believe that these are both economic and national security benefits to us."
And that kind of approach to spectrum resources will be critical to the communications future of the US military, according to Air Force Brigadier General AnnMarie Anthony, deputy director for operations for joint electromagnetic spectrum operations within the Defense Department.
"The success of JADC2 relies on our ability to have control of the electromagnetic spectrum," Gen. Anthony said during the event. "So carrying this [spectrum] implementation plan out and having the superiority in the electromagnetic spectrum will allow JADC2 to be successful."
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