The US military is just now beginning a project to assess how it might use 5G technologies, including mission planning and training, smart port management and depot operations.
Joseph Evans, previously with the DoD's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), was hired in recent weeks as the agency's new "technical director for 5G," reporting to the agency's deputy undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, Lisa Porter. Evans is working with a budget of $52 million this fiscal year.
But that figure could balloon next year. As Roll Call recently reported, the Senate Appropriations Committee recommended adding $436 million to the DoD's 2020 research and development budget for its "5G-XG" program. The committee also proposed adding another $100 million for cybersecurity efforts.
In the kind of clipped and jargon-heavy statements typical of US military personnel, a spokesperson for the Department of Defense told Light Reading the agency is taking a "multifaceted approach to capitalize on the features and capabilities of 5G networks for the military." Specifically, the spokesperson said the agency's efforts span three areas:
1. Installing 5G networks and applications at "numerous" military bases for testing.
2. Developing technology that would allow military personnel to operate in "untrusted environments" using technologies such as "dynamic spectrum utilization and zero-trust methods."
3. Planning for "6G and beyond."
These activities are "just ramping up," the spokesperson acknowledged.
So how will the 5G testing work? The agency plans to purchase 5G equipment from a range of vendors and install that equipment on select military bases, the spokesperson explained. The equipment will be "competitively procured" and "there are no predetermined vendors or technology sources," the spokesperson added. The DoD has not yet decided which bases will get 5G.
Of course, legislation signed last year by President Trump prohibits the US military, and any other government agency, from purchasing equipment from Chinese vendors like Huawei. US officials continue to argue that Huawei's equipment would open a path for Chinese government espionage.
Importantly, the DoD's interest in 5G is relatively new. As FCW recently reported, the DoD's Michael Griffin, undersecretary for research and engineering, said he came into office last year expecting to make "hypersonics" capability a priority and not 5G. Now, however, "we are aware that commercial initiatives in telecommunications far outstrip anything that we can do and would want to do in DoD," Griffin said.
That turnaround follows a number of government reports pointing to the importance of US cybersecurity in general and 5G specifically for the DoD.
"5G technologies could have a number of potential military applications, particularly for autonomous vehicles, command and control (C2), and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) systems -- which would each benefit from improved data rates and lower latency (time delay)," the Congressional Research Service wrote in June. In its April report on 5G, the Pentagon's Defense Innovation Board wrote: "5G has the capability to combine DoD's current fragmented networks into a single network to promote improved situational awareness and decision-making." And the Defense Science Board, another Pentagon advisory body, in June determined that "5G Bandwidth (BW) and services, low power implementations and low latency capabilities may enhance DoD current mission capabilities and have potential to create new mission capabilities."
To be clear, the DoD's investment into 5G isn't the only effort within the US government to research wireless communications and cybersecurity. For example, DARPA continues its competition focused on innovative spectrum management. And the DoD recently issued a $7.5-million, five-year grant to Virginia Tech to explore network latency.