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5G is ‘a Game Changer’ for America’s Military

DOD is accelerating 5G adoption to create the smart base of the future.

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5G Is A Game Changer
U.S Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Juan Zamora, the opposition force platoon operations chief with Tactical Training and Exercise Control Group, Headquarters Battalion, Marine Air Ground Task Force Training Command, Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center (MCAGCC) Twentynine Palms, operates a 5G-enabled device at MCAGCC Twentynine Palms, Aug. 17, 2022. The purpose of this exercise was to demonstrate how the 5G network can improve training capabilities on the base. The discrete 5G network was designed, coordinated, and tested at MCAGCC to explore concepts that may enhance Tactical Training and Exercise Control Group ability to communicate and adjudicate during Service Level Training Exercises. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Jonathan Forrest) Photo Credit: Marine Corps / DVIDS

The Defense Department is prioritizing 5G capacities to support deployment of large-scale networks and increase effectiveness across the agency and its nearly 800 military bases.

“DOD is the largest enterprise on Earth and in 5G. I think you’d be hard pressed to see another enterprise that has invested $600 million in 5G,” said Salvador D’Itri, chairman of the National Spectrum Consortium, during an Aug. 17 FedInsider training session.

D’Itri said the agency has shifted to 5G to serve the entire enterprise. Currently, the DOD has 5G pilot programs, including applications to support tactical environment, edge computing and cloud computing capabilities.

“One of the benefits of 5G is the ability for the network itself to be fairly malleable in terms of how you configure it. … Many of the 5G use cases are really critical in terms of the embedding of critical infrastructure with the 5G use cases, so we have to get to security right,” Brian Kelley, DOD’s Joint Base San Antonio (JBSA) 5G principal investigator said during the Billington Cybersecurity Summit last year.

As DOD continues to adopt and implement 5G, security efforts are top of mind. But another concern is the separation of 5G capabilities throughout the agency.

“When we look at the DOD lead statements, they’re across the board. And going from the tactical to the strategic or the traditional supply chain — nowadays, those things overlap completely. If we talk about how we’re probably going to fight in the future,” said Col. William McHenry, senior engagement advisor to the director at the Defense Innovation Unit.

5G is “a game changer,” McHenry added, and a major challenge is getting 5G into the right hands. “We’ve got this commercially rapidly developing technology. How are we going to get it into the hands of the people that need it in government so they can use?”

In March 2022, DOD introduced the 5G and FutureG cross-functional team, which aims to increase the adoption of 5G, ultimately advancing the future of 5G throughout the department.

At one 5G smart warehouse at the Marine Corps Logistics Base in Albany, Georgia, there were three major components in the design process: cost, speed and quality. Speed was a top metric.

“It’s how do I get gear from dock to storage back out the issue and back into the hands of the warfighter when needed on demand?” said Chad Jones, global government lead at KPMG, who leads the warehouse. “We want to make sure we have capability to top readiness for the Marine Corps and soldiers when they deploy or go out to a training site. … How can we go install these components in these applications, testing against 5G and reduce the overall cost of that mission?”

Since 2020, the agency has invested $600 million into 5G development across nine military test sites, including the Albany base.

“The technology has really matured to a point where it’s … almost imperative for DOD to work with this and to understand how we can interact with what we call the ‘global information infrastructure.’ This is the worldwide connectivity of everything. How do we not participate and how do we not utilize what’s been produced out there in the commercial world?” Dr. Tom Rondeau, principal director for FutureG & 5G at the Pentagon’s Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, told GovCIO Media & Research in February.

As the implementation of 5G continues to expand at the DOD, it has the potential to improve the effectiveness and streamline military operations around the world.

 

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