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Connected Warrior

DOD revs up 5G testbeds with $600 million investment

The Defense Department is investing $600 million for at-scale 5G testing deployments at five U.S. military test sites to expand DOD's wireless broadband capabilities. The sites will advance work in 5G-enabled augmented/virtual reality for mission planning and training, smart warehouses and technologies to enhance distributed command and control.

Fifteen vendors will be working on the pilot programs at five test sites: Hill Air Force Base, Utah; Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.; Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany, Ga.; Naval Base San Diego, Calif.; and Nellis Air Force Base, Las Vegas, Nev.  This investment represents the first batch of awards on 5G experimentation and testing, DOD officials said.

At Joint Base Lewis-McChord, four vendors will rapidly field a 5G network as a testbed for experimenting with a 5G-enabled augmented reality/virtual reality for mission planning, distributed training and operational use. 

At Naval Base San Diego, four industry partners will develop a 5G-enabled smart warehousing project to improve the identification, recording, organization, storage, retrieval and transportation of materiel and supplies. A similar pilot will be conducted at Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany, where four vendors will be focused on the storage and maintenance of Marine Corps vehicles.

At Nellis Air Force Base, a 5G network will be employed by a single vendor to disaggregate and mobilize existing command and control architectures in a combat scenario.

At Hill Air Force Base, six industry partners will work to develop better ways to allow Air Force radar systems to share spectrum with 5G cellular services.

Prime contractors for the work include AT&T, Booz Allen Hamilton, Deloitte Consulting LLP, Ericsson, Federated Wireless, GBL System Corp., General Dynamics Mission Systems, GE Research, Key Bridge Wireless LLC, KPMG, Nokia, Oceus Networks, Scientific Research Corporation, Shared Spectrum Company and Vectrus Mission Solutions Corp.

Work on the testbeds will last approximately three years, with the first year dedicated to set up. Full-scale experimentation will happen by year two, officials said.

The effort, which DOD calls Tranche 1 of its larger 5G initiative, also benefits industry partners who have more latitude for experimentation on military installations, according to acting Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Michael Kratsios.

"Outside of the department, in order for private sector companies to test the capabilities and functionality of 5G communications, they face an onerous process — negotiating agreements with state and local officials, attaining pole permits, funding the construction of antennas, and the list goes on," Kratsios said. "At the DOD, we already have the personnel, operational capacity, facilities, scale and regulatory green light to get the job done.”

“Moving forward, the department will continue to focus on large-scale experimentation prototyping of dual-use 5G technology for military and commercial purposes.  These sandboxing activities at military bases harness the department's unique authorities to pursue bold innovations and game changing technologies,” Kratsios said.

In June, DOD announced a second tranche of seven 5G test sites that will also explore augmented reality, wireless connectivity and spectrum sharing. A request for proposals for those testbeds is expected to be released soon.

DOD’s work on 5G has raised eyebrows among some who think the department is planning to build its own 5G network. In a Sept. 18 request for information asking for partners to help it explore different ways to facilitate spectrum sharing between government and commercial entities, DOD also asked for input about owning and operating a 5G network.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-N.J.) and Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) launched an inquiry into DOD’s apparent moves to own and operate a national 5G network and lease federal spectrum for commercial purposes. 

In an Oct. 9 letter to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, lawmakers pointed out that under the NTIA Organization Act, the NTIA is responsible for managing federal spectrum uses and that DOD “is attempting to usurp the NTIA’s authority. ” In their letter to the Government Accountability Office, the pair requested a legal analysis of DOD’s attempt to build a commercial 5G network or lease government spectrum to commercial entities without the express permission of Congress.

Meanwhile, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency awarded two contracts for research under its Open, Programmable, Secure 5G broad agency announcement.  The OPS-5G program will address the risk of cyberespionage and cyberwarfare on 5G networks designed to support critical infrastructure and mobile communications. It is based on a portable, open-source, standards-compliant network stack, enabling secure 5G and subsequent mobile networks such as 6G.

This article first appeared on GCN, a Defense Systems partner site. 

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