On October 8th, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) announced $600 million in awards for 5G experimentation and testing at five U.S. military test sites, representing the largest full-scale 5G tests for dual-use applications in the world. Each installation will partner military Services, industry leaders, and academic experts to advance the Department’s 5G capabilities.
Projects will include: piloting 5G-enabled augmented/virtual reality for mission planning and training, testing 5G-enabled Smart Warehouses, and evaluating 5G technologies to enhance distributed command and control.
DoD identified these test sites for their 5G testbeds: Hill Air Force Base, Utah; Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM), Washington; Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany, Georgia; Naval Base, San Diego, California; and Nellis Air Force Base, Las Vegas, Nevada.
Those military bases were selected for their ability to provide streamlined access to spectrum bands and mature fiber and wireless infrastructure, support new or improved infrastructure requirements, and conduct controlled experimentation with dynamic spectrum sharing.
The telecom companies and vendors involved include AT&T, Ericsson, Nokia, GE Research, Federated Wireless, Shared Spectrum Company, Keybridge Wireless LLC, General Dynamics Mission Systems, Scientific Research Corp, KPMG, Deloitte, Vectrus Mission Solutions Corporation, Booz-Allen Hamilton, Oceus Networks, and GBL Systems (GBL’s Samsung-based 5G testbed will utilize mid-band spectrum).
Research and Engineering Acting Under Secretary of Defense Michael Kratsios said:
“The Department of Defense is at the forefront of cutting edge 5G testing and experimentation, which will strengthen our nation’s warfighting capabilities as well as US economic competitiveness in this critical field. Through these test sites, the department is leveraging its unique authorities to pursue bold innovation at a scale and scope unmatched anywhere else in the world.”
“Importantly, today’s announcement demonstrates the department’s commitment to exploring the vast potential applications and dual-use opportunities that can be built upon next-generation networks.”
Joseph Evans, the DoD’s director of 5G, said the testbeds should be working in a year. Evans told reporters:
“Each of the experiments has some aspect that’s really new and exciting to us. In addition, it also provides an opportunity for industry to experiment and mature their technologies along those parallel tracks.”
“We’re basically trying to make our forces more survivable by taking command and control functions that have long been housed in single buildings and spread them out and make them make them mobile. So [we’re] really trying to change the way our forces are deployed in the field.”
The tests and projects to be performed at each base are detailed in the press release, which concludes with this statement:
5G communications technology is a foundational enabler for all U.S. defense modernization programs, and vital to U.S. national and economic security.
DoD’s efforts focus on large-scale experimentation and prototyping of dual-use 5G technology that will provide high speeds and quicker response times, connect many more wireless devices than current wireless technology, and enable leap-ahead capabilities for the U.S. military.
Today’s announcement builds on DoD’s previously-announced 5G prototyping efforts and is part of a 5G development roadmap guided by the Department of Defense 5G Strategy. It represents the first tranche of awards on 5G experimentation and testing, with additional sites to be announced in the future.
Last month, AT&T Communications announced that the USAF will test 5G and an array of networking-as-a-service (NaaS) capabilities at three AFBs. In May this year, the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense (OUSD) for Research and Engineering (R&E) and the US Air Force Warfare Center (USAFWC) at Nellis AFB, Nevada partnered to build a 5G cellular network.
The DoD is also in the process of choosing vendors for 5G experiments at seven more bases. According to Evans, the first solicitation release and industry day for the Navy and Marines Corps bases in that tranche will come in mid-October using the Navy’s Information Warfare Research Project consortium. The Air Force and Army solicitations are expected to be rolled out through December through the National Spectrum Consortium, Evans said.
Comment and Analysis:
Ultra high reliability/availability will be required for any 5G military/DoD application, but it remains to be seen if that feature can be realized considering the current status of IMT 2020.SPECS and 3GPP Release 16 (URLLC in the RAN and URLLC in the Core work items).
Also, military grade equipment and devices must have air-tight security and “hardened” hardware to correctly operate during different environmental conditions. That will make the equipment to be developed much more expensive than commercial 5G products.