For the military, is 5G all it's hyped to be?
- By Lauren C. Williams
- Jul 22, 2019
The potential of 5G telecommunications technology has garnered the attention of Defense Department officials, but it may not be the most important new development for the military.
Chris Brose, former staff director for the Senate Armed Services Committee, said: "The U.S and China are running two different 5G races" technologically speaking, with China focusing on building sub-6 spectrum and DOD focusing on the millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum, which the department says has fewer transmission issues, a DOD spokesperson told FCW.
"If they're able to consolidate a larger share of the market, they're going to not only take the market for 5G but all of the applications and services that are built on top of that," added Brose during a panel discussion at the Aspen Security Forum on July 20. For the U.S. military, that means overseas operations will likely be operating on "dirty networks" where supply chain concerns abound.
But although 5G will raise national security concerns, autonomous systems could have a bigger impact on how the military operates, Brose said.
"When it comes to really thinking differently about how we build military systems and how we build military networks [and] battle networks, I'm not sure 5G is the most important technology that's out there for reimagining how the United States military needs to operate in the future," he added.
Brose, who is now head of strategy at Anduril Industries and a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said the U.S. is hampered not only by a lack of imagination about what autonomous technology can do, but a lack of people.
In the future, the military will have "a single individual commanding large numbers of systems rather than needing large numbers of people to command a single system," he said. Inverting that ratio expands the battle network, but not having enough technical personnel to run unmanned systems limits the military's capabilities.
Brose's comments come after DOD issued its five-year digital modernization strategy, which highlights developing and becoming an early adopter of 5G, and the Defense Science Board released its findings on the defense applications of 5G network technology.
The board recommended that DOD accelerate mmWave technology development and develop a three-year roadmap for 5G science and technology. The report also said the DOD CIO should develop an action plan that emphasizes policy changes in the next six months.
Brose's comments echoed those of Michael Griffin, undersecretary of Defense for research and engineering, who told Congress in March that 5G was a lower priority because it's not ubiquitous. "What needs to be understood despite all the hype is that 5G is in its infancy everywhere in the world," he said during a House hearing. "It encompasses both standards and hardware, and much of that is hardware that needs to be developed."
Nevertheless, DOD is intensifying its 5G efforts, with Congress fueling near- and long-term investments. The department's digital modernization plan cites 5G's ability to deliver fiber-like speeds to end-user devices and improve edge network performance with low latency. CIO Dana Deasy told reporters in June that officials were scouting military bases that would be good sites for testing the capability.
"One of the things we want to do is not just go in there and do experimentation and pull it out, but to actually leave a capability behind that the bases can continue to use from the 5G standpoint," Deasy said.
Editor's note: This article was updated July 24 with clarification from DOD on its 5G mmWave research.
Lauren C. Williams is senior editor for FCW and Defense Systems, covering defense and cybersecurity.
Prior to joining FCW, Williams was the tech reporter for ThinkProgress, where she covered everything from internet culture to national security issues. In past positions, Williams covered health care, politics and crime for various publications, including The Seattle Times.
Williams graduated with a master's in journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park and a bachelor's in dietetics from the University of Delaware. She can be contacted at [email protected], or follow her on Twitter @lalaurenista.
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