Defense Department Looking Beyond 5G
Air Force graphic by David Perry
The Pentagon continues to pump additional funding into 5G technologies that have military and commercial applications. But it is also eyeing 6G and other next-generation communications capabilities.
The term 5G refers to the oncoming fifth generation of wireless networks that will yield a major improvement in data speed, volume and latency over today’s fourth-gen networks, known as 4G.
In October, the Defense Department announced $600 million in awards for 5G test bed and experimentation activities at five U.S. military test sites. The work will be expanded to seven additional sites next year.
“These activities represent the largest full scale 5G tests for dual-use applications anywhere in the world,” Acting Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Michael Kratsios told reporters.
Commercial partners on the sites will include AT&T, Ericsson, Federated Research, Nokia and the Scientific Research Corporation.
“This testing experimentation will not only dramatically improve our warfighting capabilities, it will also bring new uses and opportunities for this technology to the private sector,” Kratsios said. “These sandboxing activities at military bases harness the department’s unique authorities to pursue bold innovations and game changing technologies.”
Nations that master advanced communication technologies will enjoy long-term economic and military advantages, he added.
Initial use cases for 5G envisioned by the Pentagon include integrating augmented reality and virtual reality into mission planning and training; developing “smart” warehouses to enhance logistics operations; and dynamic electromagnetic spectrum sharing in congested and contested environments.
Starting in 2021, there will be an emphasis on the security aspects of 5G as well as innovations in next-gen capabilities such as 6G and 7G, Joseph Evans, the Defense Department’s principal director for 5G, told reporters.
Broad agency announcements on those topics are slated to be released in the January 2021 timeframe, Evans said.
Elsa Kania, an adjunct senior fellow with the Technology and National Security Program at the Center for a New American Security, suggested the Pentagon might be getting ahead of itself.
“I will be a little bit skeptical of talk of 6G when 5G is still at a nascent stage in so many fronts and we have yet to explore or exploit the full potential of 5G,” she said during a panel discussion. “I’m sure we will hear much more about 6G in the years to come, but I think for the time being, keeping the focus on how to ensure that 5G itself is secure and reliable” is a better approach.
Topics: Battlefield Communications