BATTLEFIELD COMMUNICATIONS

I/ITSEC NEWS: Defense Department Needs ‘Data Diet’ to Leverage 5G Potential

11/29/2023
By Laura Heckmann

ORLANDO — Harnessing 5G wireless communications could lead to more immersive training simulations, but to make the most of increased bandwidth, the Defense Department needs to rethink how it uses data, an Army official said.

As modernization efforts sweep the services, with great capabilities comes great bandwidth requirements, said Young Bang, principal deputy assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology, during a panel discussion at the National Training and Simulation Association’s Interservice/Industry Training, Simulation and Education Conference Nov. 29.

“The potential of 5G is huge,” Bang said, looking as far out as 10G. Joint network efforts across the department revolve around connectivity and bandwidth, and the more bandwidth, the more applications can be supported, he said.

“And we're like, ‘Oh, this is awesome. We can buy these products off the shelf,’” and they can be supported by tactical units, he said. “But what happened? All these applications just killed our bandwidth.”

Certain applications became bandwidth hogs, and even though brigades had recently enjoyed a surge of newly acquired capacity, it “got quickly eaten up,” he said.

Rather than focus on the increased bandwidth, Bang suggested a shift in thinking — how to make the most of the bandwidth available, no matter how much, but using data more efficiently.

“Let's look at the data differently. … So we're not killing our bandwidth. Even if we do get 10G, at some point, we're going to kill our bandwidth, right? Because what do we do? We're not thinking about the data or the application correctly, and we're just serving up every single piece of data, whether you need it or not.”

Embracing open architecture is one step toward more efficient data integration, he suggested. Currently, a handful of companies “pretty much make all of our 5G, right?” he said. “If we’re not smart about it, there’s an opportunity for them to vertically integrate.”

Open architecture, open application programming interfaces and open standards are opportunities to drive interoperability, he said. “We can actually consume things better and not be locked into vendors and then we can actually make 5G — our network and capacity — more ubiquitous and, dare I say, more commoditized and not necessarily tied to vendors or carriers.”

This matters to the military because it allows it to leverage organic 5G, or organic communications and transport, wherever they go in the United States or overseas, he said, which translates to better and more unified training.

The notion would be that the military can do more realistic training at home station with open standards and open architecture. However, overseas, they may not have the same standards that would allow the same experience, he noted. That is a critical problem that needs to be addressed, he added.

In addition to making 5G more open, it needs to be more secure, he said. And industry can help.

“I would actually ask the carriers to really look at how they are architecting 5G. I think there's a huge opportunity for our carriers or in industry and vendors and solutions providers to think about how to secure all that as well,” whether that be post-quantum encryption or quantum key distribution, he said. “We’re submitting that there’s probably more than just one approach and one architecture and that’s why we're going to really look at the proof of concept in those spaces.”

If industry can help rearchitect how data is used in applications and training in a way that requires less bandwidth, “we can actually do a lot more with 5G and the promise of NextG,” he said.

Industry can also help make 5G less detectable, Jennifer Swanson, deputy assistant secretary of the Army for data, engineering and software, said.

“One of the biggest deterrents for us putting … 4G and previous technology in the field at large scale is that it's very easy to detect,” she said. “And so obviously, that's not going to help us, so we need to be able to have … a low profile and also have the security built in. So I think that's one of the things that I wanted to make sure I get out there, that from industry, we need that kind of help so that we're able to propagate it when we need to propagate it.”

Achieving secure 5G and beyond capabilities would mean, “arguably … we can hide in plain sight,” Bang said. “We can use our networks, our radios … our 5G — shoot, our enemies’ network and transport, if we can secure it. And so that's how we're thinking about it.”

Ultimately, leveraging 5G will require a change in perspective, he said.

“If we don't sort this mess out with our data, and our architecture and our limited capacity and bandwidth, even when we get more capacity … we won’t actually be able to get to the efficiency and speed of algorithms to help our soldiers. … Let's look at the data diet and architecture differently and let's secure information so we can get to a common experience.”

Topics: Battlefield Communications

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