DOD reveals four broad use cases for initial 5G experimentation

The Defense Department plans to use various bases of the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps as 5G testbeds. Inside Defense reports how and why the DOD is taking a zero-trust approach to 5G communications and networking.


The Defense Department’s initial use cases for fifth-generation communications technologies include virtual reality for training and simulation, “smart” bases, supply chain management, and depot automation, according to a top DOD official.

Lisa Porter, deputy under secretary of defense for research and engineering, revealed the four use cases Oct. 7 during a 5G workshop hosted by Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, MD.

Porter said DOD wants to accelerate 5G adoption by working with industry on dual-use technologies with both military and commercial applications. For instance, the “smart” base use case’s commercial twin would be various “smart city” initiatives aimed at improving the management of urban areas through Internet of Things technologies, she said.

Porter confirmed DOD will be releasing a draft request for proposals in early November for 5G experiments through the National Spectrum Consortium. She said DOD received more than 260 responses to a call for 5G technical concepts the consortium released earlier this year, and the RFP will combine elements of those responses.

DOD plans to use various bases as 5G “testbeds.” Porter said Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps installations will all be involved.

“All the services are working collaboratively on this effort,” she said.

While the initial RFP will be released in November, Porter said DOD will be seeking proposals on a “rolling” basis in order to iteratively test out new concepts.

“You’re not expected to come in and everything works perfectly and we’re all done,” Porter said. “We want to push that envelope and really see what we can do.”

In addition to experimenting with specific use cases, DOD is taking a zero-trust approach to 5G communications and networking, according to Porter.

“When we think about security writ large, we recognize that there’s really no such thing as a secure system,” Porter said. “You’re never going to have perfection.”

DOD’s 5G initiative is also focused on how to use the electromagnetic spectrum in areas around where networks can’t be trusted or are even controlled by potential adversaries. One of the major concepts DOD is exploring is “dynamic spectrum utilization,” according to Porter.

“We can’t always assume people want to share,” she said. “We need to understand how we can grab spectrum when we need it, where we need it.”

Congress has been supportive of DOD’s 5G efforts, as lawmakers allowed the Pentagon to reprogram funds to start the program earlier this year, while the Senate Appropriations Committee’s FY-20 defense spending bill includes $436 million for the project.

Meanwhile, the Senate’s version of the FY-20 defense policy bill would position Nellis Air Force Base, NV, as one of DOD’s key testbeds for 5G experimentation.


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