Pentagon using 5G prototyping sites to test out supply chain risk management practices

The U.S. Department of Defense is reviewing and experimenting with prototype networks to mitigate risk and develop security within the supply chain. The department will continue to seek funds to continue their operations, in hopes of leveraging existing infrastructure using new 5G technologies. The following article from Inside Defense analyzes such vulnerabilities and shares how this program can change the way security of networks operate.

The Pentagon is using its new fifth-generation wireless technology test sites at military bases across the country to implement supply chain risk management practices that could potentially guide how the Defense Department and other agencies approach the security of networking products and services.

Joe Evans, DOD’s principal director for 5G in the research and engineering office, said his team is working with the DOD chief information officer to “test out supply chain risk management principles in real deployments.”

“As we deploy at the DOD sites, we’re reviewing the entire supply chain for our prototype networks, bills of materials, hardware and software, so we understand the provenance of all the hardware and software for each system at the site,” Evans said during an event hosted by Billington Cybersecurity.

U.S. officials are broadly concerned about the presence of Chinese companies such as Huawei in telecommunications network infrastructure. For instance, the federal government has banned the purchase of Huawei and other Chinese telecom products.

DOD’s test networks are just beginning initial operations, with some experimentation already underway, Evans said. Deploying and operating on the prototype networks will be a chance to learn what supply chain processes are working and what may need to be updated, he added.

“We’ve made the point that we have many new types of capabilities and technologies coming with 5G,” Evans continued. “Not all of the old standards will fit the new model, so we have to adapt as we move forward.”

Last October, the Pentagon handed out $600 million in awards through the National Spectrum Consortium to begin building and operating 5G test sites at multiple military bases around the United States. DOD will use the sites to experiment with 5G “use cases” like smart logistics, spectrum sharing and command-and-control technologies.

The department is seeking $375 million to continue the 5G experimentation and prototyping program in fiscal year 2022, down from the $440 million enacted this year. The decrease is due to experimentation sites having been largely funded over the previous two years, according to DOD’s budget justification documents.

While the overarching program funding would decrease under the Biden administration’s request, DOD is seeking $284 million for the “Congested/Contest Spectrum” project under the 5G program, up from the $198 million enacted in FY-21.

Budget documents state the project seeks to “demonstrate the capacity to ‘operate through’ existing commercial 5G infrastructure throughout the globe, leveraging existing infrastructure to meet DOD mission needs using dynamic spectrum utilization and controlled manipulation of 5G network security architectures.”

Evans said part of DOD’s prototyping plans account for the U.S. military having to operate on “untrusted networks” abroad.

“We have studies and exploratory efforts and soon-to-start major efforts on analyzing vulnerabilities, assessing risk and developing security, safeguards and mitigations,” he said.

The Pentagon is also seeking $19 million in FY-22 for the “external engagement” project under the 5G program.

“Funding from this project will be used to conduct external engagements across Government and beyond to influence statutes, policies, regulations, and standards within DOD, the U.S. Government, and international bodies for the global deployment and use of 5G to Next G technologies,” budget documents state. “DOD will conduct active and passive security vulnerability assessments of 5G prototypes in order to support zero-trust security designs for military 5G applications.”


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