Navy’s ‘smart’ warehouse pilot to start production in two years

Many organizations use industry as a blueprint for how they update their technology usage. This article discusses how the Navy is looking to industry to build 5G-enabled smart warehouses and what steps it might take next. 

The Navy’s “smart” warehouses are on track for transitioning to production in two years, but the service is still moving at a much slower pace than industry, according to a service official.

In 2020, the Defense Department announced $600 million in awards for 5G experimentation and testing at five U.S. military test sites. Two of the five test sites, Naval Base San Diego, CA, and Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany, GA, will develop a 5G-enabled smart warehouse.

One of the service’s biggest challenges is “time to market” for its 5G-enabled warehouse project, according to Michael Galbraith, the Navy’s chief digital innovation officer.

“Smart warehouse pilots and experiments that I talked about at Coronado and Albany are going to transition to production in about two years. They started two years ago,” Galbraith said today at the Cloudera Government Forum.

“What’s the smart warehouse of 2026 actually going to look like . . . in industry? Because ours is going to look an awful lot like what happened in 2018,” Galbraith said. “The acquisition and financial processes that we have in DOD that manage that information domain, I’m concerned about that timeline.”

The 5G-enabled warehouse at Coronado will focus on transshipment between shore facilities and naval units and the Albany warehouse will focus on vehicular storage and maintenance, according to DOD.

Galbraith outlined the Navy’s priorities for experimenting and piloting 5G: put 5G on all the Navy’s bases and installations, adopt it for further use within the service and push it to forward deployment.

The Navy looked to industry to inform its 5G-enabled warehouse effort, Galbraith said.

“What does 5G enable? Well, it enables barcoding and scanners and autonomous, remote-run vehicles, robotics and conveyor systems within our warehouses and those pilots in those experiments were put into use,” Galbraith said.

The next step for the Navy is to push 5G to ships and deployed systems, according to Galbraith.

“We have experiments to look at ship-side support and pier-side connectivity with 5G and leverage those capabilities and extend our systems and network connectivity from the cloud, from the headquarters to the pier [and] to ships,” he said.

Galbraith discussed the need for a mesh network — a group of different devices that make up a single network.

“Think about a carrier group. You can’t use [satellite communications], I still need to communicate from the first deck to the third deck. I still need to communicate from that carrier to the destroyer and 5G and other millimeter-wave technologies allow that to happen,” Galbraith said. “That wireless capability allows a mesh of networks to extend that connectivity and so those are things that we’re innovating on within the Navy.”

When asked how the Navy can make sure its warehouses are not stuck in 2018, Galbraith said it’s important for the Navy to examine how it budgets for 5G in its future plans.

“Changing those financial and investment processes, I think is vital to move faster. Same with our acquisition processes . . . which is years of defining requirements, that is absolutely essential to develop a new submarine or aircraft carrier, maybe not so much for a messaging platform, or another piece of software that we need to acquire,” Galbraith said.

Aaron Weis, the Navy’s chief information officer, discussed “Cyber Ready,” a program launched last November to move away from the current practice of granting systems an authority to operate once every three years.

The Navy created the program to move to an ongoing ATO earned by staying current with cyber-ready requirements, Weis said at Cloudera today.

The Navy is on its first set of sprints, which will last 90 days, and put the “meat on the bones of this idea,” Weis added.

“This will not be easy. It will not happen next quarter. It may not even happen in full next year. It will be a long process, but we’re going to put the pieces in place as we start to evolve ourselves into a world where we have programs that are born cyber-ready [and] cyber [is] built into the requirements with actively engaged programs, operators, defenders, moving into a world where we are holistically measuring our state of cybersecurity readiness and in an environment where programs and teams are earning and re-earning their ATO every day,” Weis said.

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