The U.S. Defense Department already is looking beyond its massive $600 million investment in 5G experiments announced in October. Plans include a second round of experiments and the potential for expanding efforts with other government agencies and with international partners.
The Defense Department’s initial announcement included five experimental test beds for fifth-generation mobile communications commonly referred to as 5G. Those experiments include a 5G-enabled augmented reality and virtual reality capability for mission planning, distributed training, and operational use at Joint Base Lewis–McChord, Washington; smart warehouse technologies at both Naval Base San Diego and Marine Corps Logistics Base, Albany, Georgia; distributed command and control at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada; and dynamic spectrum use at Hill Air Force Base in Utah.
The Defense Department effort includes three objectives: accelerating 5G technology at scale, learning to operate with nonsecure networks and innovating to win at 6G and beyond. “We’re looking at how to align and advance 5G communications, networking and computing capabilities with DOD [Defense Department] missions. That’s the most fundamental aspect. And then based on that, accelerate our ability to use 5G and build expertise and experience with the technology,” says Joseph Evans, principal director for 5G, Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering.
That initial effort has resulted in close to 40 contracts with more than 100 companies. More than half of those companies are considered nontraditional, meaning they normally do not contract with the Defense Department.
Department officials now are planning another round of experiments they refer to as a second tranche. That will bring the total number of experiments to 12. The second tranche likely will include shipwide and pier connectivity at Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia; enhancing aircraft mission readiness at Joint Base Pearl Harbor–Hickam, Hawaii; augmented reality support for medical training and telemedicine at Joint Base San Antonio, Texas; wireless connectivity for tactical operations centers and combat operations centers with the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, California, and Fort Hood, Texas, as well as Camp Pendleton, California; 5G core security experimentation network at Joint Base San Antonio; and 5G-enabled immersive training and education at Tinker Air Force Base, Ohio.
“We’ve gotten a lot done in a very short amount of time. In the past year, we’ve created and published a 5G strategy. We hope to release the implementation plan for that strategy very soon,” Evans reports. “We’ve stood up a working group across the department and gotten all these projects underway—the first set of five and then the additional sites. We’ve identified what’s going to happen and started the solicitation process. It’s been really busy.”
He adds that the department could soon be releasing broad agency announcements (BAAs) focused on the push for sixth- and seventh-generation technologies, or 6G and 7G. “That’s all 2021 starts. We’re looking at BAAs in both of those areas,” Evans says, explaining that officials hope to both accelerate current or emerging capabilities while also looking at security and the future beyond 5G.”
Defense officials also are in the early discussion stages for additional efforts, including the exploration of open technologies and potential cooperative efforts with other government agencies and international partners. Evans defines “open” technology as both open source and having open interfaces, meaning the department could define where interfaces occur on the network. “One of the other things that we expect to be happening in 2021 is we’re really interested in how open 5G implementations can be used by DOD and help invigorate U.S….