With the advent of 5G, the influence of networks on warfighting has become stronger than ever. The Department of Defense has taken notice of the potential benefits of modern networks in military operations, and in its efforts to stay competitive in the network landscape, has invested heavily in 5G and begun to look even further with FutureG initiatives.
“5G is not just another transport layer, it’s way more than that – and that is what makes me excited about its possibilities for the DOD and this ability to explore and exploit its force ” said Thomas Rondeau, principal director of FutureG and 5G for the department’s Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering.
According to Rondeau, who delivered a keynote address during ExecutiveBiz’s 5G Forum on Tuesday, the DOD has developed a four-pronged strategy outlining the steps that must be taken to fully leverage 5G and maximize its benefits to best support the warfighter, one of which is identifying vulnerabilities within existing 5G networks.
Currently, the department applies an “operate through” approach, which Rondeau explained is the operation of pre-built DOD systems within established 5G networks. This method, he said, allows the department to harness the security benefits of existing network infrastructure while also looking for risk factors.
When using outside networks, said Rondeau, the most important factor is trust.
“Everything that is going across these networks is what is going to allow commanders to make decisions in the field – it’s going to save or cost lives depending on how well that information is reliably transmitted,” said Rondeau.
Simultaneously, the DOD is working to accelerate the internal development of novel 5G capabilities for the services. The department recently established dedicated directorates for prototyping 5G technologies, securing 5G networks and preparing for the emergence of FutureG, he said.
Though the DOD is anticipating the deployment of FutureG networks, Rondeau stressed that 5G should remain the current focus. He said that with the vast amount of technology potential that still exists within the 5G realm, the department has not yet reached a place where 6G is a priority.
“Why push another 10 times when we have all of this technology to work with?” said Rondeau.
“What I am looking at is how we can take a step back from pushing technology for the sake of technology and pushing democratic values into our technology, enhancing security, enhancing privacy and making sure that these systems are affordable, energy efficient and sustainable for development in the future,” he said.
5G, said Rondeau, offers room to “grow into these ideas” as the era of 6G approaches.
The department has already begun its efforts to set these standards within the 5G arena, which represents the third leg of the strategy.
“We are developing technology and assessing the technology, but also trying to figure out where there are significant concepts within the standards world that can really matter to us from a security perspective, from a utility perspective and from a duty use case perspective,” Rondeau elaborated.
Connecting all steps of the plan is collaboration with the private sector, international allies and other federal agencies. This cooperation, said Rondeau, lays a foundation for partners to co-develop technologies, combine capabilities and set the stage for the secure use of 5G between the U.S. and its allies.
“It is incredibly important for us to have those relationships and work with them to co-develop technology, but also – especially when we’re talking about partners such as the NATO alliance – it is about how we can actually work together and securely utilize these 5G systems,” said Rondeau.
What makes 5G so significant is its ability to be “malleable” to support multiple services and applications.
“Sticking an LTE modem on many of our systems was never going to be the solution for us. But being able to program a 5G system to do what we need – that’s the game changer,” Rondeau said.
Modern networks are just one technology focus for the DOD. Software, another area listed as one of the DOD’s 14 critical technologies, also plays an important role in the department’s modernization efforts.
This event would not be possible without our sponsors. Executive Mosaic extends its most sincere thanks to Illuminate, Booz Allen Hamilton, Oceus and Jacobs for supporting Executive Biz’s 5G Forum.
For a deep dive into the role of rapidly evolving software tools in defense operations, ExecutiveBiz will host its 2023 Defense Software Modernization Forum on June 7. To learn more and register to attend, please visit ExecutiveBiz’s events page.