What is 5G? And why is the Department of Defense so determined to integrate it into U.S. military operations?

5G is a fifth-generation wireless network and technology that will improve data speed, latency and volume over the current 4G wireless network. 4G and WiFi technologies were not initially designed to support thousands of individual wireless devices connecting to a single access point; 5G solves this problem by increasing the scale of devices supported by a single access point. Shifting from 4G to 5G will not only have an impact on global communications, it will fundamentally change the environment that the DoD operates within. 5G has the ability to enhance strategic capabilities and decision-making of the DoD on the battlefield. Additionally, 5G gives the DoD the ability to connect multiple systems into a broader network. This will allow for real-time information sharing across services, improving communication, and developing a “common picture of the battlefield to improve situational awareness”.

As the development of 5G next generation communication technologies continue to advance, the Department of Defense have been investigating its many applications for the U.S. Military. For the fiscal year of 2021, the Pentagon has requested a budget of $449 million in funding for research and development of 5G technology; this is an increase from $249 million provided by Congress in last year’s budget.

Four bases have been selected to be among the first U.S. military installations to conduct testing and experimentation on 5G technologies and capabilities. The bases are Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington; Hill Air Force Base, Utah; Naval Base San Diego, California; and Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany, Georgia. Initially, the focus will be on three areas: “integrating augmented reality and virtual reality into mission planning and training in both virtual and live environments on training ranges; developing ‘smart’ warehouses to leverage 5G’s ability to enhance logistics operations and maximize throughput; and establishing a dynamic spectrum sharing testbed to demonstrate the capability to use 5G in congested environments with high-power, mid-band radars.” 5G may also enable the DoD to leverage virtual and augmented reality systems for training purposes on a global scale. Combining augmented reality (AR) with high speed capability of 5G presents a new possibility for sustainment and maintenance. The latency of 5G could provide the unique capability to diagnose complex issues, complete the repair, and verify the repair while in the field. This would keep the aircraft in the air rather than in a maintenance bay.

5G technologies may also play a large role in the future of hypersonic weapons. Hypersonic weapons travel at high altitudes, and super-sonic speeds, and often-times have erratic flight paths; these attributes make intercepting them difficult. Intercepting these missiles will require a phenomenal amount of “artificial intelligence-powered real-time data processing on targets and trajectories.” 5G technologies will be the driving force behind hypersonic missile defense systems.

The potential applications of 5G wireless networks seems unending for the Department of Defense and the U.S. military. The Pentagon will no doubt be ambitious in its plans for future uses of 5G, but it will be a slow and steady roll out as the four bases previously mentioned investigate and experiment with potential applications of 5G that will best benefit the U.S. military.

Carter, J. How the 5G Network Could Benefit the Military. Available at: https://www.techradar.com/news/how-the-5g-network-could-benefit-the-military Accessed: (April 29, 2020)
Harper, J. Defense Department Forging Path for 5G Adoption. Available at: https://www.nationaldefensemagazine.org/articles/2019/12/6/defense-department-forging-path-for-5g-adoption Accessed: (April 29, 2020)