The Pentagon is pushing ahead on a variety of 5G projects with more proposal requests on the way despite concerns over what role the Defense Department should have in building and controlling 5G networks.
Defense Undersecretary for Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen Lord said Tuesday the DOD will issue two 5G broad agency announcements in early 2021. The first BAA will be for 5G security prototyping and experimentation, and the second will be “for more fundamental research and development into beyond 5G technologies,” Lord said at a MITRE Corporation event launching a new 5G consortium.
Lord’s pre-recorded remarks come after some of the Pentagon’s requests for information on 5G have raised eyebrows among lawmakers, Nextgov reported last month. GOP lawmakers including Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., and Democrats including Reps. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., and Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Pa., objected to language in one solicitation suggesting DOD is considering owning and operating its own 5G network.
On Tuesday, Lord painted the Pentagon as more of a champion of industry 5G efforts than a usurper, particularly as it pertains to setting security standards for the technology. She also enumerated some military technology applications she sees as dependent on 5G, including drones and autonomous vehicles. 5G is a technology that will transform military operations by facilitating movement of data across a complex web of sensors and systems, Lord said.
“This massive amount of data is a key to unlocking further technological gains in the form of artificial intelligence and machine learning,” Lord said. “Low latency communications will enable new generations of unmanned and autonomous weapon systems across all domains, empowering the warfighter with far richer access to data at the tactical edge, so that even small units can achieve strategic effects.”
The announcement of more requests for proposals comes a month after DOD announced $600 million in contract awards for the creation of 5G testbeds at five military bases over three years. Lord said Tuesday she expects testbeds at Hill Air Force Base, Utah; Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington; Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany, Georgia; Naval Base San Diego, California; and Nellis Air Force Base, Las Vegas, Nevada to come online within the first year, with full-scale experimentation for dual-use applications likely in the second year.
Solicitations for prototyping and experimentation at another seven military bases are underway, Lord said. Three bases have already released requests for information and more are imminent, she added.
In addition, the Pentagon will publish new guidance on supply chain security for microelectronics, which support 5G technology, Lord said. DOD is developing standards together with the commercial industry, she added. Lord did not specify when this guidance will be released.
“I am proposing a step by step process for reconstituting the U.S. micro electronics supply chain for components critical for national security,” Lord said. “The approach will target key verticals, where the supply and demand gap is large, and technologies are important to DOD systems critical infrastructure and important commercial needs.”