The Department of Defense is developing a 5G strategy, and now the Defense Science Board has given Pentagon decision-makers its findings on the subject.

The DSB’s quick task force on defense applications of fifth-generation network technology undertook an extensive technical review of 5G-related technologies and communication to offer the DoD recommendations on how to adopt such technologies in the face of concerns.

Specifically, Pentagon officials and members of Congress are increasingly worried that if China invests in and controls the majority of the global 5G network marketplace, the Chinese government can use that network to spy on the communications that cross the network. Worse, some fear that in a conflict or tension, China could cut off communications to certain areas as leverage.

The report (a more detailed version of which is classified) notes that the integration of 5G technology could give DoD the opportunity to adopt benefits of related systems for needs at a lower cost.

“If adopted and acted upon expeditiously, this strategy will provide the Department with a near-term plan to ensure a vibrant U.S. research and development (R&D) base for ‘5G and beyond’ telecommunications standards, capabilities and industry; long-term U.S. competitiveness in the global communications and network base; and safe, secure, trustworthy and resilient communications infrastructure option for the U.S. at home or abroad, our Allies and treaty partners,” Alfred Grasso, the study’s chairman, wrote in a summary released to the public by the DSB in late June.

“In accordance with its charter, the study defines a path for DoD 5G adoption that mitigates supply chain risk, established spectrum co-existence procedures and revamps existing communications infrastructure.”

The report’s six findings include:

  • 5G bandwidth and services, low power implementations and low latency capabilities may enhance current DoD capabilities and have the potential to create new capabilities;
  • While 5G largely evolves from 4G, much has changed to include shifts in intellectual property, authorities in standards development and supply chain;
  • Inherent supply chain, cyber, radio frequency/electronic warfare and virtual/physical vulnerabilities creates significant risks to missions;
  • Technologies such as network function virtualization, new radio and security enhancements provide new mission opportunities;
  • New and emerging technology creates opportunities to regain leadership for future 3rd Generation Partnership Project standards releases, an organization that sets telecommunications standards; and
  • 5G deployment must be measured against mission criticality and acceptable risk.

The report issued 10 recommendations, which Grasso said are all executable in less than five years, with many actionable items in the immediate future.

He added, “The committee encourages quick adoption of these recommendations, or we jeopardize our national technological leadership in this important sector.”

Among the recommendations are adopting 5G for military use in lightly contested environments and securing 5G systems in contested environments for critical applications.

The report notes that DoD should “leap-frog” base infrastructure 4G LTE service acquisition and accelerate full spectrum 5G deployment and apply a “5G first” policy for infrastructure upgrades and recapitalization to include wireless applications.

Other recommendations include development of a DoD 5G supply chain management strategy, creation of a program for “vulnerability analysis” and the development and execution a three-year 5G plus science and technology roadmap.

Acknowledging potential issues alongside future benefits, the report notes that 5G technologies also presents “new challenges in cybersecurity, spectrum management and network optimization.”

Ellen Lord, undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, told reporters during a May 10 briefing that studies from not just the DSB, but also the Defense Innovation Board and the Defense Business Board on 5G will factor into the Pentagon’s strategy.

Mark Pomerleau is a reporter for C4ISRNET, covering information warfare and cyberspace.

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