WASHINGTON — The annual defense policy bill would reorganize the Pentagon’s top IT responsibilities to prepare the department for operational 5G wireless networks.

The fiscal 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, which the House passed Tuesday but President Donald Trump has threatened to veto, would set up a 5G cross-functional team inside the Defense Department and name the chief information officer the senior official on 5G networking down the road.

The details of the shuffle, which effectively shifts the project from the research phase to an operational program, come just months after the department announced $600 million in 5G experiments at military bases across the U.S., with more announcements still to come. Those experiments could become operational technologies in the next few years.

The legislation, if signed into law, would direct the undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, with the help of the 5G cross-functional team, to create a plan for transitioning fifth-generation wireless technology to operational use within the department.

The transition plan would need to include a “timeline for the transition of responsibility for 5G wireless networking to the chief information officer.” The secretary of defense must name the CIO the top 5G official in the department by Oct. 1, 2023.

“The secretary of defense shall designate the chief information officer as the senior official within Department of Defense with primary responsibility for policy, oversight, guidance, research and coordination on matters relating to 5G wireless networking; and making proposals to the secretary on governance, management and organizational policy for 5G wireless networking,” the legislation reads.

The department must brief the congressional defense committees on the transition plan by March 31, 2020.

The cross-functional team will work with the secretary on a number of issues related to 5G wireless network, including establishing acquisition authorities, strategy implementation, advancing adoption of next-generation commercial 5G technology, facilitating public-private partnerships, and coordinating research and development.

The team will also be responsible for initiatives advancing 5G wireless network technologies. It is tasked with integrating 5G wireless networking into major programs and initiatives “relating to secure microelectronics and command and control.”

The legislation places 5G procurement authorities with military department secretaries. The department would have to create a 5G security program to identify and mitigate vulnerabilities in the 5G telecommunications infrastructure.

Lawmakers also direct the Pentagon to test an additional 5G technology as part of future 5G testbeds. The department will need to evaluate the maturity, performance and cost of virtualized radio access network and network core technologies, as well as massive multiple input, multiple output radio array technology.

Andrew Eversden covers all things defense technology for C4ISRNET. He previously reported on federal IT and cybersecurity for Federal Times and Fifth Domain, and worked as a congressional reporting fellow for the Texas Tribune. He was also a Washington intern for the Durango Herald. Andrew is a graduate of American University.

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