With the next generation of cellular network technology known as 5G expected to become more widespread, the Army is exploring how the new hardware could improve global asset management, “smart depots" and augmented or virtual reality.

In an interview with C4ISRNET, Army Col. Schawn Branch, the project lead on 5G and enterprise IT as a service, outlined how the technology will help the Army with training, cybersecurity and artificial intelligence capabilities.

To date, the Army has recommended 13 installations for 5G pilot progams.

Branch told C4ISRNET in October that the use cases the Army is considering for those programs are focused on global asset management, “smart depots" and augmented or virtual reality. He added that service leaders want to see how the latter “helps us in terms of mission planning and training.”

To do that, industry will help the Army harness the capabilities that come with 5G deployment.

“We want industry to conduct demonstrations. Show us what you have in terms of 5G ... Companies are talking about their 5G capabilities and what they’re doing,” Branch said. “So we want them to come and conduct some demonstrations and want to see how it has military application but also commercial applicability.”

Branch said Army leaders invested significant time and money in fiscal 2019 in planning for 5G. As a result, in the next year, the service expects to see “a lot more momentum.”

5G technology will also allow the Army to process information faster, which will help the Army develop better artificial intelligence.

“In order to really use artificial intelligence you’re going to require a lot more bandwidth than we currently have with our 4G network,” Branch said.

In addition, the Army hopes to be able to more quickly build software-defined networks, networks that are build for high-bandwidth application, speed and simplifies network architecture. “So now I’m not having to reconfigure equipment to build a new network; it’s software defined,” Branch said.

Still, obstacles remain.

“With every new technology capability, [there’s] always prioritizing resources and looking at it from a cost benefit perspective ... That’s really the challenge,” Branch said.

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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