WASHINGTON — Lockheed Martin and AT&T said they securely downloaded and shared Black Hawk helicopter flight data in a fraction of the time it would normally take.
The results of the Aug. 4 experiment, announced more than a month later on Sept. 9, demonstrate how useful the fifth-generation of wireless technologies can be to a military force, according to officials from the companies.
“Timely and secure transfer and analysis of mission and operations data are critical to military readiness and effectiveness,” Lance Spencer, a client executive vice president for defense at AT&T, said in a statement.
During the test, the companies used a private AT&T cellular network to move data from a UH-60M Black Hawk’s Integrated Vehicle Health Management System to Lockheed’s 5G.MIL network. Then they relayed the information to Lockheed’s Sikorsky headquarters in Connecticut and then again to a 5G test range in Colorado.
The process of removing the data cartridge, bringing it to the right place and extracting key information usually takes 30 minutes, according to Lockheed. The same process, the defense firm said, was executed on Aug. 4 in less than 5 minutes.
The health management system uses hundreds of sensors to monitor and log the condition and performance of the helicopter, including temperature and vibration of critical components. Crews review the data to track safety, reliability and flight preparedness.
“These 5G capabilities deployed at scale are expected to enable high-speed, secure data transfer on virtually any flight line,” Dan Rice, the vice president of 5G.MIL programs at Lockheed, said in a statement. “In collaboration with commercial 5G leaders, an interoperable 5G.MIL multi-site, multi-vendor network is another step closer to reality.”
Both Lockheed and AT&T are working to increasingly fold 5G into military operations and communications. The Pentagon in late 2020 announced a $600 million investment in 5G experimentation across five U.S. military installations. Further investments were made in 2021.
Lockheed in February secured a $19.3 million contract with the Defense Department to create a 5G communications infrastructure test bed, dubbed OSIRIS, in California for the Marine Corps and others. The Maryland-based company later announced a fifth-generation partnership with software powerhouse Microsoft.
AT&T in June said it successfully demonstrated its 5G network at Naval Base Coronado, also in California, as part of a Pentagon effort to create so-called smart warehouses and significantly improve logistics. The private network powered experiments with virtual and augmented reality, high-definition video surveillance, and artificial intelligence extended from the cloud.
AT&T is also collaborating with Northrop Grumman to develop a “digital battle network” that will use 5G to support the sharing of information across services and domains.
Colin Demarest is a reporter at C4ISRNET, where he covers military networks, cyber and IT. Colin previously covered the Department of Energy and its National Nuclear Security Administration — namely Cold War cleanup and nuclear weapons development — for a daily newspaper in South Carolina. Colin is also an award-winning photographer.