WASHINGTON — The fifth generation of wireless technologies, more commonly known as 5G, is critical to unleashing digital simulation and virtual reality capabilities the U.S. military is increasingly interested in, according to experts.

The 5G ecosystem promises exponentially faster speeds as well as greater accommodations for more and more-advanced devices. The U.S. Department of Defense considers development and adoption of the generation foundational to its longer-term connectivity and modernization goals. Rollout and uptake, though, has so far been piecemeal.

“There’s some really exciting applications, of course for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and command and control, but even for really intricate things like untethered virtual and augmented reality, things for live simulation and training,” Whitney McNamara, a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, said at an event hosted by the Washington-based think tank.

“I think 5G is one of those really critical enablers,” she added.

C4ISRNET moderated the Nov. 6 discussion, which also featured Dan Rice, Lockheed Martin’s vice president of 5G.MIL programs, and Thomas Rondeau, the principal director for FutureG at the Defense Department.

The Pentagon is pouring money into video game-like simulation and virtual reality for training, planning, logistics and maintenance purposes. The applications, though, come with serious bandwidth and latency requirements; laggy or intermittent feeds can break immersion or even get in the way of work.

“5G, when it reaches its potential, will be able to support immersive environments, where you’re in a 3D, virtual world with multiple other actors also seeing the same thing and interacting in a way that requires a lot more information to be moved back and forth between that compute environment and the user device,” said Rice. “Things like that, I think, you’re going to see unlocked with 5G.”

The Pentagon in October 2020 announced it was investing $600 million into 5G experimentation at five bases across the country.

Among them were Naval Base San Diego in California and Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington. At the former, 5G fueled tests with smart warehousing and augmented reality. At the latter, it powered virtual reality for mission planning and operations. Continued spending and tinkering would be prudent, according to the panel.

“The revolution that 5G is changes the game for the DoD,” said Rondeau. “Every single application the DoD has, every surface, every platform, has a niche requirement from its network. The ability to tune that, to take advantage of the different properties of the network, to fill those different gaps, is one of the really exciting things about it.”

Colin Demarest was a reporter at C4ISRNET, where he covered military networks, cyber and IT. Colin had 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.

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