MILAN — NATO’s Allied Command Transformation, in charge of developing the alliance’s digital backbone, has signed an agreement with Latvia that will allow member nations to assess new capabilities at the Baltic country’s 5G military test bed.

The Latvian Ministry of Defense announced this week that it signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the command to use the country’s test site for defense applications. As part of this, the two partners are to hold a second operational experiment in October, at the Ādaži military base, to evaluate the alliance’s newest research-and-development initiatives and the tactical 5G abilities of the site.

“This event will see the use of virtual and augmented reality, unmanned vehicles, sensors, and applications within a tactical 5G bubble,” an ACT news release stated. “ACT will demonstrate how 5G’s ability to provide ultra-reliable and low-latency connections can bring additive capabilities to NATO communication and information systems.”

The Ādaži test bed for next-generation telecommunication networks was built in 2020 and represents the first of its kind in Europe.

An initial five-day operational trial was organized in the country last November by NATO, the Latvian MoD and the Latvian armed forces Enhanced Forward Presence Battlegroup. The event saw augmented and virtual reality software integrated with 5G mobile telecom technologies to optimize how operators grasp technical skills such as remote piloting of military vehicles and receiving assistance from hundreds of kilometers away.

By 2030, the objectives of NATO’s digital transformation plan are to allow the alliance to conduct and transition to multi-domain missions, ensure interoperability across all sectors, enhance situational awareness and facilitate data-driven decisions.

The rising use of 5G in civilian operations has been driving further military applications and highlighting key advantages it can provide to armed forces. Compared with 4G, these include bringing a much higher-speed connectivity to the battlefield, and hence actionable intelligence to soldiers, while also minimizing vulnerabilities with its lower latency.

For some time now, military leaders have stressed the urgency for countries to invest in the technology to avoid falling behind globally. Currently, China is regarded by many experts as having outpaced the U.S. in the wireless 5G network market.

“While the U.S. needs to invest in military modernization to deter China, it also needs to become a big player in the 5G wireless network industry,” commander of U.S. Southern Command, Gen. Laura Richardson, said at a panel hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington on Aug. 4.

“Information sharing between military allies utilizing a 5G network is absolutely crucial, but what is even more crucial is relying on a network that is completely secure,” she added.

Elisabeth Gosselin-Malo is a Europe correspondent for Defense News. She covers a wide range of topics related to military procurement and international security, and specializes in reporting on the aviation sector. She is based in Milan, Italy.

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