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CHIPS Articles: Innovating and Modernizing with 5G in the DON

Innovating and Modernizing with 5G in the DON
By Joseph Snively - July-September 2020
“5G capabilities are important in our personal lives and even more important to our warfighters. The collection, dissemination, and analysis of data at the tactical edge will be vital to maintaining and exploiting battlespace awareness. The DON is standing up groups to leverage 5G and Artificial Intelligence (AI) for both enterprise and tactical uses.”

~ Mike Galbraith, DON Chief Digital & Innovation Officer

Fifth-generation wireless communications technologies (5G) are designated as a critical, strategic technology for the United States. Nations that master advanced communications technologies and ubiquitous connectivity will achieve long-term economic and military advantage over competitors. The Department of the Navy is moving out aggressively on multiple fronts to ensure that the DON is well-positioned to reap the benefits of 5G.

“5G, like cloud, enables the warfighting experience of the future. 5G gives us an opportunity to build a global network environment that delivers the promise of technology, including manned and unmanned teaming, hyper-connected sensors, self-healing networks and data on demand for the warfighter. In the future Information fight before us, it’ll be the fast that eat the slow…and 5G gives us fast.”

~ Lt. General Loretta Reynolds, Deputy Commandant for Information, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps and DON Deputy Chief Information Officer (Marine Corps)

The DON initiated policy revisions to streamline and accelerate the installation of commercial cellular infrastructure on department properties, developed the first U.S. military 5G testbed with Verizon, issued the charter for a DON 5G governance body to provide department wide cohesion and communication across 5G efforts, and established five sites as test beds for 5G experiments. This is just the beginning of a much broader effort to innovate and modernize across the department with 5G as a core enabler.

The pace at which 5G technologies, standards, business models, national policy, and federal policy are evolving requires sustained and coordinated effort within the DON, throughout the services, Department of Defense (DoD), standards bodies, and industry partners to ensure strategic decisions are always in the context of current events and ongoing trends.

The DON Chief Information Officer aims to apply 5G technologies to tactical and strategic modernization initiatives as a department-wide effort.

5G Innovation

In accordance with the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2020 and the 2018 National Defense Strategy (NDS), the DoD is taking decisive action to secure America’s national security and economic interests in 5G.

On June 3, 2020, Dr. Joseph B. Evans, Principal Director for 5G in the Office of the Director of Defense Research and Engineering (Modernization), announced the selection of seven military bases and site-specific 5G use cases. The DON was selected to host three — of the seven — experiments.

  • Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam was selected to host a Joint 5G prototype for Enhanced Aircraft Mission Readiness.
  • Camp Pendleton was selected to host a 5G prototype for Wireless Connectivity for Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations (EABO).
  • Naval Station Norfolk was selected to host a 5G prototype for Ship-wide/Pier Connectivity.

A critical component to the selecting and scoping of each USD R&E experiment is the dual-use nature of the technologies. Dual-use technologies are commercial technologies that have a military application and commercial application. The prototypes will remain to provide operational capability, and the underlying technologies will transition into commercial products and services, thus providing benefit to national security and economic growth.

5G Transition

Substantial investment of resources by DON leadership to support these experiments on-site ensures the experiments are highly informed by the operational and acquisition communities. DON leadership has nominated an Executive Agent (EA), Program Manager (PM), and Principal Investigator (PI) for each site to ensure a cohesive collaboration between the operational community and technology developers.

Each experiment is using novel and innovative technologies to solve operational problems. This requires an unencumbered host environment with substantial flexibility to fail fast, learn, red-team, and adapt. In addition to technological experimentation, each experiment will have a parallel component to ensure “transition readiness” is built into the project so that a transition path into the production environment is available. The development of solicitations is underway for each experiment with awards expected in 2020.

5G Modernization

To the DON, the value of these experiments is incalculable. These experiments are being carefully scoped to ensure that individual experiments inform larger questions about 5G’s feasibility, utility, and affordability across broader DON modernization efforts and result in operational modernization, not just infrastructure modernization.

Joseph Snively is the DON CIO 5G Lead, in the Office of the DON Chief Digital & Innovation Officer (CDIO).

For more information about 5G innovation, visit the Information Warfare Research Project (IWRP) website:

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