by Mikayla Easley
noted below, one of the most powerful features of 5G is
the ability to "slice" the spectrum into discrete
4G is compared to a congested 5 lane freeway, 5G could
create a dedicated, empty lane for high-speed emergence
Already, discrete slices are being used by police, intel
agencies, emergence services, private corporate
communications and of course, the military itself.
Whether it's to look up funny cat videos or operate a robotic system
using wireless internet, 5G has become a staple in the everyday
lives of many.
But for the Pentagon, the communications technology has become a key
enabler for another more critical function - the ability to harness
the electromagnetic spectrum for operations.
A significant amount of military weapon systems and applications
depend on the electromagnetic spectrum - the range of frequencies or
wavelengths of electromagnetic energy - to operate, according to a
Congressional Research Service report published August 2021.
The spectrum supports military operations today by linking wireless
communications, satellites, signal intelligence and radar
technologies that support situational awareness and electronic
warfare, said the report, titled "Overview
of Department of Defense Use of the Electromagnetic Spectrum."
To ensure the United States maintains its advantage over adversaries
across an increasingly complex, congested and contested
electromagnetic spectrum, or EMS, the Defense Department
released its Electromagnetic Spectrum Superiority Strategy in
It called on the
department to develop capabilities and policies that support
electromagnetic spectrum operations - coordinated actions to
exploit, attack, protect and manage the electromagnetic environment.
"In modern warfare,
EMS superiority is a leading indicator and fundamental component
of achieving superiority in air, land, sea, space or
cyberspace," the document said.
One of the emerging
technologies the Pentagon believes will give a decisive edge on
future battlefields - especially for electromagnetic spectrum
operations - is the fifth-generation wireless network known as 5G,
said Tom Rondeau, principal director for FutureG and 5G
at the Pentagon's Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for
Research and Engineering.
"It's not just about
It's not just about
the radio at the edge. It's about the network and the control of
that radio surface, and that becomes a really powerful tool for
us to use," Rondeau said during a panel discussion at the
Association of Old Crows annual symposium in Washington, D.C.
The power of 5G comes
from its ability to leverage higher frequencies on the
electromagnetic spectrum as well as the mid- and low-range
frequencies accessible by its predecessor 4G.
The addition of
high-range frequencies allows the department to transmit vast
amounts of information - such as critical communications needed for
operations at the edge or sensor data - at a faster speed and lower
latency, while maneuvering around the spectrum to perform actions on
the best-suited frequency.
Rondeau compared 4G to a highway during rush hour - slow and
congested with traffic.
"You want to
differentiate your services. You want to have access roads and
other highways and local roads and driveways," he said.
"And that's what 5G
starts to allow us to do - differentiate those services and
split off those resources in a way that allows you to customize
the network to your application."
Another benefit of 5G is
the additional flexibility it provides to users through technologies
like network slicing, Rondeau said.
Because of 5G
architecture's design, operators can "slice" parts of the 5G network
and create a separate, isolated and secure network that is tailored
to an application's needs.
Those tailored networks can supply the Defense Department's demand
for unique network requirements among its variety of platforms, he
In the past,
organizations have had to create purpose-built networks from scratch
for individual platforms or adhere to requirements for shared
networks like Link 16, he noted.
"5G is going to allow
us to pull that together and help us craft those different
resource services - the network for bandwidth, latency,
quality-of-service demands - per application," he said.
The Pentagon has
recognized the importance of 5G and its potential contributions to
electromagnetic spectrum operations.
In December 2020, the
department released a separate 5G strategy implementation plan that
outlined how it would accelerate its development - both for domestic
platforms and those of U.S. allies and partners.
Since the strategy's publication, the Pentagon has awarded contracts
for 5G testing and experimentation at 16 locations across the
country, according to a department press release.
Likewise, Congress authorized $120 million more than the Biden
administration's request for 5G technology development,
experimentation and transition support in the 2023 National
Defense Authorization Act.
The Defense Department will also be able to operate on the spectrum
globally by utilizing the 5G infrastructure of the United States and
its allies, according to the Pentagon's 5G strategy implementation
These could be private,
hybrid or public networks, the strategy noted.
For global operations that require using non-department spectrums,
the Pentagon plans to use 5G technologies,
"such as end-to-end
network slicing and adaptive techniques such as dynamic spectrum
utilization to enable DoD to achieve the capability necessary to
accomplish the mission," the strategy read.
Marine Corps Maj. Ben
Pimentel, communications officer and electronics engineer, said
the ability to conduct electromagnetic spectrum operations alongside
a host nation's normal network traffic gives them an upper hand
during "gray zone" missions before full-scale conflict operations.
During this window, Marines are looking to,
and thought for the adversary," he said at the symposium.
"Blending into normal
traffic can be really useful."
"Operating across host nation's 5G infrastructure, that we're
allies or partners with, it's going to put our traffic alongside
there," he added.
"If an adversary
wants to take actions against that, they're also going to be
taking actions against our ally's network - and potentially
harming their own communications."
However, the United
States and its allies aren't the only nations harnessing 5G for
As the spectrum becomes
more accessible across the world, adversaries such as China gain the
capability to exploit security vulnerabilities against the United
States, noted the Pentagon's 5G strategy.
"The complexity and
diversity of 5G networks offer a wide range of potentially
disruptive options to an adversary," it read.
The Pentagon could be at
risk of an adversary hacking the network or intentionally jamming
communications, it noted.
While operating 5G for electromagnetic spectrum operations has
security risks, the network itself is designed with security
measures built in at every layer, said Sheryl Genco, senior
advisor at global telecommunications company Ericsson.
As a developer of 5G
communications, the company works with the Defense Department and
commercial communications regulators.
"It's very analogous
to what is done on a base," she said during the discussion.
"First, you have your
perimeter defense. Then you have little rings [of] defense
around buildings... on the base. And then you have... security
And that's exactly
what the network has."
Furthermore, every layer
of defense in the 5G network is reinforced by a zero trust
architecture, she added.
framework requires all users and data to be authenticated and
approved after every digital interaction.
process... on every step of the way across the network is going
to make it more secure," Genco said.
"And then, on top of
it all, there's new concepts that can make your network or make
your end-to-end security more robust - one of those things is
But military adversaries
aren't the only entities on the electromagnetic spectrum that the
Defense Department needs to worry about.
The need for advanced communications technologies in the consumer
world has caused a growing demand for multiple frequency bands
previously reserved for federal agencies, the 2021 Congressional
Research Service report noted.
With more commercial
companies crowding into 5G, there is the possibility that they could
disrupt military operations, it read.
The Pentagon and commercial partners are looking into spectrum
sharing policies and technologies that will allow both the defense
and commercial sectors to share bands on the electromagnetic
spectrum without interference.
However, policymakers and stakeholders have been talking about
spectrum sharing for decades, trying to align the incentives of both
the commercial and federal sectors, Rondeau noted.
"We don't have the
same incentives, and we never will have the same incentives. I
don't think that that's the solution" he said.
"I would rather go at
it like, 'How do we actually make coexistence feasible? How do
we build technologies that can enable coexistence and overcome
some of these issues?'"
While multiple federal
and commercial agencies are still understanding what the policies
and standards for spectrum sharing should be, Pimentel emphasized
for spectrum sharing may alleviate some of that."
Even though 5G is still a
developing technology, the Pentagon and industry are already looking
forward to the future generations of communications - such as 6G or
FutureG - and their use cases for electromagnetic spectrum
Next-generation networks could lead to better integrated sensing and
communications, Pimental said.
As the need and
technology for 5G communications grows, so does the density and
deployment of advanced radio access networks that can allow
warfighters to sense their environment, he said.
"So, as opposed to
just thinking about it as a communication platform, from an EW
perspective I would encourage you to think of it as a sensing
platform," he said.
The Marine Corps is
developing capabilities that use 5G radio access networks to produce
radio frequency spectrum maps to give the service an idea of what's
happening on different frequencies at different locations, he said.
The capability could also help the Corps identify possible targets
or even mitigate interference on the spectrum,
"that now forms the
basis for an electronic support mission, which can inform the
electronic attack," he said.
Genco added that as
innovation continues, future generations of wireless communications
will build upon the technology of 5G while simultaneously opening up
new markets and businesses around the capability.
Next-generation wireless is the realization of the 5G promise, she
connectivity, everything can be connected. That's millions of
sensors in a kilometer squared - it just blows my mind."