Pentagon Adds Projects for 5G Experimentation
New projects seek smart warehouse and virtual reality tech.
The U.S. Defense Department has released two more draft requests for prototype proposals seeking fifth-generation (5G) wireless solutions. The newly announced projects are for smart warehousing and asset management for Naval Supply Systems Command and augmented reality and virtual reality at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington.
With the virtual reality effort, the Defense Department and the Army want to develop hardware and software to allow combat-like training in combat training locations enhanced by 5G communications technologies. The purpose is to demonstrate how 5G communications technologies can support realistic distributed training and develop fieldable equipment and systems to integrate these technologies into ongoing training operations, according to the announcement.
The purpose of the smart warehouse task is to support new radio wireless communications known as 5G-NR to improve processes and automation for warehouse operations that support warfighters. Smart warehouse technology may improve processes and increase the efficiency, accuracy and fidelity of logistic operations in support of warfighter readiness. The project will support a Warehouse Management System for order and inventory management capable of interfacing with the existing Navy Enterprise Resource Planning system.
Additionally, the warehouse management system will optimize warehouse operation for receipt, put-away, replenishment, pick, pack and ship operations. This project will leverage 5G networking in a Navy warehouse to “identify, test, validate and transition into operational use the 5G enabled warehouse and logistics improvements that improve the efficiency, accuracy, security and safety” of materiel and supply handling, management, storage and delivery or shipping.
The draft requests for prototype proposals, known as RPPs, are the latest in the Defense Department’s push for cutting-edge 5G technologies. Late last month department officials released two similar draft requests. Those tasks include another smart warehouse effort for the Marines and a dynamic spectrum sharing project for the Air Force, which will allow radar systems and cellphones to share electromagnetic spectrum.
For solutions the Defense Department is relying on the National Spectrum Consortium (NSC), which is funded by the Office of the Secretary of Defense through an other transaction authority contract. Such contracts allow for rapid prototyping, development and deployment of advanced systems. To compete for any of the projects, companies or organizations must first be members of the NSC.
The United States is widely viewed as falling behind China in the world of 5G, and the government, including the Department of Defense (DOD), is pushing to gain ground on potential adversaries. Dominating 5G will reap rewards for the economy and for warfighters, since it will enable a wide range of capabilities, including smart cities and autonomous vehicles. “These are certainly important projects to help move DOD forward in understanding what 5G technology is about and how 5G technology can improve the way the department operates in any number of ways in the future,” says Howard Watson, NSC vice chairman. “These, I think represent a commitment by the department to move forward and start to understand how new technologies can be applied to make DOD more proficient.”
Watson adds that much more is at stake than just improved cellphone coverage. “This is not just about cellphones and greater coverage and taking coverage to underserved areas and all of that—which is obviously very important for the economic engine of the country. It’s also about how these technologies can be applied in ways that maybe are unique or certainly less in people’s mind.”
Vice Adm. Joseph Dyer, USN (Ret.), NSC chief strategy officer, agrees, saying it is all about developing a new wireless architecture. “It’s not just a new wrinkle. It’s a new architecture that is, in the case of 5G, tremendously more capable in terms of what it will carry into the future.”
NSC officials emphasize that the projects are designed to develop technologies that can be used for both defense and commercial purposes. Smart city technologies, for example, also can enable smart military bases. “Our world today, especially with China, is both of those together—defense and economic competition. In the case of China, they’re integrated,” notes Adm. Dyer. “One of the neat things about the work the consortium is doing is to attend to both the commercial advance of technology as well as defense use.”
Information gathered from responses to the draft RPPs will potentially be used to fine tune language in the final RPPs to be released in the coming weeks or months.
“The beauty of the other transaction model and using the National Spectrum Consortium allows for a great amount of collaboration up front, an exchange of information between the government and industry to get the best of what’s possible,” Watson says.