DoD 5G: What's the Deal?
$600m has been awarded to private firms to conduct 5G experiments and tests at five military bases, the US Department of Defense (US DoD) announced on Thursday.
The bases - Join Base Lewis-McChord in Washington, Hill Air Force Base in Utah, Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas, Nevada, Marine Corps Logistics Base in Albany, Georgia and Naval Base in San Diego, California - were selected based on current infrastructure as well as new network requirements, the DoD said.
— Department of Defense 🇺🇸 (@DeptofDefense) October 8, 2020
Partners for the project include GBL System Corp, AT&T, Booz-Allen Hamilton, GE Research, Vectrus Mission Solutions Corporation, Deloitte Consulting LLP, Federated Wireless, KPMG LLP, Scientific Research Corp, Nokia, Ericsson, General Dynamics Mission Systems, Key Bridge Wireless LLC, and Shared Spectrum company.
Samsung will be one of the main suppliers of mid-band 5G spectrum for GBL System Corp, it was revealed.
"Through these test sites, the Department is leveraging its unique authorities to pursue bold innovation at a scale and scope unmatched anywhere else in the world. Importantly, today’s announcement demonstrates the Department’s commitment to exploring the vast potential applications and dual-use opportunities that can be built upon next-generation networks,” Michael Kratsios, acting undersecretary of defense for research and engineering said in a statement.
Firms involved in the project will provide testbeds for 5G mid-band spectrum, protocols for reducing spectrum cross-interference as well as deploy numerous emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, automated smart warehouses, unmanned autonomous vehicles (UAVs), among many others.
The awards come amid a major tech war between Washington and Beijing, leading to a buildup in cyberwarfare capabilities as well as new technologies aimed at transforming modern warfare with the help of domestic telcos.
Why is the Deal Significant?
The deal is said to modernise US defence programmes and boost "national and economic security", allowing the military increased cyber capabilities as set in the Department of Defense 5G Strategy, according to the DoD.
Collusion between the US public and private sectors has reportedly escalated in recent months, namely after the Trump administration announced in August it would auction hundreds of megahertz of military mid-band 5G spectrum late next year to private telcos such as Verizon Communications and AT&T, among others.
Telco profits could receive a major boost in the defence sector amid problems in deploying civilian 5G networks due to COVID-19, which caused a 5.3 percent year-on-year drop in telco sales and forced cost-cutting measures.
Despite this, several Chinese firms such as Huawei Technologies have been routinely accused of having 'close ties' to the Chinese Communist Party and military, without Washington providing evidence.
5G: Cold Digital War Between Powers Sparks 'Digital Space Race'
Washington outlined concerns in a September report, stating the need to counter Beijing's expanding influence via its Digital Silk Road Initiative and military ambitions, sparking a major tech race between Washington and Beijing.
The Digital Silk Road is the IT wing of China's Belt and Road Initiative and aims to advance emerging technologies such as satellite navigation systems, AI and quantum computing to avoid 'digital divides' in cross-border trade.
Chinese president Xi Jinping called on the People's Liberation Army (PLA) in 2017 to become a "world-class" military by late 2049, namely to fight "informatized wars" with big data, Internet of Things (IoT), AI, and cloud computing, the report added.
But the PLA's official media also urged Beijing to boost its mainland tech capacities, adding the military field would demand "most innovative spirit” and that “only the innovators can win military confrontations".
Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corp (SMIC) will also join China Europe Capital's $736.3m "domestic replacement" fund to support national chipmakers, AI, and 5G firms in a bid to reduce reliance on US chipmakers.
The rivalry between the two nations skyrocketed amid the ongoing US trade war on China, which blacklisted dozens of Chinese tech companies, including Huawei, ZTE and potentially SMIC and restricted access to key US technologies as well as blocked business transactions without a licence.
US officials also announced intentions to join an anti-Beijing Global Partnership on AI as well as D10 alliance of self-proclaimed democracies, including G7 nations plus Australia, South Korea and India. Further plans to join an alliance with the United Kingdom were announced in late September in a bid to counter a 'repressive' China.