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Take 5: 5G and the DoD

Part of the Take 5 on 5G article series

Kelly Marchese, Chris Bates, and Brian Greenberg, all leaders from Deloitte’s 5G, Edge Computing, and Internet of Things (IoT) team and Government and Public Services industry practice, share their perspectives and discuss five key questions around 5G in the defense market and 5G for the DoD.

1. What is the impact of 5G on the DoD?

Kelly Marchese: The defense sector sees 5G as the future and is already acting on it today. For the DoD, 5G will affect everything—at home on bases, throughout the supply chain and logistics network, and in the battlefield—providing more information visibility faster to drive productivity, realize cost savings, and make better decisions real-time. Not having 5G capabilities and being dependent upon or behind other countries will have a negative affect for defense (along with greater geopolitical and macroeconomic implications). These are the primary reasons why there’s so much investment being made in 5G by the DoD already.

Chris Bates: Supply chain and command and control are crucial to success on the battlefield; 5G provides revolutionary capabilities that leap-frog what’s available today on both fronts. Not only is 5G the strongest and most flexible communication standard we’ve ever had in communication networks, but 5G enables nearly everything to be connected, supporting the defense joint all-domain command and control (JADC2) strategy. Current networks can’t handle the volume of communications when “connected everything” becomes a reality. 5G with edge computing enables processing of the massive amounts of data collected from so many endpoint devices while delivering the low latency that’s needed to make real-time decisions on the battlefield.

2. What are the applications and use cases of 5G for the DoD?

Brian Greenberg: Many in the defense industry view applications of 5G falling into two big categories, stateside or in-garrison. Within those two categories, we see use cases fall into three buckets: real-time automation, augmentation, and machine-to-machine collaboration. With real-time automation, it’s about leveraging data to do things in an automated way. Augmentation is adding new information so that we can do things better and smarter. And machine-to-machine collaboration is exactly what it sounds like. There’s a lot more flexibility for machines to move around, not be tethered down, and travel where they’re needed to accomplish tasks.

Chris Bates: Let’s talk through one of many examples of the application of 5G for the DoD that also uses edge computing. Today, we might find out that a weapon system component has failed after the fact. We’d then need to determine if we have a replacement, whether it’s usable, and where it might be. With 5G, we can collect information to perform predictive maintenance and determine that the component needs replacement before the weapon system performs its next mission. We’ll have real-time data on precisely where the replacement part is, and we’ll also have confidence that the part is in usable condition. It doesn’t do us any good if our inventory shows 50 parts, but the entire lot is expired and unusable. When the part arrives, machines can move freely, and repairs on the weapon system can be performed on the spot versus moving the system to a specialized repair facility. This seamlessness is enabled by 5G and edge computing.

3. Who should be thinking about 5G in the DoD?

Kelly Marchese: Because this technology is, by design, all about connectivity, it means that nearly everyone within the defense sector is a stakeholder and should be thinking about 5G. While the design engineers and technical teams are certainly involved, other groups that focus on functions like cybersecurity, regulation and policy, training, process, acquisitions, communications, and finance have a critical role as well. How do you buy it? How do you pay for it? How do you plan for it? What are the long-term implications of implementation? These are all questions that a broader team will need to collectively answer to realize the benefits from 5G with the DoD.

Chris Bates: Another key stakeholder group outside of the defense sector that should be thinking about this is Silicon Valley. Many of the companies in Silicon Valley are technology manufacturers or venture capital firms working or investing in the sector, and there is a huge business opportunity with the 5G defense market. Defense leaders have expressed strong desire to lead the world in 5G technology applications for defense. However, getting leading-edge technology into federal government use is often a daunting task because of the volume of red tape to make that happen. The speed at which Silicon Valley works is much quicker than the 18 months it may take between solicitation of need and contract award by the government. Silicon Valley firms should be prepared for this extended time frame going into a 5G DoD effort to improve their chances of success. I firmly believe advanced technology firm participation in 5G DoD efforts will aid our national and economic security.

4. What challenges around 5G might the DoD face along the journey?

Kelly Marchese: The piece defense teams may struggle with is that the features of 5G and the use cases it enables are not going to stay static. For example, the smart warehouse three years from now will not look the same as what it does today. But it may take years for teams to begin moving into a production environment, especially if 5G experiments must go through a separate authorization to operate (ATO) later in the experiment. The ability to be agile and adapt to new applications will be a big challenge. Otherwise, by the time the defense application for 5G is ready to be rolled out, it may already be dated.

Brian Greenberg: Scaling 5G in the DoD may also be a challenge. How do you go from experiment to scale? Once the technology and its application to the defense sector has proven itself out, the operating model for scaling and broader implementation become front and center. Organizations will need to consider how this will be implemented in the day-to-day workflow—how decisions will be made, who will make the decisions, and how to factor things into existing processes or adjust those processes. Capabilities such as digital engineering, which can simulate future impacts of the application of 5G and other emerging technologies throughout the life cycle of a greater process, is something that can help organizations plan for scaling innovation. Training programs, communication campaigns, and modifications to existing network infrastructure and systems (including underlying security requirements) should all be considered and acted upon as well.

Another potential barrier to achieving scale is the ability to transition these experiments into programs of record. In many cases, the experiments will be completed faster than the planning, programming, budget, and execution (PPBE) cycle, making funding an issue. Adjustments to the PPBE cycle may need to be made to allow for overall greater agility as an organization.

5. What next steps should the DoD take with 5G?

Kelly Marchese: Our general philosophy around this is “think big, start small, scale fast.” The good news is that many teams are starting small and doing the prototyping already. It will be important to pull back and think about it in the most strategic way possible. When individual teams are looking at a singular use case, it may be very difficult to justify the ROI. Instead, the ROI should be looked at in a much broader way. In order to evaluate it at the broader level, you need to know what the ultimate measure of success is. That requires alignment across several different organizations and a “think big” vision.

Brian Greenberg: I would also say, consider the architecture and how best to move things forward balancing your existing infrastructure, planned investments, and, of course, scalability. Yes, you want to have the use case in mind as you think through the architecture, but you don’t want to build it solely for that single use case. Thinking bigger is necessary to evaluate the true, broader implications of 5G adoption, ranging from financial to workforce to mission performance. Defense organizations certainly will not have all the answers to this from the get-go, but they should factor into their requests to industry for support, technologies used, and asks of their servicemen and women. Some mistakes may occur, and solutions fail, but the resulting innovation will be worth it in the long run again.

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