Base operations

centre floor where everyone has a screen showing a common operating picture,” Driscoll says. “But everyone can walk away with their own iPad linked into the core network.” It’s part of the US military’s larger Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2) project, which aims to connect sensors from all military services into a single network, enabling faster decisions while degrading the enemy’s decision-making capabilities.

As Bryan Clark, a senior fellow and director of the Center for Defense Concepts and Technology at the Hudson Institute – a think tank dedicated to analysis of economic, security and political issues – explains: “Part of that is pushing decision making out to the edge, which means field commanders getting more responsibility. They get the information in real time and can decide faster what needs to happen, rather than everything going to a senior commander in a distant headquarters. It also creates more unpredictability for the enemy because these individual commanders can have a wide range of creative solutions, whereas your distant headquarters might be limited in how creative they can be.”

A playground for experimentation The staff at Nellis Air Base are no strangers to trial and error. Covering 4,500 square miles of land and 5,000 square miles of air space, the base is home to every type of military aircraft you can imagine and hosts the annual ‘Red Flag’ event, where all units come home for one of the USAF’s largest combat training exercises. “It’s basically a big playground for experimentation,” says Driscoll. The three-year 5G project is currently in phase one. The team has built a core system, to which they have connected COLT light tactical vehicles with 5G antennas attached to them. “Right now, they’re connected by fibre so they’re not mobile yet, but phase two is to disconnect that fibre and work with contractors to develop software and applications to use out in the field, so the COLTs can go about the base and continue to communicate wirelessly over 5G via these applications,” he explains. Ultimately, the USAF’s entire command and control infrastructure will be applications-based, just like the iPhone we’re speaking on. To illustrate his point, Driscoll refers back to his F-16. “When I’m flying and there’s something wrong with my aircraft, I get on the radio and relay that to my squadron operations. I then land, talk to maintenance, tell them the problem, they troubleshoot it and down the road, they may have to order a part,” he says. “That takes time and it’s a slow process.”

More modern aircraft like the F-35 already have an automatic logistics system. They self-diagnose and send that data directly to the squadron and maintenance, so the part is ordered automatically. With an advanced 5G network, this data could be passed through to a central cloud even if the F-35 lands off-base.

Or say that F-35 was fighting in enemy territory and was targeted by an enemy radar. “The F-35 would collect all the data being used against it and send that to a cloud, where it would be analysed. By the time the F-35 lands, it would be reprogrammed with new data and software to better fight against that enemy radar,” Driscoll explains.

“The phone you tried to call me on earlier is plugged in with a wire, but on my iPhone, even though it’s five years old, everything is applications based. Right now, I can’t take my F-16 and download new software; I’d have to replace components. But in the future, we could use a combination of 5G with applications- based software in jets and then rapidly change and reprogramme radars and jamming pods depending on the data they receive.”

“They get the information in real time and can decide faster what needs to happen, rather than everything going to a senior commander in a distant headquarters.”

Bryan Clark Decision support tools

Driscoll is envisioning examples of the decision-support tools Clark is working with the military to put in place. “We’re going to be pushing decision authority down to lower levels and also giving them a lot more stuff to use – more electronic warfare systems, weapons and unmanned vehicles,” he says. “With the work we’ve done so far for the DoD, we’ve seen that junior leaders get overwhelmed with the pace of decision making they have to do on their own without staff or a headquarters, so we have to give them decision-support tools to allow them to determine the courses of action that are most beneficial.” 5G architecture can help provide that support, quickly. “If you have a bunch of people using their

Defence & Security Systems International /

5,000 4,500

Square miles of land covered by Nellis Air Force Base.

US Air Force 27

Air Traffic controllers monitor the runway during Red Flag 21-1 at Nellis Air Force Base.

Square miles of air space covered by Nellis Air Force Base.

US Air Force

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