Base operations

Four F-35A Lightning IIs assigned to the 34th Fighter Squadron, Hill Air Force Base, Utah, at Red Flag 17-1.

cell phones out in the middle of nowhere and they’re using today’s cell phone network, they have to go all the way back to some server that the company runs and then all the way back out. There’s this huge latency because it takes seconds or minutes to get all that communication done,” Clark explains.

“We need a security apparatus, a network that is all encompassing between the DoD and our allied partners, and we struggle with that today – even with basic command and control among platforms within the USAF.”

Colonel Mike Driscoll

Whereas if the processing is done out at that edge, it simply has to go to the 5G tower and then immediately to the other mission participants. For example, a junior commander with a 5G phone could use a 5G network to talk to all the troops and unmanned vehicles in the field and the server can immediately provide them with decision support, showing where everybody is, what their fuel status is, what weapons they have and how much ammunition they’ve got.

“All this stuff can be communicated in real time to the commander without anything going back to a core network and back to headquarters, which is important because those communications could be cut off,” Clark says. “You just need the 5G infrastructure and then you can programme it with the applications you want to programme it with.”

Doing things by the book

Of course, getting to this point is far from simple. On top of security issues, there are huge questions around how these 5G-enabled applications-based


systems can be integrated not only with all USAF platforms – an F-16 talking to an F-22, for example – but with Navy and Army platforms and the US military’s allied partners. “We need a security apparatus, a network that is all encompassing between the DoD and our allied partners, and we struggle with that today – even with basic command and control among platforms within the USAF,” Driscoll acknowledges. “Boeing might build one plane and Lockheed will build another, and the two systems aren’t compatible. The five-year experiment we’re working on is to test all these applications, pick one and move forward or ensure that, if we pick more than one, they all work together.” Changing the way the military communicates will also mean changes to its TTPs – tactics, techniques and procedures. “Everything in the military is by regulation or by a handbook,” Driscoll stresses. “So we need to figure out among all the echelons of leadership, not only how are we going to put this together but what’s our means of using it, our standards.” There may also be significantly less manpower needed in structures like the 607th Air Operations Center. “With one person having access to all of this information, we could then skinny down the numbers required within the building. We need to figure out how many people we will actually need,” Driscoll says. In the longer term, the hope is that the systems Driscoll and Clark describe will be interfaced with artificial intelligence technology, allowing applications to make autonomous decisions. Clark is also working with the DoD to explore whether using what will ultimately be a ubiquitous infrastructure – 5G networks – will allow the US military to hide in plain sight. It’s all in pursuit of the overarching JADC2 goal: to move faster than their adversaries. In the meantime, Driscoll laughs, it may be time to get an upgrade on his iPhone. ●

Defence & Security Systems International /

US Air Force

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