On Oct. 8, 2020, the U.S. Air Force Warfare Center announced the award of a Department of Defense contract to build the 5G network infrastructure and support services necessary to establish a dual-use, military and commercial network on Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada and the Nevada Test and Training Range as directed in the fiscal 2020 National Defense Authorization Act.
Nellis was one of the first five DOD bases named to host the new 5G technology provided by industry partner AT&T, and the only base specifically tasked to identify warfighting use cases for 5G.
The implementation of the Nellis and NTTR 5G network will further the development of 5G communications technology aimed to provide advancements in multiple capacities, including speed, connectivity and reduced latency.
“As the Air Force’s home for Operational Test, Tactics Development, and Advanced Training, Nellis and the NTTR are the perfect locations to build a 5G range and determine how best to utilize this nascent technology to further the capabilities of our joint, interagency, and international partner warfighting teams,” said Maj. Gen. Charles Corcoran, USAFWC commander.
The three-year contract, valued at $22 million, will result in an evolutionary network for true warfighter usage, experimentation and validation, said Col. Mike Driscoll, USAFWC Director of Future Operations.
The first objective is to utilize the increased bandwidth of the 5G network to disaggregate and mobilize existing Command and Control (C2) architectures in an agile combat employment scenario.
Driscoll emphasized that 5G is not a battle management and C2 replacement. Rather, 5G should provide improved connectivity between sensors and C2 nodes across the battlespace, providing more resiliency for the coalition network and creating additional dilemmas for adversaries.
“This initiative nests perfectly in the Air Force’s Advanced Battle Management System architecture, as well as the larger Joint All Domain C2 construct being developed by the joint force,” added Corcoran. “We must share data among decision makers at the speed of relevance. 5G is one more tool in our toolkit, and we must figure out how to use it to our advantage.”
The 36-month project will begin with a fixed network at Nellis and transition to a mobile network. In its final stages, the project will expand to the NTTR, Driscoll continued.
“Our current ground-based C2 entities are extremely capable, but not very mobile,” said Driscoll. “We share information via fixed communications infrastructure. Additionally, our aging airborne platforms have limited operating capability and are vulnerable to advanced adversary threats.”
Ultimately, the goal is to utilize 5G technology to bridge the gap between legacy, fixed-site C2 entities and the future, which must be mobile, possess high-bandwidth and make it difficult for adversaries to target friendly C2 entities.
With 5G infrastructure on the cusp of implementation, Nellis AFB and the NTTR remain the Air Force’s preeminent leaders in transitioning technological advancements to fielded capabilities that enable joint and allied warfighters to compete, deter, and ultimately win in any high-end fight.