New Air-Ops Software to Get 5G Test Outside Las Vegas

An attendee holds a Galaxy Fold 5G phone at the Samsung booth during the CES tech show, Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2020, in Las Vegas.

(AP Photo/John Locher)

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An attendee holds a Galaxy Fold 5G phone at the Samsung booth during the CES tech show, Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2020, in Las Vegas.

The Air Force will build a 5G network at Nellis AFB, the latest U.S. base to host experiments with the next-gen comms gear.

The U.S. Air Force aims to start testing prototype air-operations software over a new 5G network early next year at Nellis Air Force Base, one of several military facilities where the next-generation mobile communications gear is being tried out.

Construction on the network is to begin in July; testing in January. Officials at Nellis will be looking for software to “support distributed planning and mission-execution functions” for Air Wing Operations Centers under what they call a “variety of 5G network conditions.” 

The U.S. military is already experimenting with 5G elsewhere for applications such as smart warehouses, augmented reality training, and sharing portions of the electromagnetic spectrum with civilian networks.

”The Defense Department recognizes 5G technology is vital to maintaining America’s military and economic advantages,” Joseph Evans, DOD’s technical director for 5G, said in a press release

The United States is engaged in tense discussions with allies about how much 5G telecommunications equipment from China those allies will allow in their markets and under what circumstances. On May 24, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a vague threat — quickly papered over by other American officials — that the United States might “disconnect” from information-sharing agreements with Five Eyes partners over the issue. 

Military leaders and cybersecurity experts have pointed out that 5G gear from Chinese telecom maker Huawei is fundamentally insecure and could allow the Chinese government or other attackers to steal valuable information. 

But the military is also moving forward with experiments to make sure that it can transfer data over 5G networks safely, no matter who built the underlying hardware. 

“We have to assume that the entire electromagnetic supply chain could be compromised. We can’t trust hardware, at all. So now we have to say, how do we protect data in transit over untrusted hardware globally over an IP modality, anywhere?” Randolph Clark, vice chairman of the National Spectrum Consortium industry group, said in April. 

The Consortium is working with the Pentagon on some of its 5G experiments. Among them is red-teaming to test methods for safely transferring data over 5G networks even when those networks aren’t trusted, or when there is “zero trust” in the hardware, Clark said.

“There will be innovation that happens in zero-trust to protect that data in transit over untrusted hardware,” during the experiments, he said. “That gives us a short-, mid-, and potentially long-term mitigation tactic, not having to worry about the supply chain…bringing a resolution to the supply chain issue short term.”

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