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Pentagon eyes commercial 5G network integration into tactical systems

A US Department of Defense rendering of the Integrated Tactical Communications Networks concept. (US Department of Defense )

The US Department of Defense (DOD) is exploring potential technologies that would enable the US Armed Forces to field advanced tactical networks integrated with commercially developed 5G communications networks, linked via air-based relay nodes.

The Beyond 5G Integrated Tactical Communication Networks programme is focused on leveraging device-to-device (D2D) or sidelink capabilities inherent in commercial and military 5G applications, to “offer multiple novel architectural options and system design opportunities”, for future tactical network systems, according to a request for solution (RFS) issued by the Pentagon.

DOD officials are poised to review and downselect industry prototype offerings for the programme by the end of June, according to the RFS issued on 25 May.

The critical capabilities being sought in the RFS include development of end-user network access to terrestrial and airborne communication infrastructures via “direct commercial 5G-enabled devices”, capable of receiving and transmitting internetwork data through 5G and non-5G radio interfaces across domains, programme officials said. On development of an airborne node element, department officials want to explore two variants of the capability.

The first variant will be an air tier-based 5G communications node that acts as a signal relay between ground-based end-user devices. The second variant will explore how this air asset can be integrated as part of a mobile, air-based gNodeB (gNB) system. A gNB platform is essentially the radio base station in 5G-based radio communication network that operates off of the NR radio interface.

In the commercial sector, these base stations or 5G NR nodes are commonly known as cell towers that connect mobile phones and other devices to 3G, 4G, and 5G networks.

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