Top DoD scientist to start prioritizing 5G in investments

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After more than a year of prioritizing hypersonic weapons, the Pentagon’s top scientist says the Defense Department is bringing 5G technologies up from the minor leagues for more investment.

Michael Griffin, defense undersecretary for research and development, said the increased interest in 5G comes from how ubiquitous the network is likely to be in the near future and how important it is that the United States be part of its development.

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“We are aware that commercial initiatives in telecommunications far outstrip anything that we can do and would want to do in DoD. We are struggling to become the flea on the tail of telecom’s dog,” Griffin said Tuesday at the Hudson Institute in Washington. “We have national security needs and to the extent that we can seed the competitive environment or encourage it to grow in areas that are relevant to us, we want to do that.”

Griffin said DoD already put Deputy Defense Undersecretary (R&E) Lisa Porter in charge of directing the 5G portfolio and the office is currently looking for an assistant director.

DoD will be putting its money where its mouth is as well. Griffin said the 2021 budget will have significant investments in 5G and that plan is now going to the Office of Management and Budget for approval.

“When we talk about 5G, we talk about greatly increased bandwidth,” Griffin said. “We talk about increased download speeds, we talk about an enormously expanded number of touchpoints where everything is connected to the net in one way or another. DoD has use cases for that, that just abound: smart ports, smart depots, smart factories. All of those things have commercial applications, but they absolutely have national security applications.”

Griffin added that if DoD can make its infrastructure available for experimentation and prototyping or it can provide venues to companies where local, state and regional permitting is not needed — because they are on a DoD base — then that could speed up 5G development.

5G is the next generation of wireless networks, which will be enmeshed with a multitude of hardware products.

DoD and the Department of Homeland Security are already concerned about foreign involvement in the network development and infrastructure. Chinese companies like Huawei and ZTE invested heavily in the creation of networks and microelectronics. The U.S. and other countries fear those companies will work as part of the Chinese state and enable spying through the system on their soil.

The United States already banned its companies from using Huawei networking equipment and ZTE electronic components.

“Use of 5G components manufactured by untrusted companies could expose U.S. entities to risks introduced by malicious software and hardware, counterfeit components, and component flaws caused by poor manufacturing processes and maintenance procedures,” a recent overview on 5G threats from DHS’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency states. “5G hardware, software, and services provided by untrusted entities could increase the risk of compromise to the confidentiality, integrity and availability of network assets.”

CISA’s overview says to mitigate 5G risks that the U.S. should encourage the development of trusted 5G technologies, services and products. It should also promote standards, ensure security and continue engagement with the private sector to decrease the risks.

Those recommendations sound very similar to the way Griffin wants DoD to invest in 5G.

In April, the Defense Innovation Board gave a series of recommendations to DoD on risks and opportunities for 5G.

The recommendations include preparing “to operate in a ‘post-Western’ wireless ecosystem.” They suggest R&D investments towards system security and resiliency on an engineering and strategic level.

Another recommendation suggests DoD should advocate for adjusted trade policies to discourage vulnerabilities in its supply chain on the grounds that they put national security assets and missions at risk.

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