SAN ANTONIO, Texas — What was once science fiction is slowly becoming reality as the Department of Defense pushes the boundaries to create smart bases across America. The ongoing efforts accelerate operational capabilities for the warfighter by providing fast and secure communication.
These smart bases are part of the Army’s modernization efforts that provide Soldiers with equipment and data systems while simultaneously testing, upgrading and fielding multi-domain technologies. Smart bases are part of a three-year experiment that will test the capabilities of 5th Generation Cell on Light Truck (5G CoLT).
As part of this experiment, the U.S. Army North’s General Staff Level office for Signal and Communication (G6) staff along with Joint Base San Antonio’s 5G Program Management Office staff trained for a week to learn the ins-and-outs of the 5G CoLTs, from June 21-25, 2021.
“This training is putting us in the forefront to be able to take advantage of the technology right away,” said Dr. Clarence Huff, the 5G JBSA PMO’s principle system engineer. “The mission that U.S. Army North has is really important to be ahead of the curve, opposed to waiting for the technology to arrive and then getting it.”
This experiment is the first of its kind, as it will allow for a mobile 5G deployable system within the Department of Defense and has been sanctioned by the Undersecretary of Defense, explained Huff.
“As part of the experiment, the operators are learning how to operate, configure, troubleshoot, and pull the CoLTs into operation,” said Luis Caban, U.S. Army North’s G6 Deputy Chief Information Officer.
In planning for this experiment, U.S. Army North’s staff originally proposed a study of how to utilize 5G technology as a transport to send classified and encrypted data from one point to another without needing costly and legacy infrastructure. As the experiment protocols developed, U.S. Army North’s team has gone beyond the initial scope.
“For ARNORTH, it’s imperative that we are able to provide that capability in support of both command and control or mission command, especially when we’re either in a Defense Support of Civil Authorities (DSCA) or in a homeland defense event,” explained Caban, a Garnerville, New York native. “This technology allows commanders to talk securely and efficiently.”
When referring to 5G technology today, most look at it as a way to download faster or continuously stream their favorite entertainment. However, this technology is just the beginning of capabilities that will put modern technologies into the hands of Soldiers faster.
“After any type of disaster, communication is usually the first thing that is lost,” explained Huff, a Jacksonville, Mississippi native. “For instance, let’s say there are fires in California, Oregon or other places and they’ve lost communication in multiple ways such as lost overhead signal because of smoke, or lose regular voice communication capabilities. With this mobile capability, there is an ability to go into an area and set up a bubble that will allow emergency and government agencies to communicate continuously despite the loss of organic communication capabilities.”
Mobility is just one of many benefits of these 5G CoLTS, the sheer speed of 5G alone enhances training and readiness for service members across all branches.
“Currently, if you have 4G or LTE, the Wi-Fi speed is somewhere between maybe 20 to 40 megabytes of upload or download speed per second,” said Huff. “With this equipment using microwave technology, you can have one gigabyte per second.”
As this experiment continues over the next three years, these smart bases will integrate new warfighting technologies. For U.S. Army North specifically, this exercise will enhance training capabilities and conducting multi-domain exercises.
“This is an exciting time to be alive. I grew up in a time where I read comics like Dick Tracey, and now I’m living that life here,” said Huff. “The future is very bright!”