Marine Corps Tests Out New 5G Equipment That Promises Faster Battlefield Communication

Phase 1 Initial Prototype 5G testbed variant for the Open Systems Interoperable and Reconfigurable Infrastructure Solution (OSIRIS)
Phase 1 Initial Prototype 5G testbed variant for the Open Systems Interoperable and Reconfigurable Infrastructure Solution (OSIRIS) (Lockheed Martin)

The Marine Corps received its first trailer- and vehicle-mounted 5G systems Thursday, marking the first step in the service's advancement toward what Lockheed Martin calls "near real-time" communication.

The devices, which included a trailer-mounted tower and all-terrain vehicle mobile relay system, were delivered to Camp Pendleton, California, and will be tested in the field as part of Lockheed Martin's rollout of its Open Systems Interoperable and Reconfigurable Infrastructure Solution, or OSIRIS, program.

For the Marine Corps, the communications network is meant to be used in contested expeditionary environments and appears to support the service's desire to "close kill chains" in austere conditions. In other words, the 5G systems are meant to make communications quicker to make combating the enemy more efficient.

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"The Lockheed Martin-led team, in close partnership with the U.S. Marine Corps, has proven that quickly evolving 5G commercial technology can be leveraged in near real-time to solve current and emergent mission challenges," Deon Viergutz, vice president of Lockheed Martin Spectrum Convergence, said in a press release Thursday.

Broadly, 5G is the fifth-generation broadband network and -- in addition to its burgeoning military applications -- provides connectivity for commercial uses like cell phone connections.

Lockheed said that the new technology would allow the Marine Corps to connect to 5G-ready devices, sensors and vehicles. That network can also be integrated into intelligence, command and information systems to exponentially reduce latency and increase communication speeds -- "minutes instead of hours" on the battlefield, Lockheed claims.

In its ambitious Force Design 2030 plan, the Marine Corps has made clear that it intends to expedite communication connections, to include its indirect fire control capabilities, logistics networks and integration into Navy systems.

The delivery is part of the Defense Department's shift toward 5G, an effort that is largely lagging behind China. While the Pentagon "holds large portions of the usable spectrum," according to a Congressional Research Service report from March, China is leading the proliferation of 5G technology.

Defense officials fear that, because Chinese companies are required to comply with their home country's intelligence laws, Beijing-produced 5G tech could provide a pathway for hacking and intelligence-gathering if it makes its way into U.S. ally or commercial hands.

"Other analysts have argued that having any Chinese equipment in the network could pose potential security concerns," the congressional report said. "Such concerns have prompted some analysts to argue that the United States should limit intelligence sharing with any country operating Chinese-supplied 5G equipment."

For example, Huawei -- a Chinese company with ties to the Chinese government that pose security concerns for U.S. officials looking to curtail the use of its products in America -- has already signed 5G network contracts with 30 countries.

Last year, President Joe Biden banned new Huawei sales in the U.S. The Pentagon has selected 11 other stateside installations to test the capability, including Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, and Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state.

The devices delivered Thursday are part of a nearly $20 million Lockheed contract from last February. Lockheed has also tested the 5G network in unmanned military systems like vehicles and drones.

-- Drew F. Lawrence can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @df_lawrence.

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