Why 5G is a game-changer technology for Australia’s defence and national security

The imminent arrival of 5G networks provides the defence and national-security sectors with the opportunity to adopt scaled force-mobility solutions well beyond the relatively simple person-to-person communications of previous network generations.

Every part of the Defence Force will be in touch 24/7 and information will be analysed, and insights delivered, within milliseconds, speeding up decision-making and giving leaders far greater understanding of situations.

5G can be connected to devices, installed asset-management systems, computers, phones and tablets, and networked to central management systems. It has the potential to radically improve base-level and distributed-operations today.

Many defence organisations are investing heavily in acquiring “fifth-generation” platforms (currently the most modern), such as the F35 Joint Strike Fighter and the P8 Poseidon surveillance planes.  These are hugely capable platforms, but their effectiveness is constrained if their connective tissue is based on second or third-generation “tin and string”.  Getting inside the adversaries’ decision cycle has never been more important and that requires a very near real-time capability for the “common operating picture” and decision support.

5G networks might well provide an opportunity for the Defence Department to embrace this challenge through digital thinking and models in a quite different way to that which has been available until now. 5G is not just the next evolutionary step in mobility (building on the 2G, 3G and 4G networks which have been largely consumer-led in their application), it represents a truly revolutionary leap forward for two reasons:

  • Its speed is already a factor of 10:1 greater than 4G and the physics suggests it can get to 20 gigabits per second, whilst its latency is less than 1 millisecond compared with around 100ms for 4G if jitter is included, and;
  • The fact that it will be led by enterprises not consumers.

5G supports a million active connections in every square kilometre, which means that sensors can be deployed ubiquitously and, importantly, securely.  It provides the opportunity to link all Defence Force equipment and capabilities to relevant commanders, logistics specialists and planners.  The huge bandwidth can also support augmented intelligence with little to no impact on workloads and this will enable a much nearer real-time common operating picture.

To buy into this revolution Defence must be convinced that it can be delivered securely without the risk of malicious code being injected into sensors that could potentially not only intercommunicate but also make decisions independent of humans. This can be achieved through the network-slicing capabilities of 5G, which will allow multi-level secure access within the same bandwidth, with different levels of encryption within each “slice’’.

Defence organisations should be planning now how they intend to exploit these capabilities.  It is perfectly possible to envisage drones providing a 5G envelope for a mobile army brigade for instance – it is likely that this would only require three or four properly equipped drones along with several other decoy drones.  Another possibility is the linking of real-world field training with the synthetic environment to provide more holistic and realistic training at lower cost.  The advantages for first-movers will be significant.

These are two significant near-term applications:

Equipment monitors. Today we could apply 5G to monitor vehicles in the Defence Force inventory to be automatically checked every 20 seconds for their location, fuel and lubricant, ammunition and rations, as well as for vital signs of all on board. This will allow better planning for petrol, oil and lubricants, ammunition and ration holdings. The potential is that Defence could radically change the role of supporting elements of the supply chain and change the roles from manual data collection to applying judgement to the data.

Data Management. Secure 5G will enable Defence to effectively adopt mobile data centres at the edge, rather than centrally collected and managed. This will enable sophisticated search of distributed data in near real time, without having the constraints and security vulnerabilities of an operating system. Authorised users can go right to the data source, allowing them to see trends, performance data and systemic indicators that just wouldn’t have been visible previously.

This article was first published in the Weekend Australian.

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One thought on “Why 5G is a game-changer technology for Australia’s defence and national security

  1. Very interesting article, Peter. When you say “Defence must be convinced that it can be delivered securely without the risk of malicious code being injected into the sensors”, I gather that confidence would also need to extend through to the cellular network infrastructure ? (reflecting on some of the media/political commentary over the security concern of Huawei 5G infrastructure)

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