5G to Propel New Military and Government Use Cases
Government and military investment in fifth-generation (5G) cellular continues to climb worldwide. Contracts already leverage 5G to improve inventory management and related tasks via an “Internet of Military Things” approach. Yet 5G is also set to advance or enable additional use cases in aerospace defense. From critical communications through non-terrestrial networks (NTN), autonomous driving, and even robotic surgery, 5G plans to vastly boost capabilities and performance for military and government users.
Current critical communications networks serve military, government, and public safety personnel with ad hoc communications to boost networks in emergencies and fill coverage holes. 5G cellular greatly extends those capabilities, allowing 5G network deployment on bases, in emergency scenarios, and on the battlefield. It also enables a broad variety of applications across military and government, as planes, ships, Humvees, and other vehicles will integrate 5G connectivity.
Critical communications use cases for 5G range from enhanced mobile broadband to ultra-reliable low-latency and massive machine-type communications, as well as increased security. Tactical networks could provide augmented / virtual reality in combat and combat training, battlefield telesurgery, tactical self-driving vehicles, ad hoc secure communications, and connected battlefield assets such as planes, ships, and missiles.
Those self-driving military vehicles will spawn their own opportunities and use cases. Outfitted with 5G for long-haul communications, aircraft, ships, Humvees, and other vehicles can use 5G to enable communications, high-data-rate video conferencing, and Internet of Things sensors. Eventually, these capabilities will evolve into self-driving or autonomous vehicles. The goal is to eliminate service members from some missions, although a hybrid approach will require someone on board to oversee vehicle performance.
Remote Surgery in Real Time
Robotic surgery also requires an expert overseeing operations – but this time, from afar. With robotic surgery, military doctors could quickly perform operations from a distance using robotic arms and cameras. Such surgery promises to raise recovery and survival rates in battlefield scenarios, given the ability to provide treatment sooner in the field. For such systems to succeed, however, these highly intelligent systems must work under various environmental conditions with no downtime.
The growing adoption of 5G networks paves the way for such connectivity by supporting high data transfer, approaching rates closer to real time. To enable doctors to perform robotic surgery remotely, however, 5G networks must eliminate the latency incurred in the relay of information. By promising ultra-reliable low-latency communications (URLCC) from space, 5G NTN can provide this level of reliability on a widespread, accessible basis.
5G NTN holds the promise of ubiquitous, or greater, cellular coverage. Using space-borne or airborne assets, 5G can enable service in areas otherwise without coverage. While URLCC targets remote applications like robotic surgery, it could eventually provide an alternative to terrestrial connectivity for essential services such as hospitals and emergency responders. Enabled by 5G, doctors can provide better care remotely anytime and anywhere.
The Road Ahead
The Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) develops the standards for 5G, with the 5G New Radio (NR) standard continuously evolving. Until now, base stations have been ground-based or terrestrial, but 3GPP ratified NTN as a feature in Release 17. Although challenges arise from the NTN standard being under development, researchers and developers are finding ways to research, prototype, or develop beginning with software modeling.
As the aerospace defense industry successfully moves toward NTN implementation, all of these use cases and capabilities will emerge or come closer to fruition. The critical nature of these use cases demands exceptional care in product design, manufacturing, and deployment. By taking a multistep approach to performance assurance, designers can ensure that their designs meet 5G’s promise for military and government applications.
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