What 5G Means to the Military

December 02, 2020

Published in Military & Aerospace Electronics
Written by John Keller

Emerging fifth-generation wireless communications — better-known as 5G — will be far more than quick-connect phone calls and fast movie downloads, particularly for the U.S. military. 5G, in fact, could make reality of what military leaders as far back as the 1980s referred to as the “infosphere,” where access to data from video, voice, sensors, targeting, reconnaissance, and even the sights on infantry weapons are easy and instantaneous for anyone who needs it.

5G holds the promise of ubiquitous high-speed data connectivity: vastly improved intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR); fast and secure command and control; more efficient logistics; swarming unmanned vehicles; and wide use of virtual reality and augmented reality for simulation, training, and mission rehearsal. The promise of 5G is for instant situational awareness anywhere on Earth, smart hypersonic weapons with re-targeting on-the-fly, rich access to mission-critical data on the leading edge of the battlefield, and unmanned aircraft that can fly safely alongside passenger aircraft in commercial airspace.

5G, however, will not come easily, quickly, or inexpensively. When compared to the overall 5G vision for the military, commercial interests, and for the consumer, the technology today is only in its infancy — despite the advertising we see on TV from cell phone providers. Bringing the 5G future to fruition will require time, much testing, experimentation, investment — and a whole lot more cell towers than we have today.


“Our customers are seeing the base stations for 5G that will operate at significantly higher speed,” says Mike Southworth, senior product manager at the Curtiss-Wright Corp. Defense Solutions division in Salt Lake City. “4G and 3G devices are there today, so 5G base stations should be able also to support 4G and 3G.”

Southworth says he envisions many new military applications that 5G throughput could provide. “Warfighters in an aircraft could use augmented-reality goggles to control drones launched off the aircraft; you are gaming, yet with an actual drone.”

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