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Viasat to test 5G networking for Marine Corps operations

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WASHINGTON — Viasat, a California-based communications company, will experiment with 5G to support U.S. Marine Corps operations and broader command-and-control applications after securing a research award from the Department of Defense.

Over four years, Viasat will explore how 5G networking and related technologies can come together to support what are known as expeditionary advanced base operations, or EABO, including needs for long-range precision fires, refueling, rearming, surveillance and reconnaissance, according to a June 15 announcement.

Viasat, which furnishes satellite and networking capabilities, among other goods, to the U.S. military, won the deal through the Information Warfare Research Project, a consortium that connects industry and academia to develop tech for Navy and Marine Corps missions. It’s the third such award the company won as part of the Pentagon’s $600 million 5G research initiative.

The “phase 1 awards” for Viasat’s 5G research are worth around $10 million with “subsequent phases for each project to be added on,” a Viasat spokesperson said June 16. No location for the research was disclosed.

The Marine Corps plans to conduct expeditionary advanced base operations in the near future, both for offensive and defensive reasons.

Offensively, small units dispersed widely across a vast area like the South China Sea could scatter a range of sensors throughout, allowing the larger joint force a look inside. They could also ferry weapons closer to an adversary and act on targeting data faster or in more innovative ways — immobilizing an enemy ship instead of sinking it, for example.

Defensively, small and scattered units blend in easier with local shipping traffic and topography, making it harder for an enemy to find, target and hit them.

The command and control side of EABO remains its biggest barrier to implementation; the operations would strain an already clogged bandwidth for Navy and Marine Corps forces operating forward.

Marines will accumulate tons of video, images, data tracks and more, and they will need to get that information to the right decision-makers. Similarly, one of the units may be the best-placed shooter, but targeting information may come from elsewhere, meaning they need to receive data in real time to be effective.

Viasat Government Systems President Craig Miller in a statement said he and his team “see the significant potential for 5G to enhance the warfighter’s ability to produce, consume and make sense of mission critical data” when and where it’s most needed.

“The ability to swiftly move information and data across the battlespace is essential to the multi-domain and joint-force operations needs of the future,” Miller said. “The addition of 5G bandwidth and network management capabilities will support C2 for specific missions and greater visibility across highly dispersed forces in EABO and littoral operations in contested environments.”

Michael Galbraith, the Navy’s chief digital innovation officer, in April called 5G a “great enabler” of future operations, whether that’s aboard a ship on the open ocean, sitting pier-side or inside a warehouse juggling logistics.

Fifth-generation, or 5G, wireless technology promises faster speeds, lower latency and other improvements compared with its predecessors. The Defense Department in a 2020 implementation plan hailed 5G as a critical technology, one that will afford long-term economic and military advantages to the nations that master it.

The Pentagon received nearly $338 million for 5G and microelectronics in fiscal 2022. The department requested $250 million for fiscal 2023.

Colin Demarest is a reporter at C4ISRNET, where he covers military networks, cyber and IT. Colin previously covered the Department of Energy and its NNSA — namely Cold War cleanup and nuclear weapons development — for a daily newspaper in South Carolina. Colin is also an award-winning photographer.

Megan Eckstein is the naval warfare reporter at Defense News. She has covered military news since 2009, with a focus on U.S. Navy and Marine Corps operations, acquisition programs, and budgets. She has reported from four geographic fleets and is happiest when she’s filing stories from a ship. Megan is a University of Maryland alumna.

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