Tag Archives: Government Procurement

A Pentagon Procurement Program That Seems Doomed to Fail

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Image: “Greycampus.com

REAL CLEAR DEFENSE

The Pentagon spends more money on federal contracts and relies more on private contractors to provide necessary support than all other U.S. government agencies combined.

With a potential ceiling of almost $8 billion dollars, the NGEN-R is one of the largest non-hardware contracts ever awarded. The problem with massive, long-duration IT contracts is that the pace of technological change often makes them out-of-date almost from the start.

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“The primary objective of the contract is to manage, modernize and eventually merge several massive Navy and Marine Corps networks that collectively encompass some 400,000 computers and 800,000 users at 2,500 locations. NGEN-R will provide secure data and information technology services such as data storage, email, cloud services, and video teleconferencing for Navy and Marine Corps ships and locations around the world.

As if this were not in itself a major undertaking, the Navy acquisition bureaucracy decided to make the effort even more challenging. First, it decided to split what had been for twenty years a single contract into two: a smaller hardware-centric section, and a larger one focused on services and support. Second, the Navy chose to assume the responsibility for overall management of the two contracts. Third, it awarded the services contract to Leidos, a company with no prior experience in providing support to major Navy/Marine Corps networks. Fourth, the new contract sets an extremely aggressive schedule for transferring responsibility for multiple networks from the existing contractors, who have some 30 years of experience in this field.

The NGEN-R award repeats an often-seen pattern in defense acquisitions, particularly those involving IT services and support contracts. The acquisition bureaucracy isn’t satisfied with incremental advancements; it wants to preside over “transformational change.” As a consequence, it dispenses with experienced contractors and tried-and-true approaches in favor of modernizing complex networks. This same bureaucracy buys into the new contractor’s promises that it can effortlessly take over for its predecessors, and then simultaneously integrate and modernize the Navy’s networks—all while lowering costs. We’ve seen this movie many times before and it never ends well.

When an IT network procurement goes wrong, a lot of bad things can happen. The most immediate impacts will be slow responses to individual needs and major events alike. In the former case, this results in increased dissatisfaction and frustration; in the latter case, missions are endangered when Sailors and Marines can’t get data or effectively communicate. Furthermore, it’s less than helpful when the “green” service desk team—the place where one goes for IT support—is struggling to understand how things work. Compounding this demand for IT help is the age of the technology, as refresh cycles for replacement laptops and PCs were likely put on hold until the new team was firmly in place. In the longer term, the Navy risks backsliding on everything it has accomplished over the last 20 years to consolidate its networks, standardize its technology and rein in IT spending. 

Were these normal times, the Navy and its new contractor might have the time and resources to weather the inevitable delays, service interruptions, and cost increases that will result from the acquisition bureaucracy’s desire to have the new contractors do it faster, better and cheaper. However, these are extraordinary times. We are in a crisis in which clear communications and a reliable network are much more important than they were when the contract was awarded. Like everyone else in the world, the Department of the Navy faced a massive challenge in getting several hundred thousand Sailors, Marines and civilians set up to telework and unlike a business, the important mission—protecting the United States—did not stop to wait for the IT to catch up with this radical change. The Navy’s networks have had to be reconfigured in real time while adding new nodes (such as two hospital ships deployed to support New York and Los Angeles’ health systems) and ensuring that both the Navy’s networks and connections to medical networks across the country are viable and secure.

There are already signs that the NGEN-R contract is heading for difficult times. The most notable was the early talk by the winning bidder about changing the solution that they proposed. In a recent interview, Gerry Fasano, head of Leidos’s Defense Group, acknowledged that the network “has continued to evolve, and so we’ll update ourselves from what we proposed and then worked through our transition plans.” Read this to mean: get ready for lots of change orders as the company attempts to make good on all its commitments.

In late April, the Department of the Navy’s Chief Information Officer, Aaron Weis, said in an interview that the Navy has been looking to “jumpstart” modernization—which is the right thinking—but expressed concern that the recently-awarded NGEN contract was the best path forward: “One of the first things we really talked about was do we stop NGEN-R and reset it given what we thought we needed to do. The reality is, given the acquisition timeframes, it probably would’ve set us back another year.” In hindsight, that would not have been a high price to pay.

The Navy’s plan to modernize its IT networks is likely to be dead in the water for an extended period while the NGEN contract transitions and networks struggle to deal with the new reality of communications in the era of COVID-19. While the acquisitions folks won’t feel a bit of pain, the Sailors and Marines and the state and local communities they are trying to help certainly will.

The NGEN-R award is currently in protest. But whatever the outcome, the Navy should take the opportunity to reconsider its rush towards an unpredictable future. The Navy needs a different approach, one that doesn’t put its networks and thus its pandemic response at risk, much less the security of the Nation and tens of thousands of Sailors and Marines. It would be wise for the Navy to suspend the NGEN-R contract and pursue a new competition.”

https://www.realcleardefense.com/articles/2020/05/16/a_pentagon_procurement_program_that_seems_doomed_to_fail_115296.html

GSA “Lessons Learned” In Rocky FedBizOpps to SAM Conversion

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Image: GSA
Image: cygnetise.com

FCW

“The General Services Administration learned some important lessons about modernizing critical back office contracting systems during the rough transition of contracting opportunity data from FedBizOpps to Beta SAM.

“We learned we needed to help the community come along with us,” in moving legacy contracting and grant management systems to GSA’s beta.SAM.gov system” – Judith Zawatsky, assistant commissioner of GSA’s Office of Systems Management Federal Acquisition Service.”

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“There were frustrations that kept me up at night” after FBO was moved, said Vicky Niblett, deputy assistant commissioner of GSA’s Office of the Integrated Award Environment during the webinar. “What comforted me was that all the contracting data had migrated perfectly,” meaning what users were searching for, was there. Users had to become more familiar with the system and GSA could use their feedback to tweak the capabilities, according to Zawatsky and Niblett.

The agency responded to user demands for a return of email notifications of contract opportunities, pushing the release of the capability to the head of the agile development line, said Niblett. “Users said loudly that was extremely important. We prioritized and pushed it out sooner than planned.”

“The challenge with some legacy sites is that they had their own interfaces. Users loved them or hated them, but they knew how to use them,” said Zawatsky. GSA, she said, is listening closely with a myriad of focus groups that look at specific user and contractor “personas” that consider capabilities and needs from differing perspectives. Zawatsky also said users had become more familiar with beta.SAM’s two factor authentication requirements, as those require requirements become more common.

Beta.SAM.gov is growing, she said. It has 173,000 registered users and about 1 million average daily direct views.

Since transitioning FedBizOpps, the moving additional systems has become more considered and studied, according to Zawatsky and Niblett. The agency’s shift of the Federal Procurement Data System began a with a “soft launch” for in March that allows contractors to use beta.SAM to get FPDS Contract Data Reports, but keeps search and data on the old FPDS until the full transition is made. The limited move, said Niblett, “allows users to familiarize themselves with the new reporting tool. There is a large learning curve” between some of the functionality of the old FPDS system to beta.SAM’s, she said.

GSA plans to complete its move SAM.gov in a year, while it plans to complete moving FPDS by year’s end, said Niblett.

GSA continues to seek out user input for the process, Zawatsky and Niblett said, through direct contact and through the GSA Interact portal.”

https://fcw.com/articles/2020/05/05/fbo-transition-rocky-rockwell.aspx?oly_enc_id=

How Pandemic Response Is Shifting federal IT

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Image: London School of Economics and Politiacl Science

FCW”

The pandemic response has shown the traditional 12 to 36 month acquisition planning cycle is not how we need to do things“, says Harrison Smith, Deputy Chief Procurement Officer, at the IRS.

COVID-19 has underscored the need for us to move ahead in a more agile manner but also balance that quicker capability with responsible spending”

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“From supply chain, to acquisition, to automation, the federal response to COVID-19 is changing what IT means to agencies, according to several top federal IT managers.

As the pandemic grew, the Small Business Administration ramped up its telework efforts and surged its personnel and IT to support disaster and small business loan portals, the agency was told there were potential shortages desktop and laptop computers and lagging supplies of peripheral devices such as mice and monitors, according to agency CIO Maria Roat. That shortage, however, didn’t slow the efforts down, as the General Services Administration and NASA’s SEWP contract had enough to support SBA’s efforts, she said, but it showed a potential problem.

With other agencies, including Health and Human Services and the Veterans Administration looking for similar IT gear, “the supply chain on the hardware side was stressed,” said Roat during an April 30 ACT IAC teleconference.

Cross-agency teamwork, she said, is a critical piece of such a huge response. SBA’s dozens of field offices, for instance, can now rely on IT support from GSA and Agriculture Department IT field personnel because of collaboration through the Federal CIO Council, according to Roat. “I haven’t used that yet,” she said, but it’s helpful to know the help is there.

In setting up its telework and loan platform efforts, Roat said SBA has leveraged software defined networking, collaborative technologies, such as Skype, and Microsoft Teams.

In support of the loan platforms, said Roat, SBA has turned up its Gigabit bandwidth on Ethernet backbone circuits to handle the traffic on the portals. The agency, she said, plans to add more capabilities, as well hone existing capabilities in the coming weeks.

“We’re now getting ready for release five” of those portal efforts, she said. The agency will add additional features, such as chat boxes, a way to view active cases and additional workflow refinements, as well as additional personnel, she said.

The COVID-19 response, said Harrison Smith, deputy chief procurement officer, at the IRS, has shown the federal government needs faster, more responsive methods to get what it needs in times of crisis. The pandemic response has shown the traditional 12 to 36 month acquisition planning cycle “is not how we need to do things,” he said.

COVID-19 “has underscored the need for us to move ahead in a more agile manner” but also balance that quicker capability with responsible spending, he said.

That could mean making a way for agencies to shift to more creative ways of getting things on the fly, possibly forgoing interagency agreements for say, shared services, for instance, according to Smith.

GSA, said Beth Killoran, the agency’s deputy CIO, is learning to leverage drones, data analytics and virtual capabilities to handle more of its federal building management duties. The agency is using geotagged images to track contractors’ construction or repair work on its buildings, to save local and federal building inspectors from having to make a trip to sites, she said. The agency is tasking drone aircraft to do exterior building inspections, as well. GSA has also tapped public data of COVID-19 hotspots at federally-owned medical facilities, to inform where its cleaning crews can safely do their work.

Modernized IT, said Roat, Killoran and Smith, is key to responding to such a huge crisis. The workforces at GSA, SBA and IRS, they said, have adapted quickly to telework because they had begun to move toward telework before the crisis.

House lawmakers previously proposed a $3 billion bump for the Technology Modernization Fund in a COVID-19 bill that ultimately went nowhere, but future additions are possible. Roat, who is on the TMF board that approves projects for funding said it’s unclear if any new funding will be approved.

SBA, she said, spent 50 intense days planning and executing a plan to implement IT to support public-facing portals and services for COVID-19 response.

“From where I sit, I’d bet other agencies are doing the same” reflection on how to move ahead from here, she said. “How would we use that $3 billion to look at the bigger picture?” Should it concentrate on shared services, she wondered. “Everyone is at home right now. Everyone is digital. We need to ramp up out digital citizen interaction.”

https://fcw.com/articles/2020/04/30/covid-changing-federal-tech-rockwell.aspx?oly_enc_id=

Senate Seeks Industry’s Help With Internal Cyber Threats

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The Senate sergeant-at-arms is looking to industry for help with cybersecurity. (J. David Ake/AP)

FIFTH DOMAIN

The Senate’s sergeant-at-arms is seeking industry assistance with insider-threat and privacy assessments for Senate networks, according to an April 6 solicitation.

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“The SAA wants a vendor to evaluate two aspects of insider threat prevention efforts: SAA’s protection of Senate data, which can include personally identifiable information or health data; and assessment of the SAA cybersecurity department’s procedures to ensure SAA’s data protection efforts can be audited.

“The assessment will also include evaluation and detection of anomalous user behavior that may represent abuse of their administrative privileges,” the solicitation read.

According to the solicitation, the sergeant-at-arms also wants the vendor to help with the Senate’s ability to hunt threats on its networks. The office is looking for a vendor who can “conduct a comprehensive evaluation of network and systems resources for evidence of unwanted activity and cyber-threat actor persistence,” the solicitation said.

The Office of the Sergeant at Arms also expects the vendor to perform a cybersecurity resiliency test that focuses on “resiliency to effectively identify, protect, detect, react and recover from the advanced cyber threat,” the notice said.

“The Cybersecurity Department expects relevant, comprehensive and actionable improvement recommendations to refine and continue maturing its cybersecurity defense program,” the solicitation said.

While the solicitation is for insider-threat assessments, the posting comes as Senate staff, and congressional staffers more broadly, work from home amid the new coronavirus pandemic. Telework has highlighted several vulnerabilities in the Zoom videoconferencing platform. According to a tweet from a CNN reporter, the Senate’s sergeant-at-arms sent an alert to Senate offices urging them not to use Zoom.

The Office of the Sergeant at Arms has also posted several open cybersecurity jobs.”

https://www.fifthdomain.com/congress/capitol-hill/2020/04/09/the-senate-wants-industry-help-with-internal-cybersecurity/

Contractors Report Issues With GSA “SAM” Opportunities Portal

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SYSTEM OF AWARD MANAGEMENT
Image: SAM Web site

“FCW”

Companies large and small are still not happy with the General Services Administration’s new federal contract opportunities portal, according to the Professional Services Council.

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“At the request of its technology and services company members, PSC registered irritation with the balky system in a Feb. 7 letter to Julie Dunne, commissioner of GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service.

Alan Chvotkin, PSC’s executive vice president and general counsel, told Dunne that some initial start-up pains for the system still nag users.

“Regrettably, initial ‘bumps in the road’ have continued beyond the functionality that GSA announced would not be carried over from the old system, and our members asked that we bring their views to your attention,” said Chvotkin in the letter.

The FedBizOpps contract notification and tracking website was moved to beta.SAM.gov late last year. From the beginning, contractors complained the new site frustrating to search and ineffective. GSA is consolidating several of its legacy awards systems into SAM.

PSC has heard from vendors large and small who said they are having continued trouble with accessing and searching the site, as well difficulties in how search results are displayed, which can have different font sizes and no copy or print functions. The vendors also said email alerts and updates from the site have been uneven. Those problems have been issues since the cutover the new beta.SAM system last November.

“GSA appreciates that the Professional Services Council shared the views of some members regarding the migration of FBO.gov to beta.SAM.gov, as we take the feedback of all users seriously,” a GSA spokesperson told FCW in an email on Feb. 12. “The agency’s Integrated Award Environment team welcomes the opportunity to work with the Council as it conducts a careful review of the input shared with GSA in early February.”

Chvotkin has been talking to GSA about the portal since development began. He told FCW in an interview that some of the issues nagging the system were anticipated by GSA, and the agency has been working to smooth them out. Still, he said, PSC members have been lodging detailed complaints with his organization about the system.

The level of detail in the complaints was surprising, he said. Suggestions from users — including adding saved-search functions, limiting requests for authentication as well offering NAICs-code search functions —  could be considered by GSA to modify the system.

“They’re still in a transition phase where they can make fixes,” said Chvotkin.

That transition could continue for the foreseeable future, according to Chvotkin. GSA plans to add some reporting functionality to the Federal Procurement Data System, better known as FPDS, in the fall.”

https://fcw.com/articles/2020/02/12/sam-beta-psc-woes.aspx?admgarea=TC_Acquisition

OMB Wants Public Input To Improve Federal Acquisition And Supply Practices.

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Image courtesy blueoceanacademy.com

FCW

Ideas from supply and acquisition experts outside government can help the government modernize its $575 billion supply chain and acquisition functions.

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“Margaret Weichert, the deputy director of management at the Office of Management and Budget, teed up the effort in a document released Jan. 27 after the White House Summit on Federal Acquisition and Supply Chain Management.

“We want to hear from private sector organizations, researchers, academic institutions, good government groups, the public, and others on the vision and concept for a mechanism to facilitate curated conversations between the federal government and external supply chain and acquisition experts on a variety of issues and questions that support the government’s acquisition modernization effort,” said Weichert in a statement following the summit.”

https://fcw.com/articles/2020/01/28/omb-input-acquisition-rockwell.aspx?oly_enc_id=

Government Seeking To Redefine Procurement “Lead Time”

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Image: FCW

FCW

The Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP) wants to nail down language on exactly when federal procurements begin and end to help eliminate delays.

OFPP proposed a rule change and is seeking comments on redefining the term “Procurement Administrative Lead Time” (PALT) and on a plan for measuring and publicly reporting governmentwide data on PALT for contracts and orders above the simplified acquisition threshold.

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“The agency wants to adopt the definition from section 878 of the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act. That language defines PALT as “the time between the date on which an initial solicitation for a contract or order is issued by a federal department or agency and the date of the award of the contract or order.”

Establishing a common PALT definition, said OFPP, as well as a plan to measure and report it can help the government pin down delays in the procurement process. Equipped with a common definition, it said, agencies can then use common data to make improvements.

Alan Chvotkin, executive vice president and counsel of the Professional Services Council, said he was “pleased” with OFPP’s proposed use of the NDAA definition.

“Time is money” for both federal agencies and contractors involved in an acquisition, he told FCW, adding that a revised PALT definition would help measure both.

Others want to tweak it a bit.

“I propose that PALT be defined as the cycle time between the solicitation response and the date award,” said Dave Zvenyach, former executive director of GSA’s 18F and former deputy commissioner for the agency’s Technology Transformation Service.

“PALT is the sort of topic that drives procurement nerds to drink,” said Zvenyach in a blog post on the issue. Defining it has been traditionally hard to do, since pinning down the “initial moment of requirement identification is notoriously difficult.”

Comments on the PALT language are due in 30 days.”

https://fcw.com/articles/2020/01/21/ofpp-lead-time-rule.aspx

Department Of Defense Updates Mid-Tier And Urgent Acquisition Policies

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Image: Roper Center, Cornell University

FCW

The Defense Department issued updates to mid-tier and urgent acquisition policies that allow the military to quickly develop prototypes and field systems. The policies took effect in the last days of 2019.

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“Reworking the DOD 5000 series instructions that govern acquisition practices has been a top priority for DOD acquisition chief Ellen Lord, who told reporters Dec. 10 the changes “the most transformational change to acquisition policy in decades.”

The Pentagon has said it expects to publish the adaptive acquisition framework in January, which will include acquisition pathways specific to “the unique characteristics of the capability being acquired,” Lord said.

The mid-tier acquisition instructions address rapid prototyping and fielding and are meant to serve as a path to “accelerate capability maturation before transitioning to another acquisition pathway or may be used to minimally develop a capability before rapidly fielding.”

Lord said the new mid-tier instructions under an 18-month pilot facilitated a dramatic increase in the number of programs.

“Since our pilot started 18 months ago, we have gone from zero middle-tier programs in November 2018 to over 50 middle-tier programs today delivering military utility to warfighters years faster than the traditional acquisition system,” Lord said in the media briefing.

The urgent instructions focus on capabilities needed during conflict that can be fielded in less than two years but cost less than $525 million in research and development funds or $3 billion for fiscal 2020 procurements.

Lord said the department’s changes to the acquisition would make it easier for professionals to match programs with acquisition pathways as well as reduce lead time for pathfinder projects.

The rewrites for major capability, software, defense business systems and services acquisition are pending release.”

https://fcw.com/articles/2020/01/06/dod-5000-update-williams.aspx?oly_enc_id=

2020 NDAA Cyber, IT Personnel And Acquisition Policy Changes

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“FCW”

The 2020 National Defense Authorization Act was signed into law Dec. 20, and with it comes a range of cyber, IT personnel and acquisition policy changes.

Here’s some of what FCW will be tracking in the New Year

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Consumption-based solutions. A consumption-based acquisition provision was originally recommended by the Section 809 panel’s suite of acquisition reforms. And while most of the panel’s suggestions weren’t expected to make it into the NDAA for 2020, this one did. Doing the study, which is due in March, allows DOD to evaluate how consumption-based solutions, which involve an agency getting billed for how much it uses, would affect its contracts.

Space Force acquisition challenges. Since the 2020 NDAA authorizes the standing up of Space Force, there could be new acquisition changes needed. The bill mandates a report due in March on whether there needs to be a new acquisition assistant secretary for space policy.

Report on edge computing technology. DOD’s acquisition chief will have to report to Congress on commercial edge computing technologies and best practices for warfighting systems.

More cybersecurity oversight is coming to DOD, starting with a mandatory cyber review every four years. This requirement begins in 2022 and includes an assessment of costs, benefits, and whether, possibly like Space Force, a cyber force should be a separate uniformed service. There will also be quarterly reviews on cyber mission force readiness.

Zero-based review for IT and cyber personnel. The Defense Department has until Jan. 1, 2021, to complete a zero-based review of cyber and information technology contractors, military, and civilian personnel.

The review will assess staffing needs and effectiveness and also evaluate whether job descriptions, duties, and “whether cybersecurity service provider positions and personnel fit coherently into the enterprise-wide cybersecurity architecture and with the Department’s cyber protection teams.”

Information operations. The military services have increasingly emphasized the importance of information warfare and operations in the wake of the 2016 presidential election and the aftermath of public and Congressional scrutiny.

The 2020 NDAA affirms this by requesting DOD appoint a “principal information operations advisor” to the secretary on “all aspects of information operations conducted by the Department.” In a separate but somewhat related provision, the bill authorizes research for “foreign malign influence.”

https://fcw.com/articles/2019/12/20/acquisition-changes-ndaa-williams.aspx?oly_enc_id=

Pentagon Seeks Industry Input On Path for 5G Adoption

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Image: istock

NATIONAL DEFENSE MAGAZINE

On Nov. 29 the department released a special notice seeking industry input. Responses are being accepted through Dec. 16.

Two additional draft requests for prototype proposals are expected to be released in the coming weeks. The feedback from industry will inform the creation and issuance of formal RPPs.

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“The Pentagon is launching a new initiative that will shape its long-term plans for integrating 5G networks into U.S. military operations. The emerging technology is viewed as a potential gamechanger as the United States squares off against China in great power competition.

The term 5G refers to the oncoming fifth generation of wireless networks and technologies that will yield a major improvement in data speed, volume and latency over today’s fourth generation networks, known as 4G. 5G networks are expected to be up to 20 times as fast, according to a Defense Innovation Board study published earlier this year titled, “The 5G Ecosystem: Risks & Opportunities for DoD.”

“The shift from 4G to 5G will drastically impact the future of global communication networks and fundamentally change the environment in which DoD operates,” the report said. “5G has the ability to enhance DoD decision-making and strategic capabilities from the enterprise network to the tactical edge of the battlefield.

“5G will increase DoD’s ability to link multiple systems into a broader network while sharing information in real-time [and] improving communication across services, geographies and domains while developing a common picture of the battlefield to improve situational awareness,” it added.

The improved connectivity may enable a slew of new technologies, such as hypersonic weapons, resilient satellite constellations and mesh networks, it noted.

5G is a top priority for the office of the undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, and the Pentagon is kicking off a new effort to experiment with the technology for various mission sets.

The Defense Department has selected four bases as the first U.S. military installations to host testing and experimentation for 5G technology: Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington; Hill Air Force Base, Utah; Naval Base San Diego, California; and Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany, Georgia.

The first round of opportunities will focus on three areas: integrating augmented reality and virtual reality into mission planning and training in both virtual and live environments on training ranges; developing “smart” warehouses to leverage 5G’s ability to enhance logistics operations and maximize throughput; and establishing a dynamic spectrum sharing testbed to demonstrate the capability to use 5G in congested environments with high-power, mid-band radars.

5G could enable the next-generation training paradigm that the services are pursuing, which includes linking virtual and augmented reality systems on a global scale, officials say.

“It’s going to give you better bandwidth, lower latency — so a better, more realistic experience,” Lisa Porter, deputy undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, said in an interview. Porter is overseeing the Pentagon’s 5G efforts.

“For mission training and planning and all of those activities … it has to be as realistic as possible or it’s just not going to be very useful,” she added.

5G could also help drive down the costs of linking systems around the world, enabling them to be more widely deployed, she noted.

“Everybody should be able to have access to this capability … and you’d like them to be able to talk to each other” and experience collective immersion during training events, Porter said. “To do that, of course you have to have the cost low enough that we can afford that.”

Augmented reality, or AR, could have many military uses, said Joe Evans, the Pentagon’s technical director for 5G. The technology transposes data or other digitally created images on top of a real-world field of view.

“We already see that sort of thing at the high end in things like the F-35 helmets,” he said. “This is an opportunity … with the technology getting cheaper to start to be able to push that out to the broader force.”

AR combined with high-speed 5G networks also offers new possibilities for sustainment and maintenance, said a senior defense official who spoke to National Defense on condition of anonymity.

“The ability to assist our technicians in the field and understanding what they’re doing and the complex issues that they’re often involved in in fixing advanced fighter aircraft or cargo aircraft … is a major industrial inflection point,” the official said.

“Now all of a sudden because of the latency [reduction] … we both can test and verify the repair as it’s occurring,” he added. That could help keep cutting edge systems such as the joint strike fighter in the air rather than sitting in a maintenance depot.

The Defense Department envisions 5G streamlining the military’s massive logistics enterprise and improving inventory management if it is employed in “smart” warehouses filled with a variety of sensors that are used for monitoring parts and equipment.

“You want to be able to … have high confidence that you know what is there, where it is going, whether it’s come in or not. You want to make sure it hasn’t been tampered with.

All of these things are further enabled when you have high confidence in the connectivity and your ability to manage it,” Porter said.

Evans said increasing materiel throughput and the speed at which it moves is critical for supplying warfighters with the products they need.

“One of the problems with 4G and even WiFi types of technologies is they really weren’t designed to be having tens of thousands of individual wireless devices talking to the cell site or the access point,” he said. “What 5G is doing is essentially increasing that scale. And so from a single access point, you can now track greater volume of individual items in the warehouse [and do] the finer grain tracking.”

As 5G technology is rolled out, the Pentagon wants to pursue what it calls dynamic spectrum sharing between the military and industry, especially as it relates to the mid-band part of the electromagnetic spectrum that the Defense Department uses for radars and other systems.

Portions of the mid-band are a “sweet spot” for 5G because the frequency enables more bandwidth and greater range, Porter explained.

“The Department of Defense and other federal agencies and then industry, particularly the carriers … are all clamoring for access to a very limited amount of what you might call real estate” on the spectrum, she said.

Today, the military is assigned a certain number of frequencies to operate in the United States. Companies are granted licenses by the Federal Communications Commission and parts of the electromagnetic spectrum are auctioned off for their use. But at any given time, much of the spectrum is not being used, she noted.

“There’s actually a lot of opportunity here,” Porter said. “When I’m not using my spectrum, can someone else use it? Can we develop some sharing rules that allow [the military and the private sector] to use each other’s spectrum … in an efficient way?”

Opening up the spectrum would create greater capacity for users. But the challenge is to do it in a way that military and commercial systems don’t interfere with each other, she said. “It requires some kind of agreements about how we’re going to operate.”

Artificial intelligence will be a critical component of dynamic spectrum sharing, she noted.

“Artificial intelligence allows you to speed this up because if you rely on a person trying to figure this out, it’s too slow,” she said.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency recently held a Spectrum Collaboration Challenge with industry that involved AI. The results will help shape the Pentagon’s 5G initiatives.

“The DARPA Spectrum Collaboration Challenge provided some of the technology underpinnings to make those decisions on how you share those spectrum bands,” Evans said.

“What we want to do is take some of those capabilities and then apply it to this mid-band types of spectrum.”

Defense officials will be going out to test ranges at Hill Air Force Base to explore how a 5G system could operate effectively in coexistence or in coordination with mid-band radars.

Dynamic spectrum sharing could give the military a leg up over its competitors such as China, which is rolling out its own 5G networks, Porter said.

“If the United States figures this out especially with our allies and partners, this puts us in a very strong competitive posture globally,” she said. “We’re going to be able to do things with far more capacity and far more efficiency.”

Dynamic spectrum sharing won’t just have implications for military operations. It will also affect acquisitions, the senior defense official noted.

“By understanding and getting down to the science required, the policies required, it helps then inform and postures us for the next generation of systems that we’re researching and then acquiring,” the official said.

As it builds out its 5G capabilities, the Pentagon wants to leverage the hundreds of billions of dollars that the commercial sector is investing in the technology to enable ubiquitous connectivity, lower latency, higher bandwidth and edge computing. However, that creates security concerns, Porter noted.

“When you start connecting everything to everything else, wow, that’s a lot of complexity,” she said. “We don’t know every vulnerability that’s going to emerge, but we’ve got to try to understand that and then develop an architecture, if you will, that allows us to mitigate and to do risk management smartly.”

The Pentagon, the defense industrial base and the commercial companies building the nation’s 5G networks need to work together to develop protocols for protecting networks, she said.

Meanwhile, the Defense Department plans to use other transaction authority agreements for its upcoming 5G initiatives. The RPPs will go through the National Spectrum Consortium. Companies that aren’t a member of the consortium can still participate as a subcontractor for members that win a contract award, Porter noted.

The number and timing of contract awards will depend on congressional funding and the quality of the proposal submissions, she said.

The Defense Department plans to add new 5G opportunities roughly every quarter. As of press time, the focus areas for the next round had yet to be determined.

Porter declined to say how much money the department plans to invest in these initiatives.

“I don’t like folks to try to game to a number,” she said. “I want them to give us their best ideas and a realistic execution plan against that idea … and we will work to make sure that the best of those get funded.”

While the Pentagon has ambitious plans for 5G, it plans to take a “crawl, walk, run” approach to rolling out the technology, Porter said.

“We’re going to start here in the U.S because that makes the most sense,” she said. “We’re going to start with four [bases], … learn and then expand.”

https://www.nationaldefensemagazine.org/articles/2019/12/6/defense-department-forging-path-for-5g-adoption