OSD, Air Force to start building 5G test range at Nellis, with experiments starting next year

By Justin Doubleday / May 28, 2020 at 2:28 PM

The Pentagon's research and engineering directorate and the U.S. Air Force Warfare Center will soon begin constructing a fifth-generation cellular network test range at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, with plans to begin testing "survivable command and control" applications and "network enhancement" prototypes next year.

Joe Evans, the Defense Department's technical director for 5G, said construction of the private network is expected to begin this July. Testing will start in January 2021 and continue in three 12-month phases, according to the announcement.

The Nellis network is part of DOD's 5G development "for both defense and civilian uses." However, "only users taking part in the testing will have access to the private network," according to the announcement.

"The network will feature relocatable cell towers that can be set up and taken down in less than an hour," it states. "Testing will involve mobile operations centers where team members will use the network while on the move."

DOD is using an industry consortium, the Information Warfare Research Project (IWRP), to solicit prototype proposals through an other transaction agreements process, according to the announcement. Only members of IWRP will be able to provide proposals.

Congress specifically directed DOD to build a 5G test site at Nellis as part of the Fiscal Year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act.

In addition to Nellis, DOD has already announced plans to experiment with 5G capabilities at Hill Air Force Base, UT; Joint Base Louis-McChord, WA; Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany, GA; and Naval Base San Diego, CA.

The prototyping competitions at those four bases are being run through a separate group, the National Spectrum Consortium, and are expected to result in awards for experimenting with use cases like "dynamic spectrum sharing" beginning this summer.

At Nellis, DOD will focus on two use cases: "Applications and Services for Survivable Command" and "Control (C2) and Wireless Network Enhancements," according to the announcement.

The former "will build or revise C2 software used at Air and Wing Operations Centers to support distributed planning and mission-execution functions," the announcement continues.

"These applications involve architectures that enable C2 operations under a variety of 5G network conditions," it states. "They may incorporate human-machine interfaces, which go beyond simple graphic-user interfaces and may include audio, gestures, augmented reality devices and haptics that stimulate touch and motion."

"Haptics" refers to the "the science, technology, and applications associated with information acquisition and object manipulation through touch," such as the resistance of the joystick on a fighter jet or the small vibration caused by touching a smart phone screen, according to an online handbook published by Tufts University.

Meanwhile, "Wireless Network Enhancements" prototyping will involve testing "network slicing" technologies to allocate portions of networks to specific uses, as well as "software-defined networking" capabilities to enable the slicing, according to DOD.

"This prototype will also test interoperability with legacy and future generations of cellular and mobile networking," the announcement states.