GDIT-led 5G coalition seeks to provide 'holistic' solutions for DOD, government

By Briana Reilly / November 17, 2022

A recently announced coalition led by General Dynamics Information Technology seeks to provide "holistic" 5G capabilities and solutions to the military and other government agencies, a company executive said today.

In coming together to target divisions including the Defense Department, which a newly released GDIT survey shows is a federal leader in the 5G realm, the six-member coalition is emerging at a time the general manager of GDIT’s Army sector said will allow the group to “quickly” mobilize “when the need arises to deliver a capability.”

“A couple years ago, when we would think of 5G, we would think of a single vendor,” said Garrett Yee, a retired Army major general, in an interview today with Inside Defense. “Now, we think of a capability. As an integrator, we’re a natural place to bring different vendors to deliver a holistic set of services to the customer based upon their unique needs.”

In addition to GDIT, the coalition’s membership includes Amazon Web Services, Cisco, Dell Technologies, Splunk and T-Mobile. While GDIT will “design, deploy and maintain secure end-to-end 5G solutions,” according to the press release announcing the coalition’s creation, Amazon will bring its cloud infrastructure; Cisco, its 5G core capability prowess; Dell, its devices and hardware background; Splunk, its cybersecurity automation and edge computing solutions; and T-Mobile, its spectrum swath and expertise.

Though the coalition wasn’t unveiled publicly until last week, Rob Smallwood, GDIT’s vice president of digital modernization, told Inside Defense today that work had started behind the scenes “two, three years ago, as we started down this journey and realized that 5G . . . is the entire solution, from the edge all the way back to the data center.”

“Each of these vendors has strengths in different areas, so we’re just trying to bring in expertise from each of these vendors that play well,” he said.

The coalition isn’t only focused on DOD, but more broadly accelerating 5G’s adoption and the development of wireless and edge technologies to support federal, state and local agencies, according to the press release.

When considering the coalition’s DOD-specific goals, Yee noted that the department faces challenges with bottlenecks, which he said “pop up everywhere” as more and more data runs through a network.

For example, the former assistant to the Defense Information Systems Agency director noted that the battlefield had previously seen “very small bandwidth satellite capabilities” that represented a bottleneck; following upgrades, encryption became the bottleneck, he said.

“In the defense space, we’re in this ever-continuous journey of optimizing the network by eliminating the bottleneck,” he said.

DOD has made a series of high-profile investments in 5G technology demonstration in recent years, including in a series of ongoing projects across five U.S. military test sites that involve smart warehouses for logistics operations, augmented and virtual reality training, dynamic spectrum sharing and more.

In addition to those, the Pentagon in August launched three projects as part of its Open6G initiative to explore future wireless technologies, while the military services have made investments in their own communications infrastructure test beds.

The online GDIT survey, which spanned from mid-September to mid-October and saw responses from 500 federal government employees, 200 of whom came from defense agencies, found nearly all agencies are evaluating, piloting or have already deployed commercial or private 5G capabilities.

Compared to the other agencies, DOD is “far out ahead” in terms of releasing 5G solicitations, Smallwood told reporters during an online roundtable earlier Thursday, though he reported “equal interest” across the rest of the government.

At DOD, the survey showed, officials are finding 5G “foundational” to enabling Joint All-Domain Command and Control, the military-wide effort to connect sensors to shooters. The command and control realm, Smallwood said in the Inside Defense interview, “definitely resonates” with the department.

“5G changes the whole shooter-to-sensor, sensor-to-shooter activity,” Smallwood told reporters. “It’s more of a sensor-to-shooter-back-to-the-sensor to take an action, right? You need to have reliable communications in order to make sure that if you’re firing on something, it’s a legitimate target and not something you don’t want to attack.”