HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — A top Pentagon official last week said the Defense Department plans to request more money for deploying 5G technologies in FY 2020 and in the Future Years Defense Program (FYDP) while it also is working through how to operate in unsecure networks.

The DoD is trying “to make available our, broadly speaking, requirement set, whether it be depots or ports or airfields or autonomous vehicles or fill in the blank,” Michael Griffin, Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, told reporters during the annual Space and Missile Defense Symposium here,

Michael Griffin, undersecretary of defense for research and engineering (Photo: Department of Defense)

Griffin said given how 5G will enable sufficiently high bandwidth and ubiquity of sensors the DoD will help utilize it as a customer.

“You’ll see that we’ve requested significant money, we’re actually requesting extra in (FY) ‘20 for that and in the FYDP, so when those budgets are released you will see all that. So this is a major initiative for us,” Griffin said.

Griffin also said it ties in “hand in glove” to the department’s microelectronics initiative. “We need trusted and assured microelectronics. So all of that ties together.”

Griffin’s deputy, Lisa Porter, has been assigned as the Defense Department’s lead official on 5G issues, but he is also looking to add a new assistant director to the topic.

He said the department also takes a different view of the security challenges of 5G developments by foreign actors, like China’s


“The DoD automatically has to deal with the fact that we get deployed in places where people don’t want us there and we have to operate in the presence of or maybe through networks that are already there built by people who are adversaries,” Griffin said.

“We have to be able to operate through networks that we not only suspect are hostile or compromised. We know they’re hostile or compromised. So we have to figure out how to have trusted communications and trusted behaviors even on untrusted networks.”

Huawei may be one of those untrusted networks, but it is not the first and will not be the last. “That’s part of our problem set,” Griffin added.

Similarly, while speaking at a Hudson Institute event on Tuesday, Griffin reiterated 5G as his new top priority, overtaking the previous focus on hypersonic technology.

He underscored the government’s activities in 5G will be small compared to private industry.

“We are aware that commercial initiatives in telecommunications far outstrip anything thay we can do and would want to do. We are struggling to become the flea on the tail of the telecom’s dog,” Griffin said.

However, to the extent DoD can help “seed the competitive environment, or encourage it to grow in directions that are relevant to us, we want to do that.”

He said there are Defense Department use-cases for 5G technology also being explored in the private sector. Things like smart ports, smart airports, smart depots, and smart factories also “absolutely have national security operations.”

Griffin said the department can help speed up commercial 5G development by making available its “infrastructure for experimenting and prototyping in environments which different competitors can work in different areas and be assured that their proprietary information is protected.”

“If we can provide venues where local, regional, municipal, state permitting is not required to operate because they’re operating on a DoD base, all of those things can really speed progress in 5G development,” he added.

Griffin’s notions on 5G reflects some of Congress’ interests in the issue.

In June, the Senate Armed Service’s Committee’s mark of the FY ’20 defense authorization bill included a directive urging the Secretary of Defense to establish two installations to explore and demonstrate the utility of using 5G wireless networking technology to enhance combat operations (Defense Daily, June 14).