MV-22B Ospreys and Marines with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 764, 4th Marine Aircraft Wing, lineup on the flight line before taking off from Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif., June 12.

Sep 14 2020

Marines Partner with Verizon on 5G ‘Living Lab’

Marine Corps Air Station Miramar will serve as a test bed for edge computing, connected vehicles, security and more.

Starting this month, Marine Corps Air Station Miramar near San Diego will become the latest proving ground in the military for 5G wireless innovation. The Marine Corps in July announced a partnership with Verizon for the base to serve as a 5G “living lab,” and it is the first U.S. military base with access to Verizon’s 5G Ultra Wideband service.

The base will be used to test 5G in the millimeter-wave wireless spectrum, which provides extremely high bandwidth but has a limited coverage range. Verizon and the Marine Corps say they will test the network technology for a variety of use cases, including edge computing, securing the base, autonomous vehicles and more.

The announcement and experimentation comes after the Defense Department in June expanded to 12 the number of bases it would use to conduct 5G testing. Those bases include Fort Hood and Joint Base San Antonio in Texas, Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia, Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii, the National Training Center at Fort Irwin and Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton in California, and Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma.

The DOD’s 5G strategy calls the newest generation of wireless a “critical strategic technology” that will “transform” the way militaries operate, noting that 5G promises “orders of magnitude improvements in multiple areas, including speed, connectivity and reduced latency.”

5G Use Cases Will Include Drones, Edge Computing

Verizon and the Marine Corps say the experimentation will focus on how 5G can transform communications, energy management, connected vehicles, drones and base security.

“We started a dialogue with Verizon to roll out a 5G living lab on Miramar — to not just have cellular sites, but to really explore these areas of internet-of-things capabilities, 5G-enabled technologies,” Lt. Col. Brandon Newell, director of technology and partnerships for the Marine Corps Installation Next program, tells GCN.

The pilot program will help the Pentagon “better understand the technology, better understand our defense-related applications with that technology and help us on the pathway to requirement development, prototyping and eventually programs,” Newell says.

“In particular, the [Defense Department] must better understand what capabilities can be supported by 4G LTE and what capabilities actually require the high bandwidth and low latency of 5G,” Newell separately tells Nextgov.

According to GCN, the first pilot that is kicking off in September concerns a so-called “digital fortress” use case to test out new smart base security technology that replaces physical fortifications. The base will use its existing wireless for counter-intrusion that includes a suite of sensors.

Three cellular towers on the perimeter of Marine Corps Air Station Miramar’s will be used to support edge computing to “minimize the amount of data required to go back between the different towers and to go back to the cloud,” Newell tells GCN.

“We get to understand how critical computing on the edge is so that you minimize your bandwidth and your data requirements depending on where you are in the world and what type of cellular coverage that you have,” he says.

Another pilot program will explore using 5G to potentially convert autonomous vehicles to connected vehicles, “optimizing the potential of unmanned ground systems for the movement of people and goods,” Newell tells Nextgov. Such experimentation could also improve the security and reliability of drones for delivery and counter-intrusion.

“Because the military has very little history in leveraging cellular technology, it’s critical that we quickly mature our understanding for these energy, connected vehicles, drones, and digital fortress 5G-enabled applications,” Newell tells Nextgov. “Then we will have increased our position of knowledge for effective requirements development in all of these areas.”

READ MORE: What can agencies do to get ready for 5G?

Sgt. Becky Cleveland/U.S. Marine Corps