Federal agencies are looking for ways to become more agile to support their digital transformation initiatives. Not only are agencies evaluating and implementing new technologies but they’re also looking at how to speed up notoriously lengthy procurement processes. And sometimes, the drive for new technology intersects with an opportunity to upend traditional procurement processes creating an opportunity to showcase the truly innovative capabilities.
The Department of Defense (DoD) is often a driving force behind these innovations. Using a unique procurement instrument – Other Transaction Authority (OTA) – the DoD can carry out “certain prototype, research and production projects… [with] the flexibility necessary to adopt and incorporate business practices that reflect commercial industry standards and best practices into its award instruments.”
With the 28 OTAs it currently has entered into, the DoD is using this instrument to great effect, particularly in the area of improving the secure communications infrastructure that is needed for the DoD to continue to protect the nation from foreign threats. To spur innovation in the area of secure communications infrastructure, which includes 5G, the Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, Emerging Capabilities and Prototyping started the National Spectrum Consortium. With $1.25 billion of funding and industry participation, including Verizon, the consortium is working hard to revolutionize how the 5G spectrum is used through collaborative research and development and the incubation of new technologies.
“Using 5G networks to improve national security is a priority for both Congress and the DoD,” shared Vice Chair of the National Spectrum Consortium, Randy Clark. “We’ve already worked on Smart Warehouse projects at Naval Base San Diego and Marine Corps Logistics Base Albany in Georgia under the first tranche of funding received from Office of the Undersecretary of Defense (OSD R&E) Under the second tranche of funding, OSD R&E has identified 7 additional projects including AR/VR at Joint Base San Antonio and a Ship-wide 5G and Wireless Piers at Norfolk Naval Base to name a few.”
There is a sense of urgency in getting these 5G programs up and running. “This is national security, mission critical work,” explained Clark. “Each and every day, data in motion is at severe risk of being compromised and this applies not only to military communications, which puts the warfighter at risk, but also for critical systems and manufacturing domestically.”
As we’ve seen over the last five months of the COVID-19 crisis, the ability to virtualize essential activities and operate remotely is essential to remaining operational in a secure manner. “While we’re piloting these 5G programs on military bases, there’s just as much need domestically,” shared Clark . “To ensure that the United States remains an economic leader we need to drive 5G adoption in the private sector as well. From using 5G to build smart grids to ensure that the power grid is resilient in the face of persistent cyber attacks and natural disasters, to protecting intellectual property and proprietary business information, there is so much potential for collaboration.”
The Department of Defense’s investment in 5G has created a high watermark for innovation, research, and application. Not only will the work conducted under the auspices of the National Spectrum Consortium help to significantly improve the safety of the warfighter and the security of the nation in the light of ever-growing threats, but the knowledge generated in these projects are transferable to the private sector to protect data, supply chains, and infrastructure in addition to driving economic innovation and security.
Learn more about the National Spectrum Consortium.