Blue chip defense companies make moves for Defense Department’s 5G plans

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Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin announce new partners for the department’s networked future.

Over quick succession this week, a pair of blue chip defense companies announced new partnerships with one of the world’s largest semiconductor makers and a large telecommunications carrier as they focus on network connectivity for the U.S. military.

Both partnerships also serve as reminders for how defense companies view 5G capabilities as core to their business, which often requires working with others in the global commercial technology landscape.

In a joint announcement Tuesday, Northrop Grumman and AT&T unveiled their collaboration to research and develop what they call a 5G-backed “digital battle network” for the Defense Department.

Northrop’s responsibility will be to provide its mission systems, while AT&T’s part will see the carrier put forth its 5G and other networking assets as part of their common research-and-development framework. The envisioned end result is an open architecture offering to help the military link distributed sensors, shooters and data into a single network environment the Pentagon calls JADC2—short for Joint All Domain Command and Control.

Given DOD’s overall interest in acquiring more commercial technologies, it is only natural for blue chip defense companies like Northrop to look at what AT&T and other carriers have put into their networks. Over the past five years, AT&T has invested $135 billion in upgrades to its wireless and wireline networks to position for the 5G rollout and revolution.

Meanwhile, Lockheed Martin has been sharing its vision of creating a 5G.MIL construct for DOD and bringing more commercially-oriented companies into that effort, including a collaboration with Verizon first announced in November.

On Monday, Lockheed Martin and Intel unveiled their collaboration to integrate 5G-enabled hardware and software into DOD's environment—another nod to JADC2 efforts.

At the time the companies started working together late last year, Lockheed-built ground vehicles were put through a demonstration to see how hardened security and that company’s 5G.MIL offerings operated in a cloud computing environment.

Intel’s side of the equation is providing processor technologies and other network support products for integration into a Lockheed 5G.MIL hybrid base station, which works as a multi-network gateway for communications between military personnel and platforms.

Further work between both companies will focus on a hybrid base station that can be relocated for expeditionary missions. That station will also feature in a 5G network testbed infrastructure—which includes Intel tech—at the Marine Corps’ Base Camp Pendleton in California.

Lockheed and Intel will also explore additional opportunities in developing new semiconductor packing applications for high-density electronics.

For Lockheed, this partnership with Intel fulfills one aspect of CEO Jim Taiclet’s agenda that includes reaching into the computer chip sector along with those in telecommunications and general technology.

Knowing where to find the latest and greatest is only part of the challenge though. Consider what Northrop CEO Kathy Warden said at the Axios What’s Next Summit on Tuesday in Washington, D.C. in announcing the partnership with AT&T: "We have solved the technology challenge. It's the application of it that will move at the speed the government is ready to move along with the industry."

Now the hard work begins.