Pentagon CIO prepares to take over 5G network portfolio

A demonstration at a 2022 ribbon-cutting ceremony for a 5G-enabled Smart Warehouse in San Diego.

A demonstration at a 2022 ribbon-cutting ceremony for a 5G-enabled Smart Warehouse in San Diego. U.S. Navy / Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class John B. Hetherington

The plan is to build on existing test programs, like smart warehouses, while exploring new territory.

The Pentagon’s chief information office will soon take over all 5G network efforts starting Oct. 1, said Defense CIO John Sherman. 

“There are numerous pilots underway at various U.S. military installations. We're going to continue to build on that momentum,” Sherman said during a keynote address at the Billington Cybersecurity Summit on Thursday. 

The undersecretary of defense for research and engineering has been in charge of DOD’s 5G network portfolio thus far. Under the CIO, the plan is to end some pilot programs, build on others, and start new efforts in different areas, he said. The new efforts will include open radio access networks, or ORAN, which can link mobile and enterprise devices and applications to the network over radio waves. 

“Open radio access networks, or ORAN, is a priority for us in the Department of Defense. It's a priority for the administration to move past the closed stack to open stack technologies,” Sherman said. 

Congress in recent defense policy legislation has mandated the Pentagon shift 5G efforts to the CIO and for the defense secretary to set a date to roll out 5G wireless broadband infrastructure to all military installations. The 2023 National Defense Authorization Act also requires DOD to map out a plan to integrate 5G across the military departments where applicable. 

And as 5G networks are deployed across Defense Department bases, camps and installations, cybersecurity is integral, Sherman said. 

“There's the operational uses for things like smart warehouses, maintenance, and healthcare. And there's tactical 5G,” Sherman said. The latter will be crucial for other Pentagon efforts, including its Repliator initiative to command thousands of drones in the next two years. 

“Tactical 5G will be critical for that. And so that's a challenge we put to industry and to ourselves, to make sure we're able to make that work on the battlefield as well,” Sherman said.

Juan Ramirez will lead the Pentagon’s 5G cross functional team that oversees the effort, under Deputy CIO Frederick Moorefield, he said.