The military's 5G capabilities could be stale by the time they're fielded

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The Navy's chief digital innovation officer, Michael Galbraith, said when it comes to 5G, his biggest concern after security is "time to market."

The Pentagon's security concerns around 5G are pretty well-known and a high priority. But the time it will take to field 5G capabilities is also a major concern, according to a top Navy tech official. 

"5G is, I would say, not innately insecure, but it's another network to secure. And zero trust is a piece of that," said Michael Galbraith, the Navy's chief digital innovation officer, during a Cloudera and Fedscoop event on April 19.  "So security is big…And then just given my background, probably the most important concern I have is time to market. It's not not a term you hear a lot in DOD." 

The Defense Department has been working on several 5G pilot programs, including some for smart warehouses, including one at Naval Base Coronado. But Galbraith, who is a longtime commercial IT executive, said those solutions could easily become obsolete by the time they are out of production. 

"The smart warehouse pilots and experiments that I talked about at Coronado in Albany, are going to transition to production in about two years. They started two years ago. What's the smart warehouse of 2026 actually going to look like that's happening in industry because ours is going to look an awful lot like what happened in 2018 because that was how we designed," he said. 

"So just the acquisition and financial processes that we have in DOD that manage that information domain. I'm concerned about that that time to market"

Galbraith's comments come after the Pentagon announced the creation of the 5G and FutureG cross-functional team designed to focus on the adoption of current and future wireless networking technologies the military can use. The team's creation was also mandated in the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act. 

The team, which has senior officials from the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Joint Staff, military services, and Combatant Commands, is tasked with policy, guidance, research and development, and acquisition related to 5G and future generation wireless technology, as well as coordinating partnership efforts.

Lawmakers and defense officials have been mulling potential reforms to the acquisitions process for years with discussions about tweaking the Planning, Programming, Budgeting, and Execution process becoming more prominent in the last year. The 2022 NDAA calls for the Pentagon to form a commission to look at potential changes needed to the budget process. Additionally, the Pentagon has been experimenting with "colorless" money to speed software buying through its software and digital technology pilot program authorized by Congress. 

Galbraith said those efforts focusing on the financial processes would help speed things up. 

"I think there is very good movement on changing the color of money," he said. "How we [do Program Objective Memorandum] for investments, there is movement to change that and streamline that process. So changing those financial and investment processes I think is vitally important to move faster." 

The same goes for speeding up the acquisition process for defining program requirements called the Joint Capabilities Integration and Development System (JCIDS) specifically for digital technologies. 

Galbraith said the current JCIDS "is absolutely essential to develop a new submarine or an aircraft carrier, maybe not so much for a messaging platform or another piece of software that we need to acquire." 

But it will also likely take increased collaboration and "a lot of teamwork in DOD" to speed things up, he said. "That ability to share information is going to continue to cut down that time to market. And just [that] focus on mission, again, has proved that things get done quickly when we do that."