Northrop Grumman hopes AT&T can make it better at blowing stuff up

AT&T and giant US defense contractor Northrop Grumman want to see how 5G can improve the efficacy of US armed forces.

Northrop is currently helping the US Department of Defense (DoD) with its Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2 – pictured) programme, which will funnel sensor data from all branches of the military – land, sea, air and space – into a single tactical network.

The aim is to give people in snappy uniforms whose fingers are poised over scary-looking buttons a highly-detailed picture of a situation, so they can implement a more effective and coordinated response. Which is a sanitised way of saying they will be better at sending the right people to the right place with the right weapons to kill the right person, or turn the right thing into a big hole in the ground.

The agreement between AT&T and Northrop Grumman establishes a joint research and development framework to prototype, demonstrate and test AT&T’s commercial 5G networking capabilities integrated with Northrop’s avionics and defense systems.

The aim is to design and deliver a scalable, open-architecture solution that can make weapons, machines of war, and military personnel as good at sharing data as the IoT sensors or smart devices used today on civvy street. And they reckon that 5G offers the flexibility, speed and responsiveness they are looking for.

“The enhanced connectivity and networking of information that 5G provides are a great advantage in a military environment and will help the DoD in the development of high-performing and intuitive technologies that quickly and seamlessly share data across a myriad of secure networks,” said Ben Davies, GM of Northrop Grumman’s networked information solutions division, in a statement on Tuesday.

“Our 5G capabilities can help the Department of Defense achieve operational and information advantage when it matters most – protecting our country and freedoms around the globe,” added Lance Spencer, client EVP of defense at AT&T Public Sector and FirstNet. “By bringing our 5G services together with Northrop Grumman’s powerful avionics and defense systems, we expect to create an ideal platform to deliver DoD’s JADC2 vision.”

It will be interesting to see exactly what role 5G plays here, because any armchair general worth their salt will have realised by now that the US typically wages war on or over foreign soil, well beyond AT&T’s network footprint.

It’s true that AT&T can provide global IoT connectivity through a comprehensive network of partners, some of whom enable it to provide coverage via satellite. But it seems counter-intuitive to think that a partner network in a country subject to US military action would let AT&T use its 5G network so the DoD can better coordinate its forces. Plus, wars sometimes interfere with a country’s ability to generate the electricity needed to power mobile networks, what with all the damage they cause to infrastructure.

It’s puzzling, which is why has asked AT&T for a more comprehensive explanation about the exact role 5G connectivity is expected to play in this partnership, and will update this story if and when we hear back.


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