To achieve military advantage, defense teams are incorporating next-gen commercial technologies that are evolving faster than traditional military cycles have moved – especially computing and communication innovations.
In October 2020, the DoD announced a $600 million commitment for 5G wireless technology experimentation at five U.S. military test sites. The initiative, which represents the largest full-scale 5G tests for dual-use applications in the world, is aimed at rapidly developing and demonstrating prototype dual-use applications and 5G enhancements. Since then, the DoD made critical progress toward developing 5G technologies with significant improvements in speed, connectivity, and reduced latency.
Reaffirming its commitment to both 5G and collaboration with industry, in March 2022, the DoD established a 5G and Future Generation Wireless Cross-Functional Team (CFT). The CFT is tasked with accelerating 5G and future technologies to ensure warfighters can operate where and when they need to, including in contested networks. “Today’s operational requirements call for the acceleration of 5G technology with at-scale prototyping and experimentation,” said Amanda Toman, Acting Principal Director of the DoD’s 5G to Future Generation Initiative in the CFT announcement.
Clearly, developing and deploying 5G networks to assure battlefield advantage is an urgent defense priority. Just like the major wireless service providers (e.g., Verizon and AT&T) before them, the DoD’s move from experimentation and proof of concept to live operational use is a significant undertaking well above and beyond traditional commercial applications. 5G, like 4G and 3G before it, was initially developed for commercial use, yet defense use cases set a much higher bar for 5G network security, reliability, and performance.
To secure military advantage, today’s research and development teams must be optimizing prototypes now and preparing for deployment with the key objective of a much higher degree of capability in the most challenging of conditions. One key enabler for the transition is a network digital twin.
To secure military advantage, today’s research and development teams must be optimizing prototypes now and preparing for deployment.
Digital twins accelerate prototyping and optimization
For the DoD to confidently deploy 5G core networks for military use, it needs assurance that defense use case performance, security, and resilience requirements will be met. Ultimately, defense teams need their data and communications to be reliably sent, received, and understood – without interception or interference from adversaries. Yet it’s nearly impossible to evaluate how the powerful, complex, and evolving 5G technologies perform across a range of environments and conditions in field. Too many variables exist to test effectively, and the costs to do so would be prohibitive.
Addressing this challenge, network digital twins recreate real-world conditions in the lab, to test and evaluate prototypes and proven technologies. Spirent’s 5G Network Digital Twin solutions, for example, provide an end-to-end 5G test network built upon network emulation, traffic generation simulation, and test automation. Digital twins accurately emulate the complex effects of massive traffic, cyberattacks, outages, and other interference, supporting in-lab testing across a range of network configurations and defense use cases at scale.
Digital twins support exacting operational requirements
As the DoD proceeds through its 5G journey, testing and evaluation using a digital twin provides reliable and repeatable feedback on how well technologies are performing, where issues for concern exist, and whether improvements deliver desired results. Experts familiar with defense use cases and challenges can guide the testing, evaluations, and steps to secure validation of defense networks.
To upscale the prototyping, the testing and evaluation process typically moves from light-weight testing of performance in best-case conditions to testing interoperability, performance, reliability, and security – at scale. Testing reliably covers a range of settings, from “sunny day” conditions to rugged, congested, and contested environments. Having lab environments that emulate real-world conditions and high-traffic volumes ensures the prototype network and connected devices are optimized and prepared for adoption.
Today’s networks are increasingly software-driven, which presents tremendous flexibility for defense teams. For example, 5G supports network slicing, where a core network is used to establish numerous “slices” dedicated to specific uses. Each slice has its own security, performance, and quality characteristics configured for specific operational needs. Whether prototyping a pre-deployed network or configuring a network slice for a live core network, a digital twin validates the slice performance to ensure it has the required security, capacity, reliability, throughput, and latency.
Continuous testing, evaluation, and optimization powered by state-of-the-art lab and test automation helps ensure 5G core network technologies function in the lab and, more importantly, that they will perform as needed when deployed.
Continuous validation minimizes risk, optimizes performance
The value of digital twins doesn’t stop at evaluating technologies in development. Once active traffic flows through the network, a digital twin supports continuous active monitoring and validation to ensure it’s delivering on the performance and security required for its environment – further reducing the risks associated with deploying newer technologies.
Because networks are becoming more software-defined – and because 5G technologies continue to advance – a live network is never “complete” in the way hardware is finalized for production. Network functions will be periodically updated, networks will be dynamically configured, continuously, to meet the needs of priority missions and changing operational conditions. Network slices, too, can be created at any time. As part of an ongoing validation process, a digital twin can answer questions about with updates in technologies, new technologies and configurations. For example: Do the changes and updates maintain performance and security efficacy, and will they perform for the specific use cases? Are they secure enough for the operational environment? How do they perform before and after putting live traffic on the network?
A digital twin supports continuous monitoring and management of ongoing software updates and configurations, enabling validation and revalidation – without unnecessary delays from prolonged testing.
A partner to ensure successful adoption and management
For more than 25 years, Spirent has supported organizations in getting their networks validated, tested, and deployed; their devices validated; and their security assured. Even when 5G was in the planning stages, Spirent recognized the potential and vast complexities introduced by the technology’s mix of physical and virtual networks, where 5G presents an exponential increase in the number of touchpoints to test and secure.
Our team of defense experts understands that defense teams and operators are navigating use case definitions, technology requirements, testing requirements, and deployment decisions – amidst ever-evolving network innovations. We know how to develop strategic high-stakes testing and evaluation solutions at scale – for prototype optimization, network adoption, and ongoing monitoring of operational use.
For defense leaders, our award-winning Spirent 5G Digital Twin solutions support the robust and flexible testing needed to confidently accelerate development, deployment, and management of 5G core networks that meet the security, resilience, and performance standards for military advantage.
Learn more about Spirent solutions for government