Japan’s Defense Ministry Plans to Enlist 5G Networks from Fiscal 2021

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
The main gate of the Defense Ministry is seen in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo.

In what is being called the “smart base” concept, 5G technology will be installed on a trial basis at a Self-Defense Forces base to create a local network of interconnected logistical and other devices, with an eye for deploying the high-speed communication standard across future defense equipment and front-line units.

The trial is slated to run for two years from fiscal 2021 at the Air Self-Defense Force’s Chitose Air Base in Chitose, Hokkaido.

Separate from the nationwide 5G networks provided by cell phone carriers, the proposed trial will consist of a “local 5G” system that operates in a limited area using 5G base stations set up by the SDF.

The advantage of 5G is that it can provide high-capacity, high-speed communications to many devices simultaneously, making it possible to connect small drones and unmanned vehicles to provide security for bases.

The technology also promises to streamline logistical operations, enabling analysis of equipment status, fuel levels, and supply procurement needs in real-time.

If the network proves effective, the system will likely be expanded to other SDF bases. Local 5G networks could even be set up by SDF personnel on disaster-relief and other missions to aid smooth communication in the field.

A senior official said the ministry has high hopes for the project: “If we can save manpower and make systems unmanned, it will help solve chronic personnel shortages.”

However, SDF bases are already home to a complex web of wireless systems, used for everything from command links between units and aeronautical communication. In the trial run, the SDF will verify that the 5G network does not interfere with these extant wireless systems. Ensuring there are no information leaks is another critical issue.

The ministry allocated ¥400 million for the project in the draft budget for the new fiscal year.

5G is seen as essential for troop operations in future combat situations. In May, the U.S. Department of Defense put together a strategy for using 5G in combat. China and other countries have similarly been rushing to get their 5G systems battle ready.

As Japan has been seen as lagging on this front, the ministry hopes the trial run will help make up for lost time and pave the way for the expedient adoption of their own 5G environments.