5G and Battlespace Dominance
by Chet Nagle [Appeared in “European Security & Defense” 30 March 2019}
The global rollout of 5G, the replacement for the existing 4G mobile communications network, will cost service providers the enormous sum of $325 billion by 2025. Millions of dollars have already been spent to tout the benefits 5G will deliver to individual and commercial users, but little attention is paid to the role of 5G in the future world of defense and national security.
Glimpses of that future are beginning to been seen through the smoke of the conflict between the United States and Huawei, the telecommunications giant created by communist China to dominate manufacturing and implementation of 5G networks.
Many see 5G as an incremental step in the technical evolution of mobile communications, but its speed and ability to carry much more data, it’s lower latency (network response time) and its greater stability will fundamentally transform mobile digital communications. 5G data is transmitted at10 gigabytes per second, and latency is less than a millisecond, a hundred times faster than 4G. These attributes will connect multiple sensors and allow unmanned air, sea, subsurface and ground vehicles to become effectively autonomous. Significantly, 5G will also greatly enhance connectivity in the future internet of things (IoT).
“Internet of things involves close-range telecommunications technology to connect and exchange information between two devices, and 5G is the fastest data transmission method to realise it,” said Zhou Zhaoxiong, an engineer at China Mobile IoT Company. He added that military equipment embedded with communication devices can also form an internet of things. With 5G, communication is possible from device to device and platform to platform, without needing satellites or communications relay aircraft. Because of such capabilities, 5G will become a keystone of future military technology.
No one describes how 5G would operate in battlespace more dramatically than Liu Zhen, who wrote in the South China Morning Post in January:
“Imagine a group of skirmishers in a jungle. They are moving forward speedily with a distance from one another of a few hundred metres. Each of them wears a wristwatch that displays fellow members’ positions. This is not satellite positioning, because reception in the tropical forest is unstable; it’s machine-to-machine communication.
“Suddenly one soldier, ambushed by an enemy combatant, is shot and loses consciousness. His smart wearable device detects his condition via sensors, immediately tightens a belt around his wounded thigh, injects an adrenaline shot and sends an emergency alert to the field hospital as well as the entire team.
“Having received the signal on their wristwatches, the team switch to a coordinated combat formation and encircle the enemy. An ambulance helicopter arrives to evacuate the injured soldier while auto-driven armoured vehicles come to reinforce – guided by devices on each soldier and antenna arrays nearby.
“Or, imagine a street battle with a group of terrorists in a city. There is a power blackout and terrorists hide in an empty office building. A counterterrorism technician hacks into the building’s audio control system and collects high-sensitivity soundwaves using the microphones on surveillance cameras – the system is still running thanks to the devices’ low power consumption and long endurance.
“After the acoustic data is sent back, artificial intelligence (AI) analysis determines the locations of the terrorists. A drone is called from nearby, enters through a window and fires a mini-gun at them. These are not movie plots, but technologies already or about to be developed, as the internet of things – built on 5G and AI technologies – reshapes warfare.”
In her article, Liu Zhen quotes Dr. Clark Shu, AI and telecommunications researcher at the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China as saying, “The 5G network and the internet of things (IoT) enlarge and deepen the cognition of situations in the battlefield by several orders of magnitude and produce gigantic amounts of data, requiring Artificial Intelligence (AI) to analyse and even issue commands.”
Dr. Shu is correct, of course, and since the United States is a world leader in the AI sector we are beginning to see IoT scenarios develop. At sea, the U.S. Navy designing and building small armed unmanned autonomous ships. Under the ocean, DARPA and other defense agencies are experimenting with autonomous drone swarms, and in the U.S. Air Force has demonstrated deployment of a swarm of autonomous drones from a fighter aircraft. AI is critical in all of these scenarios because of the extremely high data rate and the need for rapid analyses and commands.
With the advent of 5G technology and advanced AI, it is possible to envision other scenarios in battlespace. For example:
The captain of an aircraft carrier is advised an unidentified submarine is in his vicinity just as the Combat Information Center reports detection of a torpedo racing toward the carrier. The captain launches missiles that splash down between the carrier and the torpedo that release swarms of autonomous underwater vehicles (UUVs) that form barriers to intercept and destroy the inbound torpedo. Ashore, a long range ASW patrol plane takes off to drop canisters at the approximate location of the submarine. They release dozens of explosive UUVs that hunt the submarine for days.
That night the captain is notified of a missile launched from an island 100 miles distant that is on a high arcing course toward the carrier. An aircraft is launched that climbs to altitude and releases a cloud of drones that form a barrier above the carrier that follows it as it evasively maneuvers below. The incoming missile is deflected and falls into the sea.
An Aegis missile defense radar near Hawaii reports an ICBM heading toward the west coast of the United States. A ground-based interceptor missile is launched and, instead of attempting to hit the incoming warhead in midcourse, releases a swarm of maneuvering satellites in near space that form a shield on the warhead’s course that intercepts and destroys it.
These science fiction scenarios in battlespace will be made a reality by 5G, IoT, and AI, and the Peoples Republic of China and Huawei have a deep, detailed, and long time awareness of that reality. In fact, China already aggressively markets armed autonomous drones.
While most nations in the west view 5G as a valuable extension of 4G, China sees 5G technology as an adjunct to its belt-and-road initiative (BRI). The BRI is China’s international infrastructure project designed to expand Beijing’s interests on a global scale and make China the world’s leading economic power by 2049, the 100th anniversary of the founding of that communist country.
Implementing 5G to be part of the BRI is called the “Digital Silk Road,” Beijing’s plan to deploy Chinese 5G systems in every country that is now part of that initiative. As part of the digital road, China is also finishing installation of the “Big Dipper” precision navigation system. It is designed to replace the American GPS system. When the digital road is completed, the BRI will enable China’s 5G, AI and precision navigation systems to monitor and dominate the IoT, digital communications, and commercial and political developments in every nation in the BRI. The initiative will become China’s global version of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.
Beijing has made it very clear that its economic plans are integrated with its national security plans. In October 2017, at the 19th Congress of the Communist Party of China, President Xi Jinping incorporated his new ideology into the Chinese Constitution. That ideology includes economic initiatives like the belt-and-road project as well as a powerful military to defend territorial claims in the South China Sea. That means the BRI and 5G system are projects of the Communist Party, and indicates how important they are to the communist leadership and its intention to become the leader of a new international order.
In view of the long history of 5G, the BRI, and Chinese military territorial aggression in the South China Sea, it is disingenuous for any communist official in China to differentiate between a Chinese company like Huawei and the Chinese government. That notion founders on the fact that China has a centrally managed economy like every communist nation, and Huawei is too important to be an independent company. This fact was recognized by the United States as early as 2012, when the U.S. House Intelligence Committee released a report stating that Chinese telecoms equipment makers like Huawei and ZTE posed a threat to America’s national security because of their close relationship with China’s government. In fact, China’s 2017 National Intelligence Law requires Chinese companies to cooperate with the government on issues that affect national intelligence matters.
Since then, U.S. resistance to Chinese telecom and computer products was conducted quietly, primarily by government agencies like the CIA, FBI, NSA, and the Defense Department. Those agencies do not allow use of computers or digital communications devices that are manufactured in whole or in part by China, or that contain Chinese components. In a congressional hearing last February, intelligence officials, including heads of the CIA, FBI, NSA, and the Director of National Intelligence, stated that they would not advise American citizens to buy Huawei devices or services.
Subsequently, Bloomberg News acquired a memo by retired Air Force Brigadier General Robert Spalding that noted, “The more connected we are, and 5G will make us the most connected by far, the more vulnerable we become.” Spalding, who retired after serving on the the National Security Council last year, wrote that once China controls the IoT in America, it will be able “to weaponize cities,” adding, “Think of self-driving cars that suddenly mow down unsuspecting pedestrians. Think of drones that fly into the intakes of airliners.” Nevertheless, Spalding’s initial NSC plan to ban Chinese telecom equipment was resisted by the U.S. wireless industry.
Then came the disruptive “pivot to Asia” by the Trump administration and the arrest in December 2018 of a senior Huawei executive, chief financial officer Ms. Meng Wanzhou, by Canadian authorities at the request of the United States.
The U.S. case against Huewei was revealed in criminal indictments that lay out 23 charges alleging that Huawei violated sanctions and stole intellectual property while engaging in a pattern of lies to U.S. authorities and business partners for more than a decade. Prosecutors also alleged that Huawei gave bonuses to employees who stole the most valuable information and posted it on an internal website. Besides the legal battle, Washington is ramping up an international effort to curtail sales of telecom products of Huawei, the world’s largest manufacturer of network infrastructure, the #2 maker of smart phones after Samsung, and the major player in the implementation of 5G networks. Even in the midst of complex trade negotiations with Beijing, the campaign has been remarkably successful. For example:
* “Five Eyes,” the intelligence alliance of the U.S., Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, has joined forces with Japan, Germany and France in an agreement to step up countermeasures to cyberattacks by countries like China. Like Australia and New Zealand, all have banned Huawei products or are reviewing whether to do so. The Japanese government has ended procurement of all Chinese telecom products. Britain’s Vodaphone, the world’s biggest mobile service provider outside China, is halting purchase of Huawei components. Germany’s Deutsche Telecom is debating whether to restrict Huawei from its 5G network, and France’s Orange said it would not have Huawei build it’s 5G network.
* Canada is studying security risks of 5G networks despite threats from China’s ambassador, and even after a Chinese court retried a Canadian who had already been jailed for drug smuggling and sentenced him to death. Richard Fadden, former head of Canada’s Security Intelligence Service from 2009 to 2013, said there was mounting evidence for blocking Huawei.
* The Czech Republic Tax Office has banned Huawei products after Czech cybersecurity officials warned for years that Huawei equipment and software could be used to collect data on Czech citizens. Norway’s intelligence service is saying that Huawei’s close ties with China’s government sparks security concerns and they are exploring ways to limit exposure.
* Polish authorities arrested a former Polish security official and a Huawei sales director and charged them with spying for China. Warsaw will prohibit Huawei from it 5G network and is asking its NATO allies to join the ban.
The Trump administration’s message is that China poses a direct threat to the United States national interest — economically and militarily. Other nations will soon recognize the security threats posed by 5G systems built by China.
It will happen when they realize that the dragon waiting in the digital shadows is China’s plan for battlespace dominance.