If there’s one industry that seems to be consistently at the cutting edge of technology, it’s the military. And when 6G represents that cutting edge, you bet they’re keen to explore its possibilities.

From devices that look like they’re straight out of science fiction to writing helicopter maintenance manuals for AI, staying current with technology means staying effective … plus staying one step ahead of current and future enemies.

It’s no surprise that militaries all around the world are already interested in 6G, with some already approaching speeds and connectivity that resemble it. Here’s a closer look at what they’re doing and why it matters.

Militaries are Already Interested in 6G

Although news surfaced about the US military’s investment into 5G only officially surfaced in 2019, there are other clues that they’ve been quietly interested in it for years.

The conversation around 6G isn’t going quite the same way, with open acknowledgments of the type of technology that already (or may soon) exists. Part of that may be due to the tense relations between the US and China. Or, it may simply be impossible to silence the conversation because so much of 6G research and development considers the non-consumer-oriented applications of the tech.

Either way, militaries are already interested in 6G around the world. In the development of 6G, there are two things to keep an eye on:

China Sees 6G as a Way to Modernize Its Military

Perhaps the most vociferous of the pack, China has repeatedly published statements expressing its interest in using 6G networks to modernize its armed forces – never mind that 6G is still fundamentally theoretical.

China sees 6G as an opportunity to transform its military operations on every level, from equipment and war formations to battlefield communications. American analysts warn that if they could pull it off (and it’s possible), it’d provide a way for China to leapfrog the US in terms of military might and technology.

The Internet of Military Things Already Exists

If 5G brought the Internet of Things, then 6G is bringing the Internet of Military Things – and for the military, that already exists.

The Internet of Military Things refers to all the smart devices not frequently used in the military domain. It ranges from sensing and actuating devices to devices that capture and carry data. Some of these are perfectly capable with 4G. Some need 5G, while others will need to wait until 6G is developed.

What will 6G mean for the IoMT? At some point, the military hopes to include smart city monitoring, logistics support, and a whole host of other functions to make management a whole lot easier.

Some Possible Military Applications for 6G

Militaries are excited about 6G for many of the same reasons that other industries are – it promises to unlock radical technologies that completely change the way the world operates. While little has surfaced on specifics, three common themes appear in most of the news articles related to military applications for 6G. They are: 

1. Battlefield Communication

Imagine being able to report the location of an enemy unit before it has a chance to strike or delivering critical information about a target’s movement in real time. With 6G, those things may one day be a reality.

The amazing data speeds plus extreme coverage make 6G a useful tool for communication in high stakes environments. More rapid communication means more effective operations, leading to shorter conflicts and fewer lives lost.

2. Improved Location Services

One of 6G’s expected abilities is to improve location detection to be accurate within centimeters, making technology such as autonomous vehicles practical. However, it has other applications as well, including for drones or other unmanned vehicles that may one day be sent into dangerous environments.

Additionally, some research notes that high-accuracy localization will also improve radar technology, particularly as it relates to mobile devices. Imagine sending a reconnaissance drone to a location with a text message. 

3. Equipment Development

Just like 6G will bring a more sophisticated Internet of Things to the world, it will also do the same for the military by allowing the development of ever more intelligent, autonomous devices.

A significant body of research suggests that the battlefield of the future will be populated by things, not people. Ethics about killer robots notwithstanding, what if we could fight wars where no human actors ever entered the picture at all?

Why Does This Matter?

From the outside, it’s hard to take China’s and the US’s posturing about 5G and 6G seriously, to view it as anything other than a spitting contest between two military superpowers. Nonetheless, what happens with military developments and 6G does matter, because it’s one more way that our world may be changed for the better (or the worse). In particular:

  • It’s a matter of national security. Keeping pace with (or outpacing) rivals is one way to ensure security. Should China succeed in leapfrogging the US in technology, it will become a risk for us.
  • The nature of war will change. Machines replacing humans on the battlefield, or enabling more precise operations, will affect the way we fight wars. In particular, it may be possible to reduce or eliminate casualties.
  • Military technology often finds its way into civilian use. Many of our favorite inventions, such as duct tape and digital photography (not to mention the internet!) were military inventions later released to the public.

6G Will Transform Our World: We’re Tracking the Possibilities

Like other major and critical industries, 6G has many promises and applications for the military. We’ve covered a few of its potential uses, noting that each of them has the potential to transform not just the way we conduct war, but also what might eventually be released into our own society.

With 6G being a decade or more in the future, however, it’s difficult to ascertain what form it may take. That’s why we’re tracking its research and development as it ramps up even as 5G rolls out.

What should be the priority of 6G technology? We want your thoughts. Take the poll now.

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