Leaders Attack Spectrum Woes

May 2008
By Maryann Lawlor
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Information gathered by the U.S. and local military is shared Afghan National Army soldiers from the 203rd Corps as they prepare for an Afghan-led combat operation. Leaders at the U.S. Defense Department emphasize that devices being developed for the U.S. military must be designed to operate in electromagnetic environments other than those of the U.S.
Summit momentum instigates top management rapid response.

Pentagon officials are aggressively tackling the spectrum supportability problems that plague the U.S. military both in the United States and abroad. In response to discussions at the Defense Spectrum Summit in December, personnel in the offices of the Joint Staff and the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Networks and Information Integration hammered out details and approved a long-awaited update to the department’s official instruction on management and use of electromagnetic spectrum. A number of new initiatives have been put into motion, and military leaders agree that if the momentum of the summit continues, severe problems with spectrum management could be a thing of the past.

The diversity of issues raised at the Defense Spectrum Summit (SIGNAL Magazine, March 2008) is an indication of how complex the challenges have become. For example, while the need for solutions on the battlefield is urgent, bypassing required processes to put them there can result in devices that cannot be used once they arrive. Whether the problems are frequency clashes or other incompatibilities, the outcome is the same: Equipment sits on shelves while warfighters go without. To resolve these conflicts, spectrum managers at the summit explained that they do whatever they can, but they need the help of decision makers to ensure that rules designed to prevent these problems are followed. In addition, industry chimed in to propose that closer collaboration from the requirements-development stage through the final paperwork would enable many companies to deliver truly usable solutions.

Among the most significant and immediate steps since the summit is the publication of a new Defense Department Instruction 4650.01. Titled “Policy and Procedures for Management and Use of the Electromagnetic Spectrum,” the document updates the department directive of a similar name last updated in June 2004. It serves as the governing document for spectrum management, and the services already have begun revising their policy and guidance documents to ensure compliance with the policy.

Policy enforcement has been one of the roadblocks to spectrum supportability. According to John G. Grimes, assistant secretary of defense for networks and information integration, and Defense Department chief information officer, it is expected that these policies will be understood and enforced from the lowest level of management to the most senior-level leaders within the department. Reporting requirements may be levied at the combatant command level to ensure compliance and, where appropriate, to identify process weaknesses and gaps to be addressed and corrected. In addition, the acquisition community must support and enforce the spectrum supportability requirements at each critical milestone review. “The combination of new technology and updated policies moves us closer to a net-centric way of conducting spectrum management,” Grimes says.

Vice Adm. Nancy E. Brown, USN, director, Command, Control, Communications and Computer Systems (J-6), the Joint Staff, says that comments heard at the Spectrum Summit became the impetus for moving policy matters forward. “I think every DOD instruction that we cited [at the summit] that had been laying around getting dust on it is now on Mr. Grimes’ desk and has been signed or is ready to be signed. I believe that’s because we raised it as an issue at the conference; we got everybody’s attention,” Adm. Brown states.

The physical reality that spectrum is a finite resource pervades any discussion about auctions and the economic versus security balance that must be reached. Grimes emphasizes that the importance of collaboration between industry and the department increases significantly as spectrum is reallocated from the military to the commercial sector. Working together, they can develop dynamic spectrum access technologies to enable continued support of the national security mission, he says.

Grimes adds that as the amount of spectrum dedicated to security activities drops, the need for federal, state, local and civilian organizations to cooperate also increases. “We share the same challenges and goals and are working more closely together. A good example is the U.S. delegation to the World Radiocommunication Conference [WRC], which includes representatives from the NTIA [National Telecommunications and Information Administration], FCC [Federal Communications Commission] and industry,” Grimes explains.

Adm. Brown shares that discussions at the WRC late last year revealed an emerging aspect of the auction issue brought to her attention by Richard M. Russell, U.S. ambassador to the conference. “He commented that the current spectrum auction is bringing in much more revenue than was anticipated. One concern is that other countries may see this and start auctioning off spectrum, which could have a real impact because they won’t ask us [the United States], and there will be no give-and-take as far as helping us get into a different band or whatever else we need to do. So that’s really an area that we’re going to have to focus on,” the admiral notes.

Progress has been made in the area of training. Grimes’ office continues to promote the fact that the services should establish a spectrum management career field for enlisted personnel, and some steps have been taken. The U.S. Army has established a military occupational specialty for its enlisted spectrum managers. In the U.S. Navy, a new enlisted classification code has been approved to identify graduates of the Joint Task Force Spectrum Management course. The U.S. Marine Corps has a spectrum management career field for its warrant officers and a career field designator for enlisted personnel who are trained on spectrum management. And in the U.S. Air Force, a professional career field exists for spectrum management personnel.

Airman 1st Class Janiece Griffis, USAF, 334th Training Squadron student, monitors an operator console unit workstation at Keesler Air Force Base. Keesler hosts joint training; however, it is difficult for the services to support both their own spectrum-management training initiatives and joint courses even though the need for joint spectrum- management training exists. This is one area that will receive continued attention by military leaders at the Pentagon.
Despite this progress, Adm. Brown points out the need to focus on determining if a gap still exists in the joint aspect of supporting a joint task force or transitioning from a service-specific operation to a joint operation. “If there is a gap, where do we insert that training? We have a joint school at Keesler [Air Force Base], but it’s difficult for the services to fully support the joint school and then support their own individual schools. So what’s the balance there? And how do we make sure that we’re getting not just service training, but joint training?” the admiral states.

To some extent, this issue has been resolved with the new Joint C4 Planners course, which focuses on senior enlisted, warrant officers and junior officers who will support a joint task force in command, control, communications, computers and intelligence planning. The first round of students completed the class in January. “There is a small spectrum piece in that course, so we need to assess and determine if we’ve covered all the bases or if we still have a gap somewhere. If there is a gap, how do we address it?” Adm. Brown relates. This last issue is currently being examined, she adds.

According to Grimes, the department also is examining how to develop training in three stages: basic, intermediate and advanced. Basic training would involve Web-based, DVD-based and remote-distance learning, such as videoconferencing-enabled courses. Intermediate training would include internships, on-the-job training, established college courses, and collaboration tools and portals. Gaining advanced skills would entail executive-level shadowing as well as international/intra-agency/service agreements to cross-train.

In terms of ensuring that spectrum is available for warfighters to train, the Defense Department has a number of initiatives to maximize its use of existing radio frequency electromagnetic spectrum allocation. For example, it continues to invest and promote next-generation-enabled and software-defined radio frequency technologies that will facilitate ad hoc networks, take advantage of frequency sharing and pooling, and enable spectrum policy controls. The department also is developing improved modeling and simulation techniques that will identify and measure spectrum usage for a given military scenario. On a broader scale, the department participates in the Software Defined Radio Spectrum Management Permanent Working Group to ensure that technological capabilities are maximized from a spectrum standpoint.

Adm. Brown shares that in addition to formal training, spectrum managers need hands-on experience so they understand what they will face in operational environments. To that end, the Defense Department is working with the organizers of joint exercises to try to focus on spectrum issues. “We have done a lot of work with the JIEDDO [Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization] for the counter IED mission. We actually have a battlefield lab setup where we can test devices and work in more of a realistic environment. That helps. And then we’re trying to make sure that we’re emphasizing with the combatant commands that as they do exercises, they need to make sure that they have realistic spectrum pieces woven in,” the admiral relates.

To address the issue of the multitude of devices entering the battlespace at breakneck speeds without spectrum supportability, the Defense Department is re-emphasizing that spectrum managers must be at the forefront and intimately involved in spectrum-dependent system acquisitions. Grimes explains that their participation is critical to ensure that the products delivered are spectrally supportable from the mission planning process to the review and coordination necessary throughout the Integrated Defense Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Lifecycle Management Framework. “The acquisition community must support and enforce the spectrum supportability requirements at each critical milestone review. Reporting requirements may be levied at the combatant command level to ensure compliance and, where appropriate, identify process weaknesses and gaps to be addressed and corrected,” he says.

Adm. Brown adds that the Defense Department instruction 4650.01 puts more pressure on the department and services’ chief information officers to ensure that any device that uses spectrum but is not supportable does not get fielded unless a waiver has been issued directly from the Defense Department chief information officer. “That’s pretty significant, and that’s new,” the admiral notes.

“We’re also getting a lot stricter about supportability statements—the paperwork—and the other activities that must be completed by program managers to make sure that their systems will be supportable,” she adds. This paperwork is primarily the Application for Equipment Frequency Allocation, or DD 1494, that must be completed before equipment is considered field-ready. Many spectrum managers attending the summit indicated that in an increasing number of instances, fielded devices have received a waiver from completing this form.

According to Adm. Brown, the department has become much stricter about making sure that all of the paperwork, including the DD 1494, is filled out early in the acquisition process. One of the problems has been loopholes in the instructions. “We think we’ve closed the loopholes and made the process a lot more rigorous, so it won’t be as easy to grant waivers. To get a waiver today, the request has to go all the way to Mr. Grimes if it is not supportable,” she says.

“Also, we’ve focused on CENTCOM [U.S. Central Command], because they still seem to be getting a lot of things in theater that don’t have the right supportability work done. We’ve started a weekly phone communication/video teleconference with the CENTCOM staff working to identify what equipment has come into the theater, and then we’re trying to do some of the leg work or make sure it gets done to work through this supportability issue. We’re just trying to be really aggressive to get ahead of the curve,” the admiral shares. In time, the changes to ensure that acquisition requirements are met will address the problem and these weekly communications will end, she adds.

Another important issue identified at the Spectrum Summit was the need for data standardization. Grimes has directed the formation of a spectrum data community of interest because data incongruence continues to be the number one issue for spectrum managers.

In addition to the community of interest, the Defense Spectrum Office/Joint Spectrum Center has a comprehensive spectrum data transformation initiative that focuses on improving the network centricity of the department’s spectrum data. “The key first step is to develop robust net-centric compatible interfaces that will enable us to map existing databases to a new repository that will enable the data to be exposed. Once exposed, the data can be fully exploited for new services,” Grimes explains.

In addition, NATO and U.S. federal government departments—including the Defense Department—are converging on one common standard for spectrum management data exchange. In the Defense Department, it will be the Spectrum Standard Reference Format and will be included in the Joint Staff Publication. This data exchange standard will be implemented within the next two years, Grimes maintains.

Because department leaders anticipate military operations will continue to take place outside the continental United States, it is essential that equipment be designed to operate in various frequencies and bands in different areas of the world. Adm. Brown and Grimes agree that systems must be flexible and developers must consider the electromagnetic environment in which devices will operate, including compatibility with coalition systems.

The two also concur that working closely with industry will be instrumental to ensuring the various issues surrounding spectrum management can be addressed. For example, Adm. Brown points out that while most of the equipment the military purchases will not be used inside the United States, this fact is not always made clear in requirements documents. “Working with companies is more important than I ever realized, because it’s not the companies that write out these requirements, it’s the military,” she says. “And it’s also the companies that can help us better utilize the spectrum.”

In the admiral’s eyes, the 2007 Spectrum Summit was a shining example of the kind of enthusiasm, collaboration and positive discussion that will be required to meet spectrum supportability issues head on. The challenge will be to maintain the momentum and motivation. “Every time you have a conference like that, everybody leaves really charged, but then they get overwhelmed with the everyday stuff and lose some of that excitement with the everyday dullness at work. So the challenge is making sure that we stay connected and we keep people actively involved,” she states.

“I think we’ve made real progress, and I just hope that members of the community continue to move it forward. I’m sure they will because I think we’ve really learned our lesson. It is truly a lesson learned, not one that we’re going to have to learn again,” Adm. Brown declares.

Web Resources
Defense Spectrum Summit 2007: www.afcea.org/events/spectrum/07/schedule.asp
Assistant Secretary of Defense for Networks and Information Integration: www.defenselink.mil/cio-nii
Joint Staff J-6: www.jcs.mil/j6/index.html
Defense Spectrum Organization: www.disa.mil/dso/index.html


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