Spectrum Management System Deploying to Afghanistan

July 11, 2013
By George I. Seffers
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The U.S. Army is currently delivering a new and improved Coalition Joint Spectrum Management and Planning Tool (CJSMPT) to divisions scheduled for deployment in Afghanistan. The software automates the spectrum management process, dramatically reducing the amount of time and paperwork associated with spectrum allocation and mission planning in a tactical environment.

For operational security reasons, Army officials cannot reveal exactly which divisions will be receiving the systems or when, but for the next few months, they will be working to get the system out to Afghanistan.

Warfighters are continually confronted with an increasingly crowded radio spectrum—too many devices transmitting on a limited range of frequencies and interfering with one another. Poor spectrum availability can have a devastating effect on operations, and spectrum management normally is a complex and time-consuming process involving frequency access requests that must be approved at multiple levels. “There’s a lot of paperwork associated with the spectrum management process. There are thousands of these [requests] that have to be prepared, submitted, received and reconciled down at the brigade level. Normally, this could take days or even weeks in preparation for a mission or deployment, and CJSMPT can do this in a matter of hours. It provides automation to the spectrum manager to reduce the complexity of his tasks,” says Bob Shields, chief of the Spectrum Analysis and Frequency Management Branch, Space and Terrestrial Communications Directorate, U.S. Army Communications-Electronic Research, Development and Engineering Center (CERDEC), Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland.

A brigade’s battle space can have “thousands and thousands” of emitters, including radios, radar, cell phones and jammers, Shields says. In fact, when U.S. and coalition forces deployed jammers to block radio-controlled improvised explosive devices, the jammers interfered with their own communications as well.

CJSMPT maps out a mission plan, taking into account the spectrum resources of the force structure, background emitters in the area of interest, and the terrain and propagation of the operational environment. By looking at the physical aspects of an operational environment, taking into account topography and mission requirements, CJSMPT helps take the guess work out of determining available radio frequencies.

CJSMPT resulted from a joint urgent operational need. An earlier version of the system was deployed to the theater of operations several years ago for assessment but was found lacking, leading the Army Forces Command (FORSCOM) and the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) to stop providing the necessary infrastructure. “It was evaluated in 2009, and it turned out that while it satisfied all of the functional requirements, it hadn’t yet reached the level of development suitable for a user in a tactical environment. It was just too difficult to use,” Shields reports.

The 183 systems that were previously fielded have been “somewhat idle,” Shields says, but the system was returned to the lab for continued development, and version 2.1.2 is now being delivered. “It’s ready for primetime, unlike the previous version, which was really an engineering tool. So, the 183 that are out there are really not in use, and there’s really no infrastructure to support them. We’re deploying new infrastructure to support this tool,” Shields says. He emphasizes that the current version of CJSMPT went through a rigorous operational assessment at Fort Bliss, Texas, last winter during Army's Network Integration Evaluation 12.2. Furthermore, it has been deemed by the Army's Test and Evalution Command to be "operationally effective and suitable with a high potential for equipping." 

The improved version is written in hybrid Java and C# programming language, includes NASA’s cutting-edge World Wind virtual globe, and is modeled after the process already in use by spectrum managers, rather than requiring them to adapt their processes to the system. The new infrastructure includes consolidating data sources used to keep track of emitters in the battle space, whether the emitters are tactical radios or jammers owned by the United States and coalition forces, host nation radar systems or privately owned systems. “Those emitters are in a number of data sources, and CJSMPT consolidates those into a single data source for use in the brigade battle space. That’s the infrastructure, the reachback to get the consolidated spectrum environment data. That infrastructure has to be up and ready and accessible by the tactical user. That’s a big piece of what we’re standing up right now as we speak,” Shields says.

The Army will continue to incrementally improve the system based on feedback, including input from the Marine Corps. Additionally, Shields envisions CJSMPT becoming a platform for convergence, the integration of a range of communications and electronic warfare tools. Some of those tools are currently deployed on separate laptops, but the Army leadership has developed a convergence strategy for electronic warfare and communications systems with the intent of consolidating as many as possible. “We want to try to become the platform onto which these other communications tools and spectrum tools will converge. We think it works out best when the government is doing the convergence, doing the integration. We have the talent, we have the expertise, we have the source code and we have the development environment,” Shields says.

In fact, officials at the Space and Terrestrial Communications Directorate aim for the directorate to become a convergence center of excellence for spectrum management.

Shields points out directorate officials have worked with many others to improve CJSMPT, including DISA, program executive offices, Army leadership, the Marine Corps, Training and Doctrine Command and others. “This is a pretty big operation, and we’re a part of a huge community that pulled this thing together,” he states.

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Probably we, two consultant of ITU-D, were the first experts went to Afghanistan to promote their Spectrum Management in year 2000. At that time we provided them several executive regulations on spectrum management, spectrum pricing, spectrum monitoring, table of national frequency allocations and also a simple data entry software. Even though, it was happened 13 years, I am sure that they are still suffering from less number of experts in spectrum management and insufficient expertise. Since I am familiar with the regulations, culture and capability of this country, my suggestion is that not to give a complicated software that is more than need of a elementary spectrum management system. Otherwise they might not be able to use it efficiently. Instead, it is better to find a local company to develop a well-tailored spectrum management system. Maintenance of a local-developed tool is much more easier than asking a foreign company/group to do it. By this, the internal capacity of Afghanistan would be raised gradually to develop more advanced ASMS.

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