Spectrum Needs Become Visible

March 2008
By Maryann Lawlor
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Transparent asset garners attention from top down and bottom up.

The Global War on Terrorism is pushing the visibility and value of spectrum to the forefront. Problems encountered during current operations illustrate how devices that find their way onto the battlefield without thorough spectrum requirement vetting are costing lives. Whether the challenge is systems that interfere with each other or equipment that has not been tested in the electromagnetic environment in which it will be used, the consequence could be mission failure instead of success, death instead of life. Military leaders are committed now more than ever to not only keeping spectrum management in the limelight but also continually checking on its progress.

Spectrum managers and military leaders conducted open and frank discussions about the issues surrounding current challenges in spectrum supportability at the Annual Defense Spectrum Summit, held December 10-14, 2007, in Crystal City, Virginia. Throughout speeches and panel presentations, uniformed and civilian U.S. Defense Department personnel alike agreed on a laundry list of spectrum management concerns. They also concurred wholeheartedly that fixing these problems must be a top priority, several offering possible solutions.

Among the issues mentioned most often was the shrinking amount of spectrum available for military use, due at least in some part to auctions. While auctioning sections of unused spectrum to the highest commercial bidder fattens department coffers, it also results in a reduction of available frequencies just as more spectrum-demanding devices pour into the field.

This economic conundrum extends beyond the military. Because the commercial sector is purchasing the spectrum so it can introduce new products to the marketplace, auctions boost the nation’s economy as well, and it is not likely that this wellspring for potential profits will dry up soon. “Regardless of how much spectrum we’ve ‘handed out,’—for cell phones, 3G and in the future 4G—more and more the thirst for spectrum seems to be unquenchable,” noted Karl Nebbia, associate administrator, National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

The consumer clamor for new commercial products is not the only growth area that creates challenges for spectrum managers. The number of new military devices delivered to the battlespace also creates a burden as managers must fit them into already-crowded frequency bands and do their best to ensure that one device does not interfere with the operation of another. This situation is aggravated when procedures to ensure that new technologies operate in available spectrum are circumvented.

Discussions about policy, processes and the realities in the field cropped up over and over again during the conference with little dissension from either military leaders or e-boots on the ground about the problems. Attendees agreed that current policies are not sufficient for today’s situations and that changes, while promised, have been slow in coming.

Vice Adm. Nancy Brown, USN, director of command, control, communications and computer systems, J-6, the Joint Staff, pointed out that the Defense Department’s spectrum management directive of June 2004, DOD 4650.1, recognized the importance of spectrum management and outlined responsibilities when it was published; however, the leadership and services have not been living this policy. For example, while the Mobile User Objective System (MUOS) has been a model program in following the spectrum supportability process, the spectrum management policy does not include host-nation coordination processes; some projects within MUOS have taken advantage of this loophole. “We must tighten up our policy so this doesn’t happen,” Adm. Brown stated.

Citing an example that drove home the potential consequences of spectrum supportability problems, Adm. Brown shared information about a situation taking place currently in Iraq. When warfighters arrive at one secured location, they must get out of their vehicles to identify themselves because their radios cannot communicate with those used by the guards due to spectrum issues. This leaves troops out in the open and ripe for terrorist snipers, she related.

While military leaders reiterated the need to agree on policy and processes, many spectrum managers in attendance who must solve problems daily—sometimes while literally under fire—said that what is really needed is enforcement of current policy. Waivers to the “Application for Equipment Frequency Allocation,” or DD 1494, expedite product fielding but cause problems downrange. This practice has become increasingly pervasive as deployment demands grow, they noted.

On this issue, Adm. Brown stated that Counter Remote Control Improvised Explosive Device Electronic Warfare, or CREW, devices are “here to stay” but that a dynamic 1494 process to facilitate fielding has been agreed upon and is being put into place.

Dr. Ronald C. Jost, deputy assistant secretary of defense for command, control, communications, space and spectrum, advised that rapidly fielding new systems is leading to an even larger problem. “We concentrate on the radio and forget that the radio is part of a network,” he proposed. The software-defined radio is not about spectrum; it is about converging networks. In the dramatically changing environment of mobile communications, spectrum management must be highly dynamic, simple and able to be carried out as well as network management, Jost stated.

Addressing this same topic, Robert “Scott” Jack II, deputy director, warfighter systems integration and deployment directorate, U.S. Air Force, said the military is short-changing itself when it does not handle spectrum assignments with a process similar to air tasking order management. Network centricity is all about spectrum, he added, and the goal is to get spectrum to warfighters on-demand.

Industry representatives at the conference were not silent on these issues. Personnel from several companies argued that their firms are more than willing to develop products in response to this change, but that the military states their communications needs—not their spectrum requirements—when asking for solutions. Additionally, many commands do not allow industry personnel to visit network sites or to be part of systems requirements discussions. One solution to this practice is no-cost contracts, which would enable commercial personnel to participate in requirements discussions or to observe products in action without cost to the government.

This kind of collaboration was called for repeatedly by several of the military leaders in attendance. Paige Atkins, director, Defense Spectrum Organization, Defense Information Systems Agency, noted that changes in the way the military does business are definitely needed. “It’s not acceptable to view things that are changing all over the world and to continue to do things the same way. It’s unacceptable,” Atkins stated.

Among the changes she observed is how information sharing is “shrinking the world” and replacing the decision-making hierarchy with peer-to-peer communications. Atkins pointed out that while this globalization of spectrum enables new types of collaboration, it also causes a “spectrum gold rush.” She called for conducting more research into spectrum management techniques and technologies, and developing ways to exploit new “players,” including electronic warfare (EW) officers.

On the research side, Dr. Anthony Tether, director, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, explained the work his organization has been conducting that will “make the need for the ‘-6s’ go away,” an allusion to military leaders in charge of command, control, communications and computers in each of the services, the combatant commands (COCOMs) and the Joint Staff. He was referring to the Next Generation program, which began with work on new waveforms and now involves the Wireless Network after Next project that is being driven by the vision of affordable radios that form distributed, adaptive networks. These networks will manage node configurations and a network’s topology to reduce the demands on the physical and link layers of the nodes. A prototype radio has been developed and is scheduled for user testing this summer, Tether shared.

But Atkins’ other request—the appeal for more EW officers—exposed another challenge the spectrum management community faces: training. In the past, the need for this warfare specialty remained constant but not in the high range. However, the introduction of so many new devices to the battlefield boosts the requirement not only for EW specialists but also for spectrum managers. To meet an immediate need, the U.S. Army turned to the U.S. Navy, and approximately 300 EW sailors were assigned to assist.

Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Foley, USA, chief of signals, U.S. Army, and commanding general, Signal Center, related that the increasing need for spectrum managers prompted the Army to reinstate some of the training it discontinued years ago. A new military occupational specialty, designated MOS 25E, has been established to ensure the service is prepared to handle the ever-increasing need for qualified personnel in this area.

Gen. Foley spoke candidly about the realities of spectrum management. “Most people have no clue about how hard this is and the ramifications. It is complex and will get worse in the future. The challenges in Iraq and Afghanistan have exceeded any challenges we ever predicted. …The whole electronic management challenge is worse than we thought of five years ago, and we are being forced to operate with less spectrum because they keep selling it off,” he declared.

The general also pointed to the lack of data standardization as a problem. Revealing that standards do not exist for data storage, he noted that analysis cannot be done without it. “We can’t do what we need to do if we continue down this road. We will all be handcuffed forever unless we get after this problem,” Gen. Foley stated.

Atkins was one among many leaders in both the military and industry who constantly came back to the point that addressing these issues will require collaboration the likes of which has not occurred in the past. Cooperation must increase among military leaders, commands, the services and industry, they agreed. The services can no longer buy individual solutions without regard for the impact they will have on spectrum management in the battlefield, many military attendees conceded.

In terms of acquisition, representatives from several companies called for access to information and for spectrum requirements to be specified in contracts. Above all, companies developing future technologies must keep the limited resource of spectrum in mind and communicate frankly with military buyers whenever spectrum challenges emerge, military leaders attested.

The summit also featured closed sessions in which the J-6s from each of the combatant commands agreed on a list of priorities. These top items, which mirrored many of the discussions in the open sessions, were shared with all of the attendees.

The COCOM J-6s admitted that while eliminating 1494 waivers altogether may not be an option, making them more difficult to obtain is a must. In addition, they recognized that spectrum policy development in general and policy enforcement in particular must improve.

Those whose areas of responsibility involve other nations, such as the U.S. Pacific Command, stressed the need first to create communications technologies that take into consideration the electromagnetic environment in which they will operate then to test them to ensure they work as planned. This is particularly important in the Pacific region where many countries do not allow operation in certain frequency ranges in their territories.

And although this situation is especially evident in other countries, it also has emerged as a problem within the United States when troops plan to train, spectrum managers revealed. In some instances, training has had to be adjusted because no one checked on the available spectrum in the training area beforehand and there was none to be had.

John Grimes, assistant secretary of defense for networks and information integration and chief information officer for the Defense Department, listened intently as spectrum management challenges were spelled out during panel sessions and presentations. “This has been an eye-opener for me. We will take this and work with AT&L [acquisition, technology and logistics] to go after the low-hanging fruit now. I also intend to make sure these changes happen, and industry has to be involved,” he said.

Web Resources
Defense Spectrum Organization: www.disa.mil/dso/index.html
Assistant Secretary of Defense for Networks and Information Integration: www.defenselink.mil/cio-nii
DARPA Next Generation program: www.darpa.mil/sto/smallunitops/xg.html


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