Jockeying for wireless spectrum

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla.'Nearly every senior military speaker who took to the stage this week at the Army LandWarNet Conference to discuss their program successes and challenges sounded the same alarm about electromagnetic spectrum: it needs to be better managed and utilized or the U.S. military is in trouble.

"One of the things that is eating all of our lunch is spectrum," said Defense CIO John Grimes. He added that when he recently visited Iraq, "Spectrum was one of those areas in the theater that kept coming up."

"Spectrum is a huge issue," added Vice Adm. Nancy Brown, the new director of command, control, communications and computers for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "When we ship things, we have to make sure it doesn't impact negatively with the other things that are there."

"The spectrum world faces more challenges than ever before," Lt. Gen. Steven Boutelle, Army CIO, weighed in.

For years DOD'the government's largest consumer of spectrum'has fought with telecommunications giants and other companies that tried to encroach on Defense spectrum. These days, DOD agencies seem to be fighting among themselves over their collective failure in adequately managing the limited resource.

And the problem only seems to be getting worse, with the proliferation of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and other spectrum hogs.

Spectrum is analogous to fuel and ammunition on the battlefield, said Stuart Timerman, director of the Army Spectrum Management Office. In Iraq, one of the major issues with spectrum is conflicting systems all vying for the same limited bandwidth.

The problem was exacerbated by the increased use of electronic improvised explosive device (IED) jammers, shipped to Iraq as a countermeasure to the insurgent threat.

"The Army had a huge influx of [IED] jammers to the theater," said Timerman, adding that his office never had an official accounting of all of the devices. "You can see the reasoning behind it: soldiers are getting killed and we needed a solution."

But that solution often causes airwave interference with UAV control links. Timerman said his office, in conjunction with the other service spectrum offices and the Defense Spectrum Organization, need to work together to arrive at a joint solution.

Some of the capabilities Timerman's office is exploring to improve spectrum management, include:
  • Developing a spectrum common operational picture that includes accounting for all emitters currently in the battle space
  • Exploring in-depth DARPA's Next Generation Spectrum Management program
  • Exploring digital signal processing desk and compression and multiplexing
  • Creating a single authority and charging that person with oversight into the development of spectrum management capabilities.

"Spectrum management is critical to netcentricity," Timerman said. "The last mile is wireless. If you don't control this, your (resource) goes away."


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