IT tools are clogging the airwaves

Officials fret over poor spectrum management

air power: U.S. Army Spc. Ted Trenary (left) and Pfc. Kevin Tirserio launch a Raven UAV in Iraq to scan for improvised explosive devices. UAVs are among the tools increasing demand for radio spectrum.

Courtesy of the US Air Force Tech. Sgt. Andy Dunaway

Who gets access to the nation's airwaves is an issue that has been debated for decades.

While wireless companies have pressured the government to free up more frequencies so they can continue to roll out wireless services, the Defense Department has been free to deploy all types of spectrum-dependant equipment to help it fight the war on terror.

That equipment is now causing major system interference headaches. Defense officials say managing and optimizing dwindling radio frequency spectrum is one of the major hurdles in Iraq.

'One of the things that is eating all of our lunch is spectrum,' said Defense CIO John Grimes.

He said when he recently visited Iraq, 'spectrum was one of those areas in the theater that kept coming up.'

'Spectrum is a huge issue,' agreed Vice Adm. Nancy Brown, director of command, control, communications and computers for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

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

Nearly every senior military official who spoke at the recent Army LandWarNet Conference sounded the same alarm about electromagnetic spectrum: It needs to be better managed and utilized, or the U.S. military is in trouble.

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

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

Spectrum is analogous to fuel and ammunition on the battlefield, said Stuart Timerman, director of the Army Spectrum Management Office.

The spectrum management problem was exacerbated by the increase in electronic improvised explosive device jammers, shipped to Iraq to ward off the insurgent threat.

'The Army had a huge influx of jammers to the theater,' said Timerman, adding that his office never had an official accounting of all of the jammers.

The jammers often cause airwave interference with unmanned aerial vehicle control links. Timerman said his office, in conjunction with the other service spectrum offices and the recently created Defense Spectrum Organization, needs to develop a joint solution.

Some of the capabilities that Timerman's office is exploring to improve spectrum management, include:
  • Developing a spectrum common operational picture, which includes accounting for all emitters currently in the battlespace

  • Exploring in depth the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's Next Generation Spectrum Management program

  • Exploring digital signal processing and compression and multiplexing techniques

  • Creating a single authority and charging that person with oversight into the development of spectrum management capabilities.

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


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