Add spectrum management to the list of the U.S. military’s top priorities. Along with information sharing, interoperability and information security, ensuring that the latest communications and sensor systems have waves to ride on in the battlefield is now a hot topic at the highest levels at the Pentagon.
The ascent to prominence has been less a well-paced drive to itemize what needs attention and more the result of a collision between supply and demand. But regardless of how the military got into this situation, spectrum management is now a pressing matter. Warfighters today need spectrum not only for radio communications but also for the dozens of new capabilities they have come to rely on such as global positioning systems (GPS), radars and information-gathering sensors.
Mired in the mission to ensure that warfighters have the spectrum they need when they need it are the information technology leaders of both the U.S. Defense Department and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. John Grimes, assistant secretary of defense for networks and information integration
and chief information officer of the Defense Department, and Vice Adm. Nancy Brown, USN, director, command, control, communications and computer (C4) systems, J-6, the Joint Staff
, are working together closely to address the policy angle of the issue. Collaborating with the combatant commanders, the two are gathering information about procurement, products, processes and problems to coordinate the Defense Department’s solutions to a multifaceted challenge.
This work comes none too soon for warfighters in current missions. Grimes and Adm. Brown relate that early in operations in the Middle East, troops faced some pretty daunting challenges with equipment that operated on the same frequencies. For example, Adm. Brown shares that when the U.S. military arrived in Iraq, a wide variety of equipment for identifying improvised explosive devices (IEDs) was shipped into the theater. However, because some users had not been trained properly, they did not understand that some of the detection devices were operating on the same frequencies as the radios, canceling each other out.
Spectrum challenges are emerging from another area as well. As the demand for wireless devices by consumers has grown and the commercial sector has raced to profit from this demand, the frequency band has become more crowded. “In the past, we operated alone. Nobody else was in our spectrum. It was military spectrum, and that was pretty universal,” Adm. Brown explains. “It hasn’t been until we’ve gotten into the age now of wireless and all of the other capabilities—cell phones and the technology that everybody’s using—that the military spectrum has been encroached upon. So those things weren’t that important before because we weren’t competing for spectrum anywhere. Now, everywhere we go, we’re competing. We compete in the U.S. It’s one of those things that we’ve been forced to pay more attention to.” Grimes adds that the need for standards and testing will continue to grow if the military must operate in spectrum-congested urban areas more often.
Two spectrum management tools already are in the pipeline for military use. The Global Electromagnetic Spectrum Information System (GEMSIS) is the program of record that allocates spectrum in the manner similar to how air tasking orders are issued to send aircraft on missions. It will enable the services to coordinate spectrum from a joint perspective based on information about which spectrum is required and how various devices radiate. This will allow the military to put a spectrum plan together for an operation to an extent that has not been possible before, the admiral says. The introduction of GEMSIS into the field is expected in 2008.
The Coalition Joint Spectrum Management Planning Tool (CJSMPT), which is still in the joint capabilities technology demonstration phase, is the second system that will help the services better manage spectrum use. This automated tool interfaces with all of the various spectrum databases in the services and ties all the service-unique databases together so a spectrum manager understands what is available. “It also allows them to go in and figure out what spectrum different devices use, so it provides the information they need to develop a spectrum plan for the operation,” Adm. Brown explains. As envisioned, the CJSMPT will feed into GEMSIS and facilitate the creation of spectrum tasking orders.
As new spectrum management technologies roll into the field, the importance of training skyrockets. Training is an area that has been largely ignored recently, the admiral admits, but that situation is already changing. After eliminating spectrum specialist as a career field a few years ago, the U.S. Army is bringing it back. A C4 Planners course, which features a segment on spectrum, will begin next month. One of Adm. Brown’s priorities is to elevate the importance of the spectrum management profession, including developing a core group of experts who can continue to manage the spectrum for the military. “This is one of those skills that we just haven’t emphasized enough,” she says.
Grimes agrees and points out that it is important to address this problem now because technology development is exploding at a rate that cannot be predicted. “When I was at the White House in the late 1980s and early 1990s, we had this thing just starting called the Internet, and we were looking at some security of our own. Three years later, there was a total explosion. We never envisioned the Internet to take off like that. It's the same way with WiMAX or any of the other new devices. In fact, we don't know who's going to have the next frequency-demanding device that has to operate in spectrum,” he states.The full version of this article is published in the December 2007 issue of SIGNAL Magazine, in the mail to AFCEA members and subscribers December 3, 2007. For information about purchasing this issue, joining AFCEA or subscribing to SIGNAL, contact AFCEA Member Services.