The Defense Department needs to regain dominance, or at least parity, in the electromagnetic spectrum or else high-end platforms like ships and aircraft will be impacted, according to a top official.

Alan Shaffer, principal deputy, assistant secretary of defense for research and engineering, said Wednesday as society and technology transitioned from analog to digital electronics, the United States largely stayed stagnant.

A Block 40 version of Northrop Grumman's Global Hawk UAV in flight. DoD uses the electromagnetic spectrum to communicate with Global Hawks from the ground. Photo: Northrop Grumman.
A Block 40 version of Northrop Grumman’s Global Hawk UAV in flight. DoD uses the electromagnetic spectrum to communicate with Global Hawks from the ground. Photo: Northrop Grumman.

“The U.S. (has) stayed largely…in our standard radar and communication bands,” Shaffer said Wednesday at the ComDef 2014 conference in downtown Washington. “We stayed in X-band radar while the rest of the world (was) going to higher and lower frequencies outside of where we operate. That surprised us.”

Shaffer said losing electromagnetic spectrum dominance is a problem because potential adversaries can counter advanced systems with what he called cheap digital jammers. Shaffer said these cheap jammers are also fueled by advances in processing speed, leading to “very agile and capable systems” for little money.

The Pentagon is heavily dependent on electromagnetic spectrum for activities ranging from communications to command and control (C2), cyber activities, carrying out intelligence, reconnaissance, and surveillance (ISR) missions with unmanned systems, as well as for guiding weapons to targets.

DoD late last year released an electromagnetic spectrum strategy to lay the foundation for how it should adapt to the changing spectrum environment and assess and respond to spectrum regulatory changes. The first goal listed in the strategy is expediting the development of spectrum-dependent system (SDS) capabilities with increased spectrum efficiency, flexibility and adaptability.

The strategy said DoD will exploit technology advances to access less-used spectrum and seek to use commercial services and technologies to meet Pentagon requirements where possible.  The Obama administration in 2010 instructed the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to work with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to make available 500 megahertz (MHz) of the spectrum over the next decade.

The goal is to create more wireless broadband capability for the commercial industry to support public use of smartphones, tablets and other devices. That was based on an FCC estimate that an additional 275 MHz would be needed by 2014 to accommodate growing demand. DoD is one agency of the federal government required to develop a plan (Defense Daily, Feb. 20).

Former DoD Chief Information Officer (CIO) Teri Takai testified last summer that an initial frequency band assessment, commonly referred to as the “fast track study,” resulted in arrangements to geographically share the 1695-1710 and 3550-3650 MHz bands. Takai also said a relocation feasibility assessment of the 1755-1850 MHz band was significant as NTIA concluded it was possible to repurpose all 95 MHz of spectrum, based on conditions outlined in the report. NTIA called the 1755-1850 MHz band “prime spectrum” in a March 2012 report.

Takai said an NTIA report showed a total cost of $18 billion for all federal agencies to reallocate spectrum with approximately $13 billion as DoD’s cost (Defense Daily, Feb. 18). Terry Halvorsen is acting CIO.