By Geoff Fein

The Department of Defense (DoD) is searching for ways to better optimize how it uses bandwidth whether it is over landlines, over satellite communications (SATCOM) or other radio frequency (RF) media, according to a defense official.

Bandwidth management is a challenge, David Mihelcic, chief technology officer at the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA), told Defense Daily in a recent interview.

‘Some of the things that you’ll see that we have done in DISA is deploy technologies very similar to commercial technologies that help manage bandwidth,’ he said.

For example, DISA has a program called content staging, Mihelcic said.

“We have developed nodes globally on our unclassified and classified networks that move content closer to the users and thereby alleviate some of those bandwidth shortages,” he explained.

DISA has nodes installed on the Non-Secure Internet Protocol Router Network (NIPERNET), which is the unclassified, but sensitive Internet Protocol (IP) router network, as well as the Secret IP Router Network (SIPERNET), Mihelcic said.

“We have nodes installed in southwest Asia, in Iraq and Afghanistan that cache information on the network close to the users and thereby drastically accelerate performance,” he said. “Content staging is actually based on a commercial service…Akamai (Akamai Technologies)…but it has been militarized and it has actually moved inside of our networks and it is securely managed by DoD personnel from our networks operations centers.”

In situations where there is no access to a terrestrial or fiber optic landline, and operators must rely on RF media, it’s not a matter of bandwidth, but spectrum management that warfighters must contend with, Mihelcic added.

“[With] spectrum management, the problem is much simpler when you can drag a fiber into a base. When you can’t drag a fiber [cable] into a base, [for example] when you are a ship at sea, or a tactical mobile user, you have a much bigger problem,” he said. “We have an organization that is part of DISA called the Defense Spectrum Organization (DSO), which is actually chartered to work these challenges.”

DSO has attacked the issue of spectrum management on multiple fronts, Mihelcic said.

“First of all DSO is developing better tools to manage the spectrum that is available today. One of those tools is a new development that is ongoing [called] the Global Electromagnetic Spectrum Information System (GEMSIS). This is a software appliance that gives warfighters the ability to better manage the spectrum that’s available to them,” Mihelcic said.

Second, DISA is working with organizations such as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop better technologies to use spectrum more efficiently, Mihelcic added.

“Probably the most promising technology out there is something called Dynamic Spectrum Access, where radios won’t be hard coded to use a single frequency, but adapt to use the available spectrum and potentially be able to share spectrum between multiple military systems,” he said. “In that way, you will be able to better use the spectrum that’s available at the exact moment in time when you need to use it, instead of being locked into a single piece of frequency allocation.”

The next piece of DSO strategy is to have engagement with operational warfighters in helping them fight through their spectrum management processes in real time, Mihelcic said.

“DSO actually has troops deployed on the ground in southwest Asia to help operational warfighters manage problems with spectrum, in particular, deconfliciton with counter IED operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, which present a significant challenge,” he said. “And we have these teams deployed both with the COCOMS and the military services on the ground in southwest Asia.”

DSO’s strategy for spectrum management also includes an ongoing outreach with both national and international regulators and policy makers to ensure the DoD is represented as new spectrum law is negotiated, such as with the spectrum auctions that have taken place, Mihelcic noted.

“DSO is helping manage the relocation of DoD radios into new spectrum band,” he said. “DSO works that process very actively and manages the program to remove DoD systems from the bands that have been reallocated for commercial use and the new military bands.”