By Geoff Fein

With commercial demand for bandwidth and spectrum growing exponentially, the military is tasked with finding ways to effectively manage those resources while at the same time investigating new technologies.

And the Department of Defense’s (DoD) move into network centric operations is putting even further stress on competition for those finite resources, according to Paige Atkins, director, Defense Spectrum Organization (DSO).

DSO is a unit of the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA).

“As we look at our growing requirements and the constraints that we have in terms of operating within the spectrum we have today, or in the future possibly less spectrum, we have been forced to become much more efficient, which is a good thing,” she told Defense Daily in a recent interview.

“We are learning to do more with the same, and investigating technologies and techniques that allow us to become more efficient and effective in terms of how we use the spectrum. In some cases we are limited by physics–there are certain applications that require certain frequency bands due to the characteristics, like the propagation characteristics. Also, you cannot always apply the same technologies or techniques across different types of capabilities–for instance, with radar systems we may not be able to use the same techniques as with communications systems because we need the radar function to operate correctly,” Atkins added. “But the bottom line is that we are focused on using spectrum as efficiently and effectively as practical while providing the greatest benefit to the warfighter.”

Some of the efforts DSO is pursuing include improving spectrum management tools and techniques, Atkins said.

DSO has been pioneering and will be fielding new databases in a common data standard, and will soon deploy advanced spectrum management tools that improve the DoD’s spectrum management operations, she added.

Those efforts include investigating technologies that improve sharing of the spectrum by taking advantage of different frequencies, as well as spatial differences, power control and even using different signal modulation to increase efficiency and sharing.

One future tool DSO is developing is called the GEMSIS program–Global Electro-Magnetic Spectrum Information Systems, Atkins said. GEMSIS is critical to DoD’s ability to satisfy net centric operations and warfare requirements in the future.

GEMSIS is going to be an interoperable spectrum management system, a catalogue of services that provide an end-to-end tool suite that all DoD spectrum management organizations and operational entities will use and leverage, she added.

Eventually it will allow commanders in the field to have a common operational picture of spectrum use, greater spectrum situational awareness of friendly and hostile forces, and more transparently deconflict competing mission requirements, Atkins added.

“That is building the foundation for more flexible and dynamic spectrum management construct for the future,” she said. “We also are very focused on advanced technologies. We have a team called the Emerging Spectrum Technologies Team that monitors, tracks and explores how newer, more spectrally efficient technologies can be modified and adapted for DoD use, as well as evaluating techniques and technologies that can enable greater sharing.”

At the same time, DSO is identifying potential areas of concern if new technologies are being developed that might interfere with and degrade DoD operations. “We want to be aware of those as well, and work to mitigate those issues particularly for commercial communications systems,” Atkins said.

“We also, though our Joint Spectrum Center, provide deployed support to real time operations and that allows us to assist with real world interference issues that confront our warfighters today. We are not only solving the issues of today, but almost more importantly learning from those experiences and integrating those lessons learned, when possible, into our processes tools and technologies to help mitigate those issues in the future,” she added.

And DSO supports DoD in critical outreach efforts, both nationally and internationally, working with other United States government agencies, international organizations such as the International Telecommunications Union, global industries such as telecommunication companies, and the general public and other foreign administrations, Atkins noted.

“The goal in this case is to forge the relationship so we can protect military equities on a global basis, but we also understand the need to balance priorities. Though military users are our number one priority–to protect the men and women that are out in the field–we understand that we also need to have a balanced approach and ensure that we are not only protecting our own interests but also looking at economic prosperity for the U.S. and the global market,” Atkins said.

“Ultimately, we all want the same thing. We are trying to gain better access to the spectrum, whether it’s from the military standpoint or commercial standpoint. And our challenge is to develop those win-win strategies that allow us all to get to that end state,” she added.

But even with those efforts there is no assurance that in the future there will be room in the spectrum for all projected military use, Atkins said.

“There is always a concern. We will always be under pressure to either give up spectrum or share it, both within the U.S. and globally,” she said. “Designating bands for military use is not a globally recognized practice, so not all countries see military use as something that needs to be protected above other uses.”

Today even the DoD is in the midst of relocating military systems out of particular frequency bands within the United States. “We are changing our systems to accommodate spectrum that was identified for commercial services, in this case advanced wireless services …think about third generation cellular with voice, video and data services,” Atkins said.

“So we are affected today and are trying to mitigate operational impact as we redesign and relocate these systems, to ensure we maintain the same operational readiness we had before,” she added.

And it isn’t unique to the United States, Atkins pointed out. It’s happening globally. Consumer services are in great demand on a global basis and, in some cases, more so perhaps in other countries like China where growth is more than exponential, she added.

“Our challenge is to collectively understand how we satisfy our growing military as well as commercial requirements within this finite resource, because spectrum is a finite natural resource…we can’t make more. So we, and the entire spectrum policy community, have to keep in mind that need to balance commercial and government uses,” Atkins said. “Public policy just can’t be limited to commercialization of spectrum for new services, but also must address pressing needs for national defense, homeland security, public safety and other types of activities that are critical to our nation and other nations.”

The need to balance commercial with governmental access to spectrum is something the DoD can’t tackle alone, Atkins said.

“A key element to our strategy is government and industry collaboration and increasing our cooperative efforts with other federal agencies, other foreign administrations, as well as industry and academia, because again, we ultimately all have the same challenges and the same goals. The key is working together to maximize spectrum access for all of us while balancing those competing interests that are essential to our nation.”