The Pentagon unveiled a strategy on Thursday aimed in part at reducing the amount of space the military requires on the government-reserved electromagnetic spectrum to help meet the Obama administration’s goal of creating more capacity for commercial purposes.

The Obama administration in June 2010 instructed the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to work with the Federal Communications Commission to make available 500 megahertz of the spectrum over the next 10 years.

Northrop Grumman's Global Hawk UAV. The company hoping to sell the system to South Korea, which could open additional export opportunities for the unmanned aircraft to other allied nations, according to Northrop Grumman Chief Wes Bush. Photo: Northrop Grumman.
Unmanned aerial vehicles like Global Hawk rely heavily on the electromagnetic spectrum to share information. Photo: Northrop Grumman.

The goal is to create more wireless broadband capability for the commercial industry to support public use of smartphones and tablets and other devices. That was based on an FCC estimate that an additional 275 MGz would be needed by 2014 to accommodate the growing demand. The Pentagon is one agency across the government required to develop a plan.

Pentagon officials said the effort will affect the way it does business and require changes to how the acquisition community approaches, designs and buys systems. Systems will have to become more efficient, flexible and adaptable, and program managers will have to give greater consideration to how a system will impact the electromagnetic spectrum–also known as EMS.

The Pentagon is heavily dependent on the EMS for activities ranging from communications to command and control, cyber activities, carrying out intelligence, reconnaissance, and surveillance missions with unmanned systems, as well as for guiding weapons to targets. Pentagon officials say that with adversaries increasing their capabilities in the same areas, the military will continue to heavily rely on access to the EMS.

“The Department of Defense air, land, maritime, space and cyberspace operations are fundamentally and increasingly dependent on the electromagnetic spectrum,” Teri Takai, the Pentagon’s chief information officer who oversaw the development of the strategy, told reporters.

“All of our joint functions, our ability to fight, our movement and maneuver, fires, command and control, intelligence, protection and sustainment are accomplished with systems that depend on spectrum,” she said.

Takai said it is crucial that that the Pentagon addresses short-and long-term EMS challenges but also develop a long-term strategy for solutions, and identify ways to make it more available for commercial use while ensuring the Pentagon can carry out its missions.

Air Force Maj. Gen.  Robert Wheeler, the Pentagon’s deputy chief information officer for command, control, communications, computers and information infrastructure, said the Pentagon will work with industry to determine needs, but will not rely solely on abandoning parts of the EMS to accommodate commercial demand. The Pentagon can also compress its usage and share space, he said.

“What we’ve found is the best plans for the future are combining vacating, sharing, and compression,” he said. “And that’s how we’re going forward with it.”

“It also depends on what industry needs,” he added. “Because sometimes we’re willing to vacate an area and industry doesn’t have the need for that particular area. So that allows us a place to go for compression.”

Takai and Wheeler said it was too early in the process to determine how much investment would be required to meets the goals, but said the cost would evolve over time and as the strategy is implemented, and will depend on how flexible systems are. Legacy systems are more likely to requirement new investment, Wheeler said.

“There’s obviously positive ones where we’re going to save money,” he said. “There’s ones where we’re going to have to spend more money. And that will break it out over time as to what the exact thing that we’ll have to do from an investment perspective.”

Takai said the Pentagon will strive to ensure that acquisition program managers are made aware of technologies that could make systems more efficient, but that they will also be instructed to ensure they are giving increased priority to EMS issues, such as ensuring systems are not tied to a single frequently on the spectrum.

“What we’re intending is that as we roll out and as we see that there are opportunities for these emerging technologies is to ensure that program managers have adequate knowledge of what is available, that we’ve also laid out guidelines for them as they look at spectrum management and to make spectrum management a more critical part, if you will, of our future acquisition programs,” she said.