Radio-frequency spectrum use struggle continues for DOD

The Department of Defense continues to struggle with how to manage radio-frequency spectrum use, what tools to deploy and how to make sure the equipment that troops rely on doesn't fail because of radio-frequency interference more than a decade after a study commissioned by the Joint Chiefs of Staff examined the finite resource.

"I'm just curious if we did a study today, would we find that we learned all of those lessons?" said Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Foley, the Army's director of architecture, operations, networks and space, yesterday at the annual Defense Spectrum Summit 2006. "This is tough, and it demands a relentless pursuit of 'Did we get it right?' We have to full-court press this baby on all fronts."

Foley said DOD still struggles with how to make the best spectrum investments. Radio-frequency demand continues to increase exponentially with conflicting systems all vying for the same limited bandwidth. Better spectrum management tools are needed. Training is paramount to produce subject matter experts in the field of spectrum management. There is insufficient oversight from the acquisition community, Foley added.

Representatives from DOD's nine combatant commands agreed wholeheartedly. For Bob Marcial, a former Marine who works as chief of the Joint Frequency Management Office for the Pacific Command, electromagnetic spectrum is the critical element that enables networks to run across DOD's Global Information Grid. Yet, Marcial said, he is frustrated by the pace of progress.

"Spectrum supportability needs to be revamped. We are not ready for net-centric operations. We do not have the tools," Marcial said.

For years DOD ? the government's largest consumer of spectrum ? has fought with telecommunications giants and other companies that tried to encroach on Defense spectrum. But industry has proven to be effective in its collective management of spectrum, something the DOD could learn from, according to Ron Jost, deputy assistant secretary of Defense for command, control, communications, space and spectrum.

"We need to use spectrum more effectively and efficiently. We need to come up with co-existence and sharing techniques," Jost said. "Commercial industry has made investments to increase" their management of spectrum.

"Likewise, we have to show we're making the best use of our spectrum, which means more efficient waveforms."

Dawn S. Onley is a staff writer for Washington Technology's affiliate publication, Government Computer News.

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