ANNAPOLIS, Md., Dec. 7, 2006 - Servicemembers on patrols and convoy missions in Iraq and Afghanistan sometimes have to decide if they would rather have access to their radios to call in close-air support if they need it or jammers to disable improvised explosive devices they encounter along the route.

That's a decision troops shouldn't have to make, Paige Atkins, director of the Defense Spectrum Organization, told reporters attending the Annual Defense Spectrum Summit 2006 here yesterday. The Defense Spectrum Organization was established as part of the Defense Information Systems Agency in April as DoD's focal point for radio frequency spectrum analysis, planning and support.

Both tactical radios and electronic countermeasures operate through the electromagnetic spectrum, so they can sometimes interfere with one another, Atkins explained. "It may boil down to an operator making a choice (about which system to use)," she said. "And we want to prevent them from having to make a choice between critical functions and protecting lives."

Atkins and her staff are part of a sweeping transformation under way to ensure that troops have access to the information and communications they need without having to worry about other systems degrading them. "And that is what we are trying to ensure: that they have the right capabilities in place to do their mission," Atkins said.

Electromagnetic interference doesn't come just from other U.S. military systems, Atkins explained. Sometimes it comes from systems used by coalition partners or the host nation where U.S. forces are operating. It can come from an enemy who intentionally jams a "friendly" system.

It can also come from a commercial system, Atkins said, noting that the demand for "spectrum-dependent systems" and the band width they need to operate is skyrocketing in the commercial sector.

"We're under a lot of pressure to share our large inventory of spectrum," John Grimes, assistant secretary of defense for networks and information and integration, told participants at the weeklong Defense Spectrum Summit. "A lot of people have a need for it and want it."

DoD and other federal agencies recently auctioned off spectrum from 1710 to 1755 megahertz to the private sector. The auction yielded a whopping $14 billion, much of which will go toward migrating military and government systems to other electromagnetic frequencies.

The government is more likely to share rather than give up additional band width, Atkins said. She noted that officials working on the Presidential Spectrum Reform Initiative are looking into ways to promote sharing between military, federal and commercial entities in a way that doesn't compromise security or access for military users.

"We need to look at the way we manage spectrum from a national perspective and ensure we have the right mechanisms in place to enable economic prosperity and innovation while protecting federal government interests and the national security," she said.

Grimes urged participants at the Defense Spectrum Summit to try to come up with ways to achieve that balance. At the same time, he urged them to help work toward DoD's goal of net-centric operations and warfare in which troops can tap into all the information they need through a secure global network.

"The most important thing is to understand the warfighter issues we have to satisfy," Grimes said.

As DoD builds the foundation for its future network, referred to as the Global Information Grid, Atkins said, it's also working to protect troops in the field today. That includes ensuring that U.S. military systems don't interfere with each other and aren't degraded by allied, host-country or civilian systems, while blocking as much "intentional inference" from an enemy as possible.

Among the immediate issues addressed by the network is the problem with some electronic countermeasures and communication systems.

An analysis cell within the Defense Spectrum Organization operates around the clock, evaluating different systems to determine what, if any, interference they'll cause. Once its staffers identify that, they offer tactics, techniques and procedures warfighters can use to reduce or eliminate the problem.

But the office's focus extends far beyond "deconflicting" U.S. electronic warfare systems and communications systems, Atkins said. It extends to the full range of systems and devices the military uses that operate over electromagnetic waves: from tactical radios and cell phones to radar systems to wireless computers and other wireless systems.

As part of that effort, DoD is working to keep closer tabs on what spectrum-dependent systems it has in the combat zone, where specifically they're operating, and what frequencies and domains they're using. The Global Electromagnetic Spectrum Information System, a new high-tech database, will go a long way toward getting the most out of the military's band width, Atkins said.

"As the environment gets much more crowded from a spectrum-use perspective, we have to find new ways of sharing and ... perhaps reassigning or understanding when systems are not using pieces of the spectrum, to be able to more efficiently use them," she said.

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