By SHARON RUSHEN, CERDECJuly 30, 2009
Just because something is invisible doesn't mean it's not important. Much like oxygen or gravity, spectrum, or the available range of frequencies for use in radio communications, proved this point true as U.S. Warfighters face the challenges of communicating in complex operational environments.
More than 75 spectrum experts in the Department of Defense community came together to discuss this topic at the first-ever Spectrum Conference held at Fort Monmouth's Gibbs Hall, June 18 and 19. The conference was hosted by the U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center.
Alan Scrime, the branch chief of CERDEC's Spectrum Analysis and Management Branch, worked with his organization to plan the conference.
"There's a real need in our community here at Fort Monmouth to understand how important spectrum is in trying to serve the Warfighter's needs," Scrime said. "It's because spectrum's not visible like a highway or a water supply or a gasoline supply that many people just assume it's there and ready for use. When in fact when you put a lot of radios in one area they contend with each other for communications and spectrum's gotten even more crowded with jammers in the arena now."
Although Scrime has met with spectrum experts across the DoD separately, he wanted to bring all the key people in the spectrum community together to foster a greater understanding of spectrum utilization issues, like spectrum availability, supportability, spectrum certification, the assignment process and various technical programs underway to mitigate significant spectral issues.
"There's a bigger emphasis on spectrum in the Army specifically but across DoD completely. DoD would like to make sure that all the services have some kind of common strategy for communications," Scrime said.
The challenge of managing spectrum to ease communications in the battlefield is not necessarily a new one; however it has recently come to the forefront of Army communications. With the inundation of commercial wireless products and the variety of communication devices used by fielded military personnel, spectrum has high demand, with finite supply, which was the primary topic of discussion for the attendees and the speakers, who came from places like the Army Spectrum Management Office, the Joint Spectrum Center and the Signal Center.
Guest speaker, Alan Rosner, gave a presentation about the Global Electromagnetic Spectrum Information System, a project that seeks to bring interoperability among the various tools and capabilities being used in a given environment. Rosner believes the available spectrum and increasing demand for it are cause for concern.
"Largely, it's an issue of supply and demand. The available resources are more and more constrained because there's a lot of demand from the commercial sector to gain access to more spectrum resources," Rosner said.
For Rosner, who is the chief of the Defense Spectrum Organization's GEMSIS Systems Engineering Branch, the dialogue generated at the conference was important in exchanging information and working together to identify and solve spectrum concerns.
"It's all about dialogue; if you don't have the dialogue, the information doesn't get exchanged," Rosner said. "There are all too often cases where there are things we don't end up knowing because we don't have the opportunity to participate in something like this or we haven't heard the point of view."
David Pierce, deputy director of the Army Spectrum Management Office, presented a "big picture" view of spectrum utilization and agreed that the conference was beneficial in looking at the work of his colleagues.
"I think it's important to bring together the key players because quite often we kind of get into our own little world as we do our work. And, what we sometimes don't get an opportunity to understand, we may want to understand but we don't have the opportunity to understand why something such as spectrum may be important to what I'm trying to do for the Soldier.
Conferences like this bring together all the pieces of that puzzle," Pierce said.
The discussion that was generated was done so in a forum format but with a spin. Rather than a typical question and answer session after each presentation, the audience joined speakers in answering questions after their presentations.
Because some of the audience focused on the procedural workings, or doctrine, of spectrum while others urged the importance of implementing new tools into theater, there were a lot of differing opinions.
"Probably the most controversial topic was the tension between making a good plan in advance and then having to insert technology that uses spectrum on the fly," Scrime said. "Doctrine says 'here's the proper way to do everything' and there's the 'I need to do this now and I don't have time to go through all the 'may I' stuff in order to get it done.' The pitch from the jammer community was 'why don't you just get out of my way and let me go directly to the theater manager and say can you support me for this so that I can field.'"
When looking at spectrum, the topic of jammers is often of interest due to the ongoing conflict in the Middle East. Because many insurgents in Iraq use radio transmitters to trigger improvised explosive devices, spectrum experts are working to develop devices to jam those radio transmissions. The concern of other technology developers is the potential radio interference IED-jammers may cause.
"The community responsible for building the jammers would like to react to the threat immediately and push that right into theater. But, the process says that they really have to kind of go through the whole thing and look and say 'alright when this goes in what's it going to displace and how much trouble are we going to have'' So there's real tension between this kind of planned exercise and something that's more like a swat team of spectrum stuff coming in that has to taken and fit into the architecture," Scrime said.
One speaker spoke of a project that's been formed to ease both areas of concern and help spectrum managers in uniform better identify the spectrum in an operational environment and deconflict IED defeat jammers is the Coalition Joint Spectrum Management Planning Tool, which is software that creates spectrum maps of operational environments, taking into account topography and mission requirements. Depending on the unit in a given environment, what kinds of radios and vehicles they have, the software user maps out the routes he expects the vehicles to take and a standard plan of potential spectrum usage.
Matt Cullen, a guest speaker at the conference and the chief of the Frequency Spectrum Proponency Office, originated the concept and wrote the requirements for CJSMPT. As the project manager, CERDEC has been working with Cullen on CJSMPT and is responsible for setting the requirements, setting the priorities, making sure that the deliveries are made on schedule and that the project is a success.
Cullen was formerly a military spectrum manager and believes CJSMPT is a significant, first-of-its-kind project.
"CJSMPT was designed specifically as a primary goal to deconflict IED defeat jammers from communications. It's been a long time coming. It has the potential to make a huge difference there. If you start talking about IED defeat jammers and deconflicting the frequencies for them, those are meaningful words to the audience you're speaking to," Cullen said. "It's not about making the job easier, it's a hard job. It's about giving them a tool that's tailored specifically for the needs that they have in an operational environment."
For Scrime, his first time organizing a conference of this type with this large of an audience, the feedback and response from the crowd was very positive.
"Reactions were overwhelmingly favorable, "Scrime said. "Because the spectrum arena is so complicated, as simple as it may seem since it's invisible, the only way we're going to solve the problems for the Army is to, as a community, recognize what the constraints are."
Scrime's colleague, John Bojarski, senior project leader for CERDEC's Antennas and Spectrum Analysis Division, aided in the conference planning. Bojarski was also pleased with the favorable reaction from the crowd and anticipates a future conference.
"Since spectrum management and related spectrum issues are constantly evolving and changing, there is little doubt that we would be planning for another conference next year," Bojarski said. "Nothing definite yet but I think that you can count on it."