DOD needs new IT to share its spectrum with industry

The bands of radio and other electromagnetic frequencies the DOD uses to communicate need far better IT to manage appropriately in modern warfare.
(Getty Images)

The Department of Defense wants to share bands of the electromagnetic spectrum with industry — and to do so, it needs a modern IT infrastructure to support automated sharing back and forth.

Defense officials said Thursday ahead of the release of a new spectrum sharing strategy that advanced technology will make the military more efficient and effective in allotting bandwidth to commercial companies who wish to use it to develop 5G wireless technology. The new strategy lays out a plan for how the DOD hopes to share the electromagnetic spectrum, rather than leasing it, while also requesting the use of some frequencies once reserved for the private sector.

New technologies include advanced radiofrequency sharing devices and modernized IT that can automate broad spectrum sharing across the department and between the public and private sectors.

Currently, much of the military’s command and control structure is reliant on the electromagnetic spectrum, particularly radio frequency communications. But as more mobile devices are cleared for military use, demands on the spectrum have increased and changes need to be made to the governance of frequency band use, the officials said.


The existing IT for spectrum sharing is “in the Flintstones era,” one DOD official told reporters. “We need to get some more modernized IT to be able to coordinate across the department faster.”

Part of the strain on spectrum space has been the DOD’s own shift to using more mobile devices. The growth of communications technology within and outside of the DOD has led to a “congested” environment that quickly is becoming untenable, according to the new strategy.

“The rise of mobile systems and digital technology across the globe has placed enormous strain on the available spectrum for DOD’s command, control, and communication needs. This strategy will help set the conditions needed to ensure our warfighters have freedom of action within the electromagnetic spectrum to successfully conduct operations and training in congested, contested and constrained multi-domain environments across the globe,” Dana Deasy, DOD chief information officer, said in a news release about the strategy.

In the past decades of counterinsurgency warfare, the military did not need to worry as much about degraded network communications or electronic warfare that could block its signals. But as it pivots to focus on the specter of great power war, the department is working to ensure communications network viability in the face of attacks on its EMS.

DOD officials acknowledged some in industry might be unwilling to let go of the current divisions of the spectrum. But they said the new model of shared spectrum is a part of an enterprise approach to re-thinking communications networks. The new approach was designed with the futuristic network-of-networks approach to warfare the DOD is developing called Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2).


“The JADC2 concept is extremely dependent on the electromagnetic spectrum,” an official said.

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