For DoD, solving spectrum sharing is a matter of national, economic security

The Defense Department is slowly chipping away at 117 different tasks to implement the October 2020 Electromagnetic Spectrum Superiority Strategy.

The goal of the EMSS and its corresponding implementation plan is to help DoD take advantage of 5G and other spectrum frequencies to address an environment that DoD says is increasingly congested, contested and constrained.

Vernita Harris, the director of the electromagnetic spectrum enterprise policy and program office in DoD’s office of the chief information...

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The Defense Department is slowly chipping away at 117 different tasks to implement the October 2020 Electromagnetic Spectrum Superiority Strategy.

The goal of the EMSS and its corresponding implementation plan is to help DoD take advantage of 5G and other spectrum frequencies to address an environment that DoD says is increasingly congested, contested and constrained.

Vernita Harris, the director of the electromagnetic spectrum enterprise policy and program office in DoD’s office of the chief information officer, said the new spectrum builds on and advances the 2013 and 2017 strategies.

“Spectrum is one of those things that is a commodity, and we no longer have beachfront property but everybody wants beachfront property. Well, we don’t have the spectrum and we can’t do that anymore where we can tell people what spectrum to use for different uses,” Harris said after her panel at the recent Association of Old Crows 58th annual International Symposium and Convention in Washington, D.C. “We’ve got to now learn how to share, and for DoD that’s going to be extremely important because whoever solves that sharing, how do we share with other technologies, will own on this on the spectrum race. You’ll be able to do anything. So that’s why it’s so important. Everything that you do today from your mobile device, most people don’t realize that their mobile device whether you have Verizon, AT&T or T-Mobile — that’s different frequencies. It’s all different frequency bands and it is not the same spectrum. So it’s important not just to DoD and how we protect our warfighter and the national defense, but it’s also for an economic stability in the U.S.”

DoD’s Kelly Fletcher (left), Vernita Harris and Fred Morefield discuss electromagnetic spectrum with Glen Carlson at the recent Association of Old Crows International Symposium and Convention. (Photo courtesy DoD CIO’s office)

To that end, DoD’s strategy and implementation plan details five broad goals to change the way the military uses, manages and protects spectrum technologies like 5G and future broadband technologies.

“In modern warfare, electromagnetic spectrum (EMS) superiority is a leading indicator and fundamental component of achieving superiority in air, land, sea, space or cyberspace. As U.S. forces are organized around domains, the EMS not only provides the critical connective tissue that enables all-domain operations, but represents a natural seam and critical vulnerability across joint force operations,” the strategy stated. “This strategy aims to mitigate vulnerability by creating the conditions to ensure EMS superiority. As such, operations in the EMS require prioritization, resourcing, and governance as an enterprise.”

DoD detailed five objectives in the strategy and then implementation goals under each objective in the July 2021 plan:

  1. Develop superior EMS capabilities;
  2. Evolve to an agile, and fully integrated, EMS infrastructure;
  3. Pursue total force readiness in the EMS;
  4. Secure enduring partnerships for EMS advantage; and
  5. Establish effective EMS governance.

Harris said each objective and corresponding implementation goal tries to address current or potential future areas were DoD needs to improve.

For instance, in creating an agile, integrated EMS infrastructure, Harris said the military services and defense agencies will be looking at what technologies DoD needs today and what is coming in the future, and how can they be sure their technology backbone can handle the new requirements.

A new path to work with industry

Under the partnership objective, Harris said DoD is creating better working relationships with allies, industry and other federal agencies. To help accomplish this objective, DoD launched the Partnering to Advance Trusted and Holistic Spectrum Solutions (PATHSS) last fall to bring industry and government closer together.

“We recognized that we didn’t actually reach out to all the stakeholders, especially the commercial stakeholders, and that was a big concern from industry. PATHSS is designed to engage with industry, both traditional and non-traditional spectrum stakeholders, including cable providers, academia and many others,” she said. “It’s building trust because there’s not a lot of trust when you’re talking about 5G spectrum, and looking at what those use cases are. So by having that discussion, we are building paths so you have an umbrella where everyone can opt-in to be a part of it. One subset of PATHSS will give access to classified information up to the secret level with the appropriate safeguards to the appropriate industry representatives. That’s the benefit where we’re building trust and we’re building muscle memory to say, ‘hey, we may not always agree, but here’s why we don’t agree and how did we come to that decision.’”

PATHSS held its first meetings in November and December in partnership with the National Spectrum Consortium.

Harris said DoD also is looking internally at how it manages spectrum through a new governance model. She said the Government Accountability Office found DoD was not taking electromagnetic spectrum superiority across the entire military.

Harris said she will begin reorganizing the DoD CIO’s office to create working groups around each of the strategy’s five goals.

“I will have five deputy directors and each will lead one of the goal areas. Our new name of our office is the Electromagnetic Spectrum Enterprise Policy and Program Office,” she said. “The governance is the command control and communications leadership board (C3LB). Under the C3LB, we have a working group, the electromagnetic spectrum steering group, and under that steering group, and to make sure that we all are executing to executing the strategy, I plan to prioritize those 117 tasks. They are going to be five working groups, and those five working groups align directly with the EMS strategy. That effort [will] likely kick off in January.”

Senior leaders paying attention

Kelly Fletcher spoke at the AOC event when she was performing the duties of the DoD CIO and recently returned to her role as principal director for the deputy CIO for resources and analysis. She said DoD senior leaders are taking governance more seriously than ever, and that she recently spent about an hour with the Katherine Hicks, the deputy secretary of Defense, talking about spectrum.

“I’ve seen strategies that when they came out people gave it the side eye a little bit, like that seems a little bit optimistic and unlikely. But the reasons why I feel optimistic, when I talk to research and engineering, every other week I walk down the hall and go see the undersecretary of R&E Heidi Shyu. Sometimes we talk about data and sometimes we talk about artificial intelligence, but the majority of what we talk about is spectrum,” she said. “I also, every other week, talk to the undersecretary of acquisition and sustainment. We talk about a lot, like acquiring cloud technologies, but 30% of the time we talk about spectrum. This is new that spectrum is a key topic of conversation among senior leaders.”

Fletcher said because senior leadership is engaged and is driving spectrum, it has created an ecosystem of personnel who are focusing on spectrum.

As part of the implementation plan, DoD is testing out its spectrum sharing approach. Fletcher said DoD launched a 5G pilot at Fort Hill Air Force Base in Utah to study how best to minimize interference.

“We deployed 5G and then also are using our airborne radar system and we will see how it goes. We are doing a test, which is very exciting,” Fletcher said. “The bipartisan infrastructure bill provides $50 million from the spectrum reallocation fund for research, planning and other activities related to spectrum sharing. We are targeting the 3.1 to 3.45 GHz band and this early investment will help us do the preparatory work to see if this will work out.”

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