DOD official: The spectrum should be a domain of warfare

The spectrum is becoming such a key territory that one top DOD official believes it should be declared a distinct domain of warfare. “I think that spectrum operations are so important that we ought to look at declaring the electromagnetic spectrum a domain because we are going to be operating offensively and defensively across that domain,” Air Force Maj. Gen. Sandra E. Finan, deputy CIO for C4 and Information Infrastructure and Capabilities at DOD, said April 22 at the AFCEA Defensive Cyber Operations Symposium.  

The notion of declaring the spectrum its own domain of warfare—along with land, air, sea, spapce and cyber—has already been raised. DOD CIO Terry Halvorsen said late last year that “the department will investigate all requirements and ramifications of its enactment, to include the potential recognition of the EMS as a domain.”

“Superiority in air, land, sea, space or cyberspace cannot be gained without control of the electromagnetic spectrum, and our adversaries are attacking the spectrum every day,” Lt. Gen. Stephen Wilson said during winter meetings examining requirements to enable joint electromagnetic spectrum operations planning, as well as recommend and catalog user requirements for the development of future Electromagnetic Battle Management operations. “The electromagnetic spectrum touches everything we do, and we must make sure [that] use and protection of this spectrum includes a whole-of-government and international approach.”

Finan stressed the importance of a resilient spectrum, given that DOD generally telegraphs the location of operations. “We tell everyone where we operate, each different kind of system we’re going to operate…we tell everyone exactly where we are. So they know exactly where to attack to try and weaken us or to take out that capability,” she said. “So what I’m hoping to see a few years in the future is a lot more resiliency in our ability to use the spectrum. I hope to see technologies advanced that allow our – whether it’s radio or a computer system or a radar system – to be able to adapt and if it sees jamming, be able to go someplace else.”

Finan said adaptability with the spectrum is key because DOD is auctioning off portions of the finite spectrum to be shared with civilian partners. “I think today we’re in a good spot…We did well with the last auction and the money is there to change where DOD can move and share spectrum,” Halvorsen told Congress in March. “What I worry about right now is that the private demand for spectrum is going to exceed our ability to keep pace. We could, if we’re not careful, put some national systems at risk.”

Other DOD agencies such as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency are trying to address the spectrum sharing problem head-on with innovative programs. One is the Spectrum Collaboration Challenge, which aims to imbue radios with advanced machine-learning capabilities to collectively develop strategies for optimizing use of the wireless spectrum that aren’t possible today due to the intrinsically inefficient approach of pre-allocating exclusive access to designated frequencies. Another program, Arrays at Commercial Timescales, would create a full-duplex for wireless devices and radars that would cut in half the amount of spectrum they use.

“I am enormously excited about the initiatives that DARPA has started here in the last two weeks to set up prizes associated with very novel use of the spectrum…to think about new ways that we can architect our commercial and military systems to be really efficient users locally, regionally and globally to make the most use of the spectrum we have,” Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Stephen Welby told Congress this month.

About the Author

Mark Pomerleau is a former editorial fellow with GCN and Defense Systems.

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