DOD at risk of not meeting its own electromagnetic spectrum goals, experts tell Congress

Written by

Jackson Barnett

The defense ministry may know it needs to do more work to better manage the use of the electromagnetic spectrum, but so far that work is lacking, according to experts on Friday.

DOD still needs to empower senior leaders to launch spectrum initiatives, a key goal of the department spectrum strategy published in September, according to Joseph Kirschbaum, director of defense capabilities and government accountability management team.

The Pentagon has developed its spectral strategy in the hope of claiming “superiority” in building and defending stable networks after two decades of war with low-tech adversaries. The lack of need to use spectrum atrophies much of the DOD’s EOD muscles, senior executives said. As the military begins to measure its readiness to wage a large-scale, great war for power, she admits she has to play catch-up.

“The department is using electromagnetic spectrum for situational awareness, communication with friendly forces, identification of enemy capabilities, targeting strikes, navigation and countless other tasks … the military faces unprecedented challenges in electromagnetic spectrum at the moment ”, Rep. Jim Langevin, DR.I., said during Friday’s hearing. Langevin is chairman of the House’s newly created Armed Services Subcommittee on Cyber, Innovative Technologies and Information Systems.

Kirschbaum highlighted previous recommendations from a GAO report in December for the department to set up a long-term oversight mechanism to ensure that the spectrum strategy will be implemented during its testimony.

“The United States can no longer be sure of spectrum superiority,” Kirschbaum said. Previous strategies have not been fully implemented due to “bureaucratic and organizational obstacles”, and the current one could face the same fate without action, he warned.

Strategic rivals such as China and Russia are vigorously developing weapons to disrupt US spectrum networks and communications, witnesses at the hearing told lawmakers. The ability to disrupt DOD networks would be detrimental in battle now and even more devastating in the future as DOD turns more and more on the spectrum to carry out operations.

“The biggest risk I see today is continuing to apply a legacy strategy to today’s strategic realities,” William Conley, a former e-war director in the defense minister’s office, told lawmakers.

The development of new tools in spectrum management is moving into the software goals of DOD, as much of it is based on software-defined radio stations. Instead of working with antennas and other hardware, the latest research includes coding advanced algorithms and artificial intelligence to instruct hardware to jump between frequencies, avoid jamming, and find innovative ways to communicate.

“This merger of the software and hardware worlds I think is going to be very exciting,” Brian Clark, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, told lawmakers during the hearing.