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The B2 Bomber's radar frequency was recently sold to a Russian entrepeneur on accident. The incident emphasized the military's increasing spectrum woes.  (Source: U.S. Air Force)

The F22 Raptor's AWACS targeting probably won't work outside the U.S. This is just one of the many costly spectrum issues the Air Force and armed forces are having in the U.S. as civilian spectrum use increases.  (Source: Wikimedia)
Costly blunders and redesigns all part of military networking growth pains

The U.S. military originally had a virtual monopoly of certain communications channels.  It was one of the few entities to be using internet, and it used many areas of the spectrum untouched by civilian communications.  However, with the digital revolution and the expansion of civilians onto the internet and increasing using of the digital spectrum, the military is finding adapting to the deprivation of these bands difficult.

Last year during the bandwidth auction, the portion of the spectrum used by the B-2 bomber's Raytheon APQ-181 radar was accidentally sold to an obscure multinational organization according to  As a result, U.S. taxpayers will be footing the over $1B USD bill to replace the radar in the 20 remaining jets.

With users demanding video-ready smartphones, high-speed mobile internet, and other emerging applications, the military is finding that the spectrum is quickly disappearing, and it’s having trouble finding areas for its own sensitive technologies.

Other expensive losses abound.  The Joint Tactical Information Distribution System, a costly system used to get AWACS targeting data to F-22 fighter jets has "limited supportability outside the continental U.S."

Another key issue is the steady creep of civilian communications into the spectrum used for flight-test telemetry.  While there are workarounds to gather some additional information, telemetry data remains essential to testing both manned and unmanned aircraft and protecting pilots from failures.

Ultimately, more data takes more bandwidth -- an unalterable fact -- and to achieve higher frequencies more power is required.  This places inherent limitations to the amount of data capable of being communicated over the spectrum.

Military designers are in a sticky situation as they can't compress their data, in many cases, like civilian applications.  "This is not a cell phone,” said Darrell Ernst. "You can't ask the pilot to wait while you redial."

Ernst works for the Mitre Corp., a member of a U.S.-European delegation trying to raise international awareness of bandwidth issues, and estimates that by 2020 the Air Force will need 600 MHz of spectrum for telemetry data.  Currently the only vacant spot suggested to them is the 5091 and 5150 MHz band.  The Air Force is eager to occupy even this meager 59 MHz offer.  States Mr. Ernst, "If [the flight-test community] can get in there and start using it, we can be established as the primary user and it will be hard for them to throw us out."

When it comes to the spectrum issues, there are few good answers, just more fears and doubts.  As a final example of the industry problems, when the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) test program is flying two missions no other combat aircraft will be able to fly in the Western U.S.  States Mr. Ernst, "They're the 600-lb. gorilla. They don't see that they have any reason to move, and they don't have the radios to do it."

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RE: Classic
By estarkey7 on 3/23/2009 12:15:32 PM , Rating: 0
Remember, the spectrum sale was under the previous genius administration.

RE: Classic
By Elementalism on 3/23/2009 12:19:26 PM , Rating: 2
Irrelevant as the last 2 weeks have proven. Govt is govt, and govt is incompetent.

RE: Classic
By weskurtz0081 on 3/23/09, Rating: 0
RE: Classic
By weskurtz0081 on 3/23/09, Rating: -1
RE: Classic
By croc on 3/23/09, Rating: -1
RE: Classic
By FITCamaro on 3/23/2009 1:15:59 PM , Rating: 2
The spectrum sale wasn't a problem. This problem is just an unfortunate side effect of the developing world.

Besides, its doubtful a president has any involvement with the sale of frequencies.

RE: Classic
By Lord 666 on 3/23/09, Rating: 0
RE: Classic
By goz314 on 3/23/2009 1:56:22 PM , Rating: 2
Do you think the Russians, or any foreign nation that has past or present adversarial overtures towards the U.S. for that matter, gives a damn about what the FCC regulates on the EM spectrum? Any enemy or nation with less than benevolent intentions that has the capability will simply just use the spectrum guidelines and rules set forth by the FCC as a roadmap of how best to exploit the United States' wireless infrastructure. Essentially, they just take the info and wipe their collective a$$@# with it.

RE: Classic
By Mojo the Monkey on 3/23/2009 3:06:56 PM , Rating: 2
I agree, very troubling to think about. I hope we have a backup system in place.

RE: Classic
By FITCamaro on 3/23/2009 3:23:39 PM , Rating: 3
Exactly. Our spectrum laws only apply here.

RE: Classic
By SignoR on 3/24/2009 8:41:54 AM , Rating: 2
But I disagree... any sale of FCC spectrum should be on the daily CIA briefing of the president and especially when it is to Russians.

I doubt this or any previous president could even understand the ROY-G-BIV concept of the Visible EM Spectrum. Presidents aren't scientists they are lawyers and politicians. Having this kind of stuff in an intel brief would be like trying to explain it to the HS dropout gril working the register at Burger King.

"We are going to continue to work with them to make sure they understand the reality of the Internet.  A lot of these people don't have Ph.Ds, and they don't have a degree in computer science." -- RIM co-CEO Michael Lazaridis
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