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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 Military.com.  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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Limited bandwidth
By Clarencio on 3/23/2009 5:22:31 PM , Rating: 2
I was actually pretty surprised to see this. The Air Force actually funded five of us students at my college to try and solve this problem. The USAF has many research projects going on to try and solve their spectrum problem, and the solution I researched was using a laser communications system. Basically we put a laser on the plane (which can theoretically transmit infinite data without anyone else being able to detect it) and pointed it at a telescope on the ground with a little optical detector on the output. It was ridiculously time consuming and difficult. Some of the other potential solutions they had other universities researching were pretty theoretical but brilliant if they ever work out. Military problems like this are great because they are such a great driver of science. Brilliant people at universities get a lot of research money to figure this stuff out. The spectrum problem is a big one that even top brass know about. I thought it was pretty awesome helping to solve that. Unfortunately our project kind of just died when we graduated. They sure did spend a pretty penny buying us equipment though.




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