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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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This article is over a month old, voting and posting comments is disabled

Real story?
By knutjb on 3/23/2009 6:37:40 PM , Rating: 2
I think someone is making a bigger deal out of this than it really is. I remember reading some articles 2001-06 and the military cherry picked the bandwidth they wanted knowing full well they would lose some current bands. I don't remember the specific sources so don't cry do the search yourself. It might be cheaper and easier in the long run to replace the B2s radar due to a small number of aircraft to get sole control over other bands. Now if someone goofed and let go of a critical band it shouldn't have wouldn't surprise me but I doubt it. In war they will use whatever they need.




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