The Fight for Spectrum

An EC-130H Compass Call aircraft is parked at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan Sept. 12, 2014. The aircraft is configured to execute worldwide information warfare tactics. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Evelyn Chavez/Released)

Spectrum sounds to many ears like old-fashioned, Cold War jamming, crude brute electromagnetic overkill. In reality though, the military needs access to spectrum and more of it.

Smart defense systems need to communicate, navigate, identify, and target. It does not matter how cyber secure our platforms are if we are denied access to electromagnetic spectrum. Every modern high tech weapon system is a dud without access to spectrum. The loss of spectrum will evaporate the American military might.

Today, though, other voices are becoming stronger, desiring to commercialize military spectrum. Why does the military need an abundance of spectrum, these voices ask. It could be commercialized and create so much joy with annoying social media and stuff that does not matter beyond one of your lifetime minutes.

It is a relevant question. We as an entrepreneurial and “take action” society see the opportunity to utilize parts of the military spectrum to launch wireless services and free up spectrum space for all these apps and the Internet of Things that is just around the corner of the digital development of our society and civilization. In the eyes of the entrepreneurs and their backers, the military sits on the unutilized spectrum that could put be good use – and there could be a financial harvest of the military electromagnetic wasteland.

The military needs spectrum in the same way the football player needs green grass to plan and execute his run. If we limit the military access to necessary spectrum it will, to extend the football metaphor, be just a stack of players not moving or be able to win. Our military will not be able to operate effectively.

The electromagnetic space is no wasteland, it is a space ready to be utilized, at computational speed, and it serves as a deterrent in the same way as the ICBM in the silo. It exists, it can be utilized, and our adversaries understand. The military needs its electromagnetic space to ensure that they can operate in a degraded environment when our adversaries seek to limit the American might through electronic warfare, we should be able to fully operate and execute our operations to the extent of our abilities.

We invite people to talk about others to talk about justice, democracy, and freedom, to improve the world, but I think it is time for us to talk to our fellow man about electromagnetic spectrum because the bulwark against oppression and totalitarian regimes depends on access.

Jan Kallberg, PhD

/I originally wrote this as an opinion text for c4isrnet.com in 2015. Its relevance has increased with the shifted focus on peer and near-peer adversaries.

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