Pentagon plans for spectrum policy changes, modernizing IT tools

DOD Deputy CIO Frederick Moorefield says "static" policy remains spectrum's "biggest hurdle" -- something he hopes to change in 2021.

Frederick D. Moorefield, Jr.  Deputy Chief Information Officer for Command, Control, Communications and Computers and Information Infrastructure Capabilities, Office of the Secretary of Defense, Chief Information Officer

It's been three months since the Defense Department unveiled its new, updated electromagnetic spectrum strategy and some of the first implementation priorities expected this year will be modernizing IT tools and untangling regulatory constraints.

DOD is working on an implementation plan, expected to be completed in March, to address capability and policy challenges with a new governance body and improving spectrum tools, said Frederick Moorefield, the deputy chief information officer for Command, Control, Communications, and Computers and Information Infrastructure Capabilities.

"In the 2013 version, we did an implementation plan, but I would call it a soft implementation plan. There wasn't a lot of visibility. We didn't raise it up to the [defense] secretary to get signed out," Moorefield told FCW. "So what we're doing differently this time is complete this implementation plan that has specific actions in there and dates and who's responsible."

DOD created the Command, Control, Communications Leadership Board (C3LB) to oversee implementation of the spectrum strategy. The board has four chairs from the CIO, Joint Staff, Office of the Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, and Acquisition and Sustainment.

"One of the first things you'll see us pursue is spectrum IT modernization and how [to] get after modernizing our antiquated old, Fred Flintstone spectrum tools," Moorefield said.

"Right now, it takes years to come up with a spectrum repurposing decision, whether it's a sharing decision or a vacation decision. These updated tools will get us to a way faster decision point because you'll have standardization in data, tools, modeling and simulation, and coordination capability."

And with a relatively fresh strategy out and implementation plan in the works, Moorefield talked with FCW about what the new oversight structure means, why policy is spectrum's biggest hurdle, Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2) , and why spectrum sharing is "the new normal."

The following interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.

One of the concerns was that the 2013 strategy lacked this sort of centralized organization to oversee what DOD is doing in spectrum. What do you expect this new organization to get after in the first half of 2021?

I think that's TBD. I don't want to give a preview and what's in the implementation plan, but there's a lot of things you'll see coming out of there. I think one of the first things you're going to see us tackle is spectrum IT Modernization.

We need to update and modernize our spectrum tools, as an example. We believe that automation and tools are one of the biggest things that bridge between today and the future...ultimately going to fully autonomous capabilities in the future ... where the machines will be talking to each other, sensing the environment, and moving across different spectrum bands.

But to be able to get there you got to start with automation, right? And part of that automation is modernizing across the federal government, so NTIA will be part of this, FCC will be part of this, the other federal agencies will be part of this as well.

EMBM -- electromagnetic magnetic spectrum battle management tool-- is another piece of that. That's part of the spectrum IT enterprise. That automation piece is going to be key.

Is it possible, and I guess operationally necessary, to reserve certain parts of the spectrum just for war-fighting needs and operations? I'm wondering if there is a limit at all to the sharing or if at some point all of the spectrum is going to have to be shared?

I would tell you that there are specific bands that we know for a fact that we need to have access to all the time. Most of it has to do with homeland defense kind of missions that I can't talk about. But what we do in this particular case is we really look at the totality of our operations in those particular bands. And we really look at, per system, to say can this system stay in the band, or does it need to stay in the band or can it vacate and go to another band and that be part of the auction revenue cost? Does it need to stay in the band forever and they'll have to figure out how to share around those kinds of operations? And if we can vacate the entirety of the band, we will, if we don't feel like it's necessary for us.

We try to maximize access for industry to make sure that they can get what they need, but also making sure that we on the federal government and the military side get access that we need as well.

Do you expect more Ligado-like conflict to arrive as the requests for opening up the spectrum increases?

Let me just tell you the truth: the Ligado situation is no different than any other spectrum debate that we have in any particular spectrum band. It's all contentious. These food fights have been happening for years even well, before I came into this business. In the Ligado [case], the issue is the process was not followed to the full extent of the law. And what I mean by that is the FCC made a decision without the NTIA agreeing with that decision on the federal government side. This is the first time that I've ever seen this, and I've been working there since 1998, that the co-regulators didn't have an agreement and one of them made a decision with the other one agreeing with it.

So we have a Ligado decision, which is the first time I've ever seen this, where the FCC made a decision and the NTIA doesn't agree with that decision. So I don't see that as a norm. I see that as just a hiccup in the process.

JADC2 [Joint All-Domain Command and Control] was mentioned in the strategy and it's one of the new buzz terms in the defense space. But with something that's more aspirational than it is actually working today, how does plan on incorporating that? Especially when -- and I'm thinking specifically about the Army and what they tried to do with Project Convergence -- there's this intense rush forward to try to get these different technologies to play well together on the edge and spectrum is definitely being tapped there. How do you guys plan on tackling these needs that are coming at a really rapid pace?

So this is going to be very complex and very difficult and challenging, just to be honest with you. But the things that fall within the C3, my organization's lane, will have to be things like standards, developing standards, coming up with a spectrum policy that supports the JADC2 architecture and construct. To drill down on the spectrum piece there, you cannot have JADC2 with a static spectrum management process, you got to have flexible and adaptable, software defined kind of operations to allow those systems to be able to, as they move across a grid and they're mobile and you have all this connectivity. You got to have that kind of flexibility depending on where you're at and what the network is doing as it ebbs and flows.

One of the things that we're thinking about on the spectrum side is what kind of policies and what kind of acquisition changes need to be made in acquisition policy and strategy to allow for flexible, adaptive, software defined spectrum operations to allow systems operate across a variety of different frequency bands even within their own frequency allocation, if that's what they decide. But you have to have that software defined flexible, adaptable, cognitive spectrum operations built into this. So that's what we're working on.

We understand there's going to be near term systems that're going to be challenging because they can't implement that. But in the [medium] term, in the longer term, we're trying to influence where those future systems are going to be built and acquired that would implement those adaptive, cognitive flexible spectrum operations into those kinds of platforms.

We'll get there. It's just going to require building the pieces in between today and the future.

Is there any infrastructure that is holding DOD back when it comes to spectrum? That could be existing infrastructure that needs to be divested and it could be infrastructure that needs to exist that hasn't yet been acquired or built. Is there anything structural that is needed to bridge the present to the future?

You know what my biggest hurdle is? Regulatory. It's the static regulatory spectrum policy that inhibits us from developing the kind of dynamic, cognitive, flexible operations that I'm talking about.

One of the things, and even within the acquisition process, they yield to the regulatory aspect on the spectrum side. So that kind of inhibits our innovation and what we need to do from an operational perspective.

So I just hired a new spectrum director [Vernita Harris], who's been charged with coming up with what kind of regulatory and policy hurdles we need to overcome -- and we're putting this in writing, too so we're not just talking -- what are those specific regulatory and policy changes that need to be done, how do we change them to be able to facilitate that cognitive and adaptive and flexible operations [to] break down these static walls we're facing today... in partnership with [the National Telecommunications and Information Administration] and [Federal Communications Commission].

Do you have an example of a particular regulation that is an impediment?

So, as an example, you know my radar -- you have a radar allocation, and from a regulatory perspective, my radar can only operate within that allocation based on NTIA and FCC [guidelines].

If they want to operate outside of that allocation, even if they can show from a software and a hardware perspective that they're not going to interfere, they still are prohibited from operating on those particular frequency bands.

From our perspective [at DOD], we need to have that flexibility to operate in other bands more than just radar spectrum because our enemies look at allocation tables just like anybody else and they can target those allocations ... [and] build a jammer that operates across that radar band [to] defeat DOD's radar.

Our guys are going to want to develop radars and operate outside of those allocations and operate across other different frequency bands so that we are unpredictable, flexible, adaptable, and resilient. Today, I cannot do that legally.

How are you feeling about the resources being dedicated to spectrum needs, are they adequate? Are you going to be looking for increased resources, especially as DOD pushes for the spectrum heavy concepts like JADC2?

I think that's still TBD. I think we're in the early stages of determining what our needs really are. We just stood up and expanded our spectrum shop to really start looking across the spectrum space, including how we implement the spectrum strategy, the electromagnetic spectrum operations, how we get after spectrum IT modernization. We do not know yet what the bump in cost associated with that is, but there's a lot of work to be done.

Any other organizational reforms or changes that are being considered as you're drafting the implementation plan?

We have some policy stuff that lays out roles and responsibilities -- DOD Directive 3610. I think it's time to update that policy. I don't think it includes all of the folks that need to be should be involved; we'll make sure that we update that policy.

I know that we're going to have to change from a policy perspective, from an acquisition perspective, from an [research and development] perspective to really get us on the road towards dynamic spectrum access and dynamic spectrum sharing, and this cognitive adaptive operational stuff. But we'll deal with that on a case by case basis based on what the implementation plan lays out.

You said DOD is working with the FCC and NTIA, but what is DOD looking for from industry?

Sharing, it has to be the new normal, because we know that 5G is here, 6G is next, and 7G is coming. Within the Pentagon, everybody's going wireless on everything. The spectrum space is going to continue to get more and more crowded. And you got to find a way to share.

I really believe whoever figures out how to share is going to own the spectrum space. Nobody around the world is pushing for innovative, spectrum sharing, technology solutions. The U.S. wants to be the lead for this. We think there's a lot of business in that space. We're trying to push that from an industry perspective. We think there's an opportunity there from an economic perspective, but also from a national security perspective.