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CHIPS Articles: Process Makes Perfect

Process Makes Perfect
Three fundamental compliance requirements for spectrum success
By Thomas Kidd - October-December 2018
It has been said that each of us is special. And while that may be true of people, it does not apply to Department of the Navy programs as a reason to seek a reprieve from the requirement to adhere to certain standard rules and processes. It is through standard processes that we are able to streamline the complexities of compliance. For example, within the area of spectrum supportability, there are three fundamental compliance requirements for which standard processes are the key to success.

Equipment Certification: this process requires that all spectrum dependent equipment must obtain certification that spectrum will be available before funds may be spent on development or procurement. Detailed technical specifications must be provided to national regulators within the United States and its possessions, as well as to the host nations in which the equipment is intended to operate.

Spectrum Supportability Risk Assessment: this process requires assessing the risk associated with spectrum supportability. Determining the potential impact of spectrum availability limitations or potential interference with other systems is critical information for milestone decision authorities. As with spectrum equipment certification, this process is also completed during the acquisition or procurement of spectrum-dependent equipment.

Frequency Assignment: this standard spectrum process requires operators to license the frequency upon which their equipment will operate. Transmit power, antenna height, type of modulation, and other parameters are provided to national regulators so that a specific frequency (or frequencies) can be assigned to each location in which the equipment is slated to operate.

Satisfying these, and other spectrum regulatory requirements can be complex and daunting endeavors. Fortunately, there is a well-established process to follow in each situation. And, each of these processes is well understood by the professionals tasked to support them. Following these processes is the best way to ensure a spectrum-dependent program will stay on time and under budget.

Occasionally a program may seek to circumvent a process, believing that they are special, unique, or otherwise different than other programs. This is always ill advised. It is extremely rare that programs claiming “exceptions” move faster through a process than “normal” programs. More often, the result is either having to change tack and adapt the standard process, or recreating the standard process to provide the same information, but in a non-standard format. In other words, more time and effort is consumed for the same information.

Standard processes are typically flat, boring, unimaginative and repetitive. They reduce a program to nothing more than numbers on a form. In these processes, to the untrained eye, every radar, every satellite, and every communications system may look alike except for a few variables. However, to the trained eye of those supporting these processes, these subtle differences make all the difference. Like stars in the night sky to the astronomer, the differences are apparent.

This highlights another reason it is much better to embrace a process rather than fight it -- the people inside that process all know what to expect and when to expect it. Step out of the mainstream and each step along the way requires much more effort, explanation and thought. For example, an engineer typically knows where to find the data required for their step in the process. Move the data or change its format, and that engineer must start searching for it, or may need to contact the program office for it, which takes additional time. Worse, incorrect assumptions may be made because the exact data required was not provided, resulting in inaccurate decisions.

Like a ship sailing with the current, conformity to a process accelerates the program’s progress through it. Idioms like “swimming upstream” and “heading into the wind” are lessons well applied to navigating these processes. Dorothy was told to follow the yellow brick road because despite its twists and turns, it was the quickest path to Oz. Programs should follow standard spectrum support processes because they are generally the quickest path to success.

The Navy Marine Corps Spectrum Center (NMSC) is the Department of the Navy center of excellence in equipment certification, spectrum supportability risk assessment, frequency assignment, and other spectrum processes such as electronic attack testing and training clearance, satellite registration, and many more. All spectrum-dependent programs should be in regular contact with the NMSC via their local Spectrum Manager. They should be following the advice of NMSC, including filling out whatever forms, and following whatever process, regardless of how special or unique their program may seem.

Tom Kidd is the director for DON Strategic Spectrum Policy in the Office of the Department of the Navy Chief Information Officer.

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