Electromagnetic spectrum is a finite resource made even scarcer by the properties by which technology or systems depend on it to meet an intended purpose and mission. With this challenge in mind, there is a continued push to look for ways to modernize or upgrade legacy federal systems to more efficiently and effectively use spectrum. Options include identifying new technological advances that maintain (if not enhance) a spectrum-dependent system’s core mission capabilities while enabling sharing among federal agencies and commercial industry, as feasible.
This concept is the basis behind the Spectrum Efficient National Surveillance Radar (SENSR) Program. Implementing SENSR requires multi-agency collaboration to investigate the feasibility of relocating incumbent federal aeronautical long-range radar systems from the 1300-1350 MHz band to allow for reallocation of at least 30 MHz of frequency within this band for non-federal commercial use. Research, planning and development activities may result in new systems that would accommodate reallocation of the 1300-1350 MHz band to shared federal and non-federal use.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) initiated the SENSR program and is collaborating with the Department of Defense (DoD), Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to determine whether radar missions spread across multiple agencies in various spectrum bands can be consolidated into one spectrally efficient and effective system. The FAA anticipates a final investment decision by 2021, after which the Secretary of Commerce will identify 30 MHz of federal spectrum in the 1300-1350 MHz band for non-federal commercial use. As in past initiatives to identify spectrum for commercial use, these actions will be followed by a spectrum auction by 2024. The auction will provide funding for system modifications to either remain in the SENSR frequency band and share with commercial systems or relocate to a new frequency band and share with systems already resident there.
The SENSR Joint Program Office (JPO) consists of representatives from FAA, DoD, DHS and NOAA and it manages the daily operations and execution of the program’s focus of assessing the feasibility of relocating long-range radar capabilities. The JPO is overseen by an Executive Steering Group (ESG) to resolve major issues and ensure efforts are adequately staffed and resourced.
The DoD has two members, Mr. Frederick Moorefield, Jr. and Dr. William Conley, who provide leadership and expertise over spectrum management and acquisitions, respectively. Mr. Moorefield is the Director, Spectrum Policy and International Engagements within the Office of the Department of Defense Chief Information Officer. Dr. Conley is the Deputy Director, Electronic Warfare within the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment. Mr. Moorefield and Dr. Conley were both interviewed and shared their thoughts regarding the SENSR program.
When asked how the SENSR program is unique, Mr. Moorefield expressed that the SENSR program offers two advantages. First, it offers the possibility of replacing outdated legacy Air Route Surveillance Radar with new technology that has next-generation capability. Second, it introduces a new approach to sharing that forces a change in the way DoD radars remaining in the 1300-1350 MHz band will dynamically share spectrum with commercial broadband. This change will be very challenging, especially with the long-range propagation characteristics of this frequency spectrum. As the program progresses, Mr. Moorefield said, the DoD will continue developing its capabilities as the spectrum landscape and needs change, and therefore, the decisions of the SENSR program should enable growth that would not limit DoD from meeting future needs.
Dr. Conley shared thoughts from an acquisition perspective and how the SENSR program aligns with operational planning. Specifically, Dr. Conley noted that the SENSR program is unique in that it brought together four different agencies to develop a solution. This solution will enable the best stewardship of spectrum during 24/7 operations while looking at ways to share not only within frequency and space, but also in time. Dr. Conley also commented that access to prior spectrum auction revenues via the Spectrum Relocation Fund (SRF) is critical in addressing mission requirements, capabilities and needs. He noted that the SRF provides flexibility for solving a problem in innovative and novel ways to meet operational capability requirements.
When both Mr. Moorefield and Dr. Conley were asked about any potential challenges of the SENSR program, they both recognized that while it is not uncommon for any program to have risks, the importance is how the risks are managed and mitigated. Particularly, they both felt that as possibly one of the largest federal radar acquisitions, it will be important to monitor the technical execution of radar delivery within a timeframe and strategy that move existing radars out of the 1300-1350 MHz band most quickly. Dr. Conley also felt that risks may arise given terminology can have different meanings in different communities. He noted the importance of establishing a common set of terminology and definitions across federal agencies and with industry.
Both Dr. Conley and Mr. Moorefield believe SENSR will be a success by using a system-of-systems approach, leveraging diversity, replacing legacy infrastructure through an innovative approach to acquisition of new technologies and the financial support of the SRF. It is all about getting the right and necessary equipment to the warfighter.
Shameeka Hunt is a certified Program Management Professional (PMP) and provides contractor support as a senior spectrum analyst for DON spectrum relocation.