5G’s rise prompts spectrum worries; DOD aims to dodge budget caps; What’s gone at IDEX 2019; and more.

I first talked to a military official about the electromagnetic spectrum about a dozen years ago during a visit to Hill Air Force Base in Utah. The commander of the 84th Radar Evaluation Squadron was trying to figure out whether and how wind turbines could interfere with military equipment. These days, military and industry types are wondering much the same about new 5G cellphone networks. Since my knowledge doesn’t extend far beyond some basic wireless networking in my house, I chatted with Jay Moorman, group president of wireless solutions group at LGS Innovations.

While the company — whose work spans the government, military, and commercial sectors — is only five years old, its roots go back to the 1930s and Bell Labs.

“The concerns and challenges of spectrum are not new, but there have been some things that have changed in the last couple of years that have accelerated the concerns both commercially and in the government space,” Moorman said.

It’s no secret that more and more devices communicate wirelessly these days — go ahead and count the number of devices connected in your home or office right now. Computers, cell phones, tablets, TVs, thermostats, smoke detectors, even light bulbs. Now go outside your home: parking meters, vending machines, taxi cabs — everything is becoming more and more connected.

“As the demand for spectrum and wireless content and connectivity increases from the commercial side, it drives the need to basically use whatever spectrum is available,” Moorman said. “Spectrum, being a very fixed resource, there’s only so much of it there.”

And we constantly want more speed on our mobile devices because it’s no fun waiting for your Instagram feed to load. Wireless providers are rushing to roll out 5G networks because of our insatiable need for speed. (China’s companies, meanwhile, are explicitly trying to beat their U.S. competitors to market — for national-security reasons as much as business ones.)

“As 5G starts to roll out, it’s really pushing into spectrum use that traditionally been reserved for military communications, for special purposes,” Moorman said. “That kind of puts pressure on the government to say, ‘OK, we obviously want to support the need for commercial companies to grow, it’s important to the economy, it’s important the commercial sector, but clearly we want to be able to support our forces and we want to make sure we don’t have issues with frequency interference, with our own equipment going down and that we’re able to operate in the band that we need to when we need to from a national security perspective’.”

The demand for 5G spectrum prompted the Trump administration start working on a national spectrum strategy. LGS is among the firms providing feedback and policy recommendations to the Commerce Department, which is developing the strategy.

“Because of our commercial knowledge, because of our signal processing and our wireless understanding and understanding the mission space … it positions us well to be able to help develop these policies, to bring the tools and capabilities to understand what’s happening with these changes in spectrum and ultimately to be able provide some solutions to both the commercial sector and to the government side,” Moorman said.

Aside from the commercial impact on spectrum, adversaries are looking for ways to disrupt it. We hear a lot these days — particularly when leaders talk about the year-old National Defense Strategy, which warns of great power competition with Russia and China — about how the battlefield of the future will be denied, another way of saying communications and navigation will be jammed or degraded. About five or so years ago, the term anti-access/area denial being tossed around a aot.

“Our adversaries have made tremendous progress in the last couple of years in terms of their electromagnetic capabilities,” Moorman said. “As we fought the War on Terror, our peer and near-peer adversaries were not sitting around on the sidelines. They were developing technology and they were pushing their capabilities. That probably means that they’ve at least caught up or in some cases passed up in what they can do from an electromagnetic operation.”

Moorman said spectrum is considered the 6th domain, after land, sea, air, space and cyber.

“We’re really in a catch-up mode,” he said. “We’re in a catch-up mode from a policy perspective.”

With more and connected devices out there in the world, the military needs “equipment that can dynamically detect and characterize the environment”— basically, gear that can figure out what’s happening in different frequency bands.

“You really need much more aware, much smarter equipment that’s not just able to say ‘hey there’s some signal out there,’ but actually be able to decode, analyze, understand what those signals are and then essentially feed that directly into the deployment scenario,” Moorman said.

Add it to the great-power-competition shopping list.


You’ve reached the Defense One Global Business Brief by Marcus Weisgerber. On this Valentine’s Day, I want to wish a happy birthday to my #AvGeek wife Oriana Pawlyk, who you likely know as the air warfare reporter at Military.com. Here’s to another year of scoops, puppies and Vanderpump Rules. Send along your tips and feedback to mweisgerber@defenseone.com or @MarcusReports. Check out the Global Business Brief archive here, and tell your friends to subscribe!

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IDEX 2019: What’s New — and What’s Gone

The International Defence Exposition and Conference, better known as IDEX, kicks off next week in Abu Dhabi. The land war-focused event is one of the largest in the world and draws attendees that you don’t see at similar European events, like Russia, China and Sudan.

What’s different this year? References to Qatar appear to have been removed from the event’s website as UAE, Saudi Arabia, and other nations near their second anniversary of cutting diplomatic ties with Doha. Compare 2015’s who-attends page to today’s.

Still, organizers are billing the 14th edition of this biennial show as the largest ever. It also marks the fifth concurrent NAVDEX, a naval-focused portion of the arms show.

The mounting piles of pitches in my inbox suggest a big focus on armored vehicles, munitions, communications and cyber this year.

While the show kicks off on Sunday, at least one announcement has already been made: Leonardo DRS (the U.S. arm of the Italian aerospace and defense firm) signed an agreement with UAE-based International Golden Group PJSC. Leonardo DRS will establish a new engineering and support facility in Abu Dhabi “to assist new projects for the Emirati forces and includes the hiring and training of locals to fill new high-tech manufacturing positions,” according to a Leonardo DRS statement. The firms plans to work together on “advanced communication systems integration … and on-board vehicle power systems which provide combat vehicles with up to 120kw of mobile electrical power.”

Some background about US-to-UAE arms transfers from Bill Hartung at the Center for International Policy.

  • Since 2009, the U.S. has approved 32 weapon sales to UAE, collectively valued at more than $27 billion.
  • Bombs account for $7.2 billion of that figure, including Joint Direct Attack Munitions and Paveways.
  • The U.S. is UAE’s largest arms supplier, accounting for 60 percent of delivered weapons delivered over the past decade. France is second at 10 percent and Russia third at 6.8 percent.
  • The U.S. has trained more than 5,000 UAE troops since 2009.

Why it matters: The UAE and Saudi Arabian militaries have been accused of killing some 60,000 civilians during the war in Yemen. “It is long past time to subject the UAE’s military actions in Yemen – and the U.S. role in enabling them — to closer scrutiny,” said Hartung, who has a new report out about UAE’s role in the Yemen war.

DOD May Dodge the Budget Caps

For years, the Pentagon has been accused by Republican and Democratic lawmakers and watchdog groups of using its war budget — once called the “emergency supplemental,” now called Overseas Contingency Operations — as a way to bypass defense spending caps, which limit the Pentagon’s base budget. The Obama administration wanted to eliminate these funds entirely, pulling the things they funded into the regular base budget. It didn’t happen, because the Pentagon found OCO a convenient way to fund various projects without counting their costs toward the budget caps that went into place in 2013.

Lawmakers have incrementally stuck budget deals to raise those caps, but they are set to return on Oct. 1. And instead of heeding calls to reduce OCO, Foreign Policy reports, the Pentagon plans to pour billions of new dollars into it, enough to get the base budget under the caps without actually cutting spending. A U.S. defense official tells the publication: “It’s like a steam release valve. You’ve got these [caps] that’s pressurized everything, and OCO allows you” to relieve that pressure.

Pentagon to Probe SpaceX Launch Certification

Elon Musk’s rocket company launched its first national security payload, a new GPS III satellite, in December. Now the Pentagon’s inspector general is investigating whether the Air Force properly certified the rocket to handle sensitive government work. Here’s the IG memo to Air Force Secretary about the investigation. SpaceX won the right to compete for military space launches after a nasty legal fight with the Air Force, breaking the monopoly held by United Launch Alliance, a Lockheed Martin-Boeing joint venture.

UTC Teams up with Girls Who Code

United Technologies has teamed with Girls Who Code, a non-profit that works to bring women and minorities into the male-dominated science-and-technology sector. “The partnership involves financial support, professional mentoring and the hosting of select Girls Who Code programs at UTC facilities,” a Feb. 12 statement said. “UTC’s commitment is expected to help drive the expansion of Girls Who Code Clubs, Summer Immersion Programs, College Loops, and the organization’s international reach and development.” More, from the Wall Street Journal, here.

Getting Hitched in a C-17

As a certified #AvGeek. I wanted to get married in Eero Saarinen’s 1962 TWA Flight Center at New York’s JFK airport. (Alas, it was closed for renovation into a hotel.) So I salute the two airmen who got hitched in the back of a C-17 cargo plane at Dover Air Force Base last month. From the Air Force article: “With the cargo doors open and a 60K aircraft cargo loader at the edge of the ramp, the bride, dressed in ABUs, was escorted off the K-Loader by her father as they proceeded to her waiting husband-to-be.” [Editor’s note: maybe you can renew your vows at JFK.]

Making Moves

Northrop Grumman chairman (and former CEO) Wes Bush has been elected to General Motors’ board of directors. GM stood up a defense business last year as it works on hydrogen fuel cell projects for the Army.

Lt. Gen. VeraLinn “Dash” Jamieson, the Air Force’s deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, could soon add more to her purview. She’s been nominated to become deputy chief of staff, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and cyber effects operations. The Air Force is folding its communications (A6) directorate at the Pentagon into the intel (A2) shop. If confirmed, she would also oversee offensive and defensive cyber. Here’s some more background.

In Memoriam

Finally, we learned that journalist Geoff Fein passed away this week. Geoff, who most recently covered military networks for Jane’s, also spent time at Defense Daily, National Defense Magazine, and Inside Washington Publishers. Pentagon reporters will remember Geoff’s friendly demeanor and passion for his subject.