Dragon Corner: Spectrum operations key to joint mission

  • Published
  • By Capt. Jonathan Williams
  • 333rd Training Squadron
Before a service member transports munitions to a new location, a critical task must be accomplished. The safety office must verify the route doesn't take the weapons too close to transmitters that could cause an inadvertent detonation. To accomplish this task, the safety office will call for a Hazards of Electromagnetic Radiation to Ordnance survey. The HERO requires an expert who is aware of the locations and power of all transmitters near the route who can perform calculations, building a risk model to ensure it's safe to transport the ordnance via the proposed route.

HERO work is just one of the many things members are taught during the 333d Training Squadron's 12-week Spectrum Operations Apprentice Course. This joint course brings Sailors, Marines, Airmen and civilians together to make them experts on how to engineer communication links and assign frequencies to support communications and operational requirements; in addition to coordinating frequency needs with federal, military, and civil spectrum management offices.

The Interservice Radio Frequency Management School was originally established in July 1974 at Richards-Gebaur AFB, Mo. The first class consisted of 13 people (6 Army, 2 Navy, and 5 Air Force). In 1980, the school moved to Keesler AFB, Miss. and in 1994 became part of the Air Education and Training Command, graduating 1,490 students a year (560 Army, 214 Navy, 174 Marines, 405 AF, two Coast Guard, 43 DoD civilians and 192 Internationals).

The school's mission is to provide the best fundamental and advanced spectrum management training for the Department of Defense and select foreign nations. Thus, providing spectrum managers for operational commanders to control and dominate the electronic spectrum. As technology advanced over the years, spectrum manager requirements have decreased while their responsibilities have grown exponentially. For Fiscal Year 2013, the course graduated 75 students (17 Navy, 15 Marines, six Coast Guard, 33 Air Force and four Internationals).

A key position on any Joint Task Force, SOAC graduates provides guidance to units deploying RF radiating equipment to support contingency, exercise, or wartime requirements. Spectrum managers deconflict frequency assignments and track who is using what types of devices to avoid interference amongst our joint communications systems. Due to the way our military fights, it's unacceptable if an Army radio disrupts the instrument landing system or if airborne radar interferes with a Soldier's request for close air support in the midst of enemy contact. A spectrum manager may be responsible for tracking thousands of frequencies at a deployed location; anything that broadcasts must be tracked.
De-conflicting spectrum usage amongst DoD units is only a part of the battle. The spectrum is contested by our adversaries and could impact our ability to use GPS to target cruise missile, or use radar to land a jet. In February, the Army published the first-ever field manual for cyber electromagnetic activities. The field manual describes interrelations between cyberspace and electromagnetic activities and provides the tactics, techniques, and procedures commanders will use for planning, integration and synchronization.

The war over the spectrum has been raging ever since the early days of WWII and has been growing in importance due to the proliferation of information technologies changing the way humans interact with each other and their environment, including interactions during military operations. Missions increasingly rely on the spectrum and this battle is a core part of our quest for superiority in the cyberspace domain as the two are absolutely intertwined.

Lives depend on how well we manage and our ability to dominate the spectrum. We can't allow the Navy's latest ship based laser weaponry to interfere with a satellite communication link; nor can we permit an adversary remotely detonating an improvised explosive device via cell phone as a convoy passes.

Team Keesler is focused on providing the best spectrum training possible to our Joint students to save lives and ensure the fight is carried to our enemies. The 333d Training Squadron's SOAC instructors do an outstanding job training members and filling this critical niche existing throughout the Department of Defense. They embody the spirit of the 81st Training Wing's mission by "Training, Fighting, Winning!"