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The military's spectrum pitch: 'Our calls must go through'

The military will need more spectrum to complete its transformation to a network-centric organization and to keep the nation safe from attack, officials from all branches of the military told a House panel on Tuesday.

"[Military] spectrum needs are growing rapidly, and future needs cannot be met without access to additional spectrum allocations," Steven Price, the deputy assistant Defense secretary for spectrum and command, control and communications policy, told the House Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security, Veterans Affairs and International Relations.

Price predicted that the military's spectrum needs will grow 90 percent by 2005. He said the strategy is for the Defense Department to protect what it already has, identify areas where it needs more spectrum and find ways to use what it has more efficiently.

Price acknowledged that the telecommunications industry needs more airwaves to meet the growing demands of the wireless industry and to accommodate advanced third-generation services, but the stakes are different for commercial and military uses, he said. "Our calls must go through," Price said. "Where lives are at stake, there can be no busy signal."

In 1993 and 1997, the military lost spectrum, and Defense is determined not to lose any more. "Further loss of access to spectrum ... will severely impact fleet operations and readiness training," said Vice Admiral Richard Mayo, director of space, information warfare, command and control for the Navy.

Subcommittee Chairman Christopher Shays, R-Conn., assured the military witnesses that they do not need to convince the panel of the importance of maintaining the military's ability to communicate and conduct its mission. "I have religion on that," Shays said, adding that "my job is to make sure it is not a fair fight and that we have superiority."

Before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the wireless industry had sought spectrum reserved for Defense, particularly the 1710 megahertz (MHz) to 1755 MHz band, and it looked like the industry was winning the battle, with promises of space-age commercial applications and piles of cash pouring into the U.S. Treasury from spectrum auctions.

Should spectrum be taken from Defense and military technologies be moved to another band, policymakers must be mindful that the military uses that band for battlefield operations, combat training and precision weapons guidance, said Lt. Gen. Joseph Kellogg, director of command, control, communications and computers for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Any reallocation proposal must find comparable spectrum, and provide for adequate and timely compensation and enough time to complete the transition so no operational capabilities are lost, Kellogg said.

Finding comparable spectrum may not be possible, he said, because the prime 1710-1755 MHz band allows the military conduct operations from afar and "impose the maximum amount of violence on our enemies" with minimal U.S. casualties. The military would be forced to get closer to its targets if forced into another band, he said.

"Spectrum is the very medium through which our military defends our security," Price said. "I am sure that you will agree that this is its highest purpose."