Spectrum Management in Defense Acquisitions: GAO-03-617R

April 2003
GAO Reports;4/30/2003, p1
Government Documents
The electromagnetic radio frequency spectrum is critical to the development and operation of a variety of military systems such as radios, radars, and satellites. Due to the changing nature of warfighting, more and more military systems depend on the spectrum to guide precision weapons and obtain information superiority. In recent years, demand for the spectrum increased with advances in commercial technology. This demand has led to competition between government and nongovernment users, making spectrum management vital to prevent harmful interference and to promote spectrum efficiency. With these goals in mind, the Department of Defense (DOD) has long-standing policies and procedures that require system developers and acquirers to consider and deal with spectrum supportability knowledge early in the development and acquisition of systems. Early assessment of spectrum needs provides DOD the opportunity to identify, and therefore, better manage program and operational risks. DOD policy requires developers of spectrum dependent systems to obtain certification before assumption of contractual obligations for the full-scale development, production or procurement of those systems. Senate Report 107-151 and House Report 106-945 required us to assess DOD's spectrum management process. We focused our assessment on (1) the results of the DOD spectrum certification processes and (2) the reasons for those results. We found that DOD's weapons programs have often failed to obtain, consider, or act upon adequate spectrum supportability knowledge during the early stages of acquisition. A majority of programs try to gain this knowledge at later stages, after key systems development decisions may have been made. As a result, some programs experience significant delays, reduced operational capabilities, or the need for expensive redesign. More importantly, these programs missed opportunities to improve program results and avoid problems that are more costly to resolve late in development or fielding. Also, in a review of selected programs still under development, we found that consideration of spectrum supportability continues to be a problem. DOD is still entering into contracts, starting full-scale development, and sometimes fielding systems before obtaining certification of spectum supportability. The reasons for this late attention include program managers' lack of awareness of spectrum certification requirements, dated and unclear spectrum management guidance that is not aligned with current acquisition models, the competing demands of program managers, and a lack of effective enforcement mechanisms of existing spectrum certification requirements. Additional challenges to DOD implementing the spectrum certification process include the lengthy spectrum certification process, increased reliance on commercial communications services and cutting-edge technologies that challenge the traditional allocation of spectrum frequencies.


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