DOD questions international spectrum fees

The Defense Department wants to ensure it has the worldwide access to the radio spectrum needed to support battle operations, but the Pentagon's top communications official indicated today that DOD no longer wants to pay for its spectrum access abroad.

Air Force Lt. Gen. John Woodward, the newly appointed director of command, control, communications and computers for the DOD Joint Staff, said the Pentagon has to "guarantee access to spectrum to warfighters worldwide" in order to support the globally deployed forces which currently depend heavily on satellite-based communications and other technology.

But he expressed serious reservations about a relatively recent practice of other nations to charge DOD units for spectrum usage during exercises or operations. "I'm not sure that's the way to go.... We cannot do fee for service [deals] for spectrum," Woodward said.

U.S. allies charge hefty fees for the U.S. forces to access the spectrum used by tactical military radio systems as well as "landing rights" for satellite terminals, according to knowledgeable Pentagon communications sources. Countries that routinely charge the United States for spectrum usage and satellite landing rights include Saudi Arabia and Korea, the sources said.

Military satellite systems played a key role in last month's Operation Desert Fox against Iraq, Woodward said, speaking today at the Washington chapter of the Armed Forces Communications Electronics Association. "Thank heavens for Milstar," Woodward said, referring to the multibillion-dollar network of satellites built by Lockheed Martin Corp. for DOD. Woodward did not provide any details on the role the Milstar satellite constellation played in Operation Desert Fox.

The U.S. Southern Command, responsible for operations in Central and South America, has warmly embraced the Iridium LLC commercial satellite hand-held phones, Woodward said. The Southern Command recently completed a beta test of Iridium handsets and Woodward said the command "asked to keep them, because nothing else works [as well] down there."

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