Federal spectrum policy plan is designed to maximize






                Federal Spectrum Plan and DoD’s Spectrum Strategy                    


Andrea Lyday

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The Evergreen State College















Arguably, the best metric for a nation’s scientific progress, security interests, communication needs, and economic growth is its spectrum policy. Given the complexities of the strategy formulation process, a spectrum plan is of great value to a nation’s legal and policy framework. Particularly, spectrum has domestic and foreign ramifications vis a vis military and economic concerns. This paper adopts a compare-and-contrast lens of the structure to argue for the inadequacy of both the federal and DoD’s spectrum policy documents in the management of electromagnetic spectrum.

The Federal Strategic Spectrum Plan outlines the federal government’s intention to leverage on the spectrum as a driver for economic growth and domestic security. Cognizance that spectrum is a critical national asset; this plan focuses on advancing equitable allocation of spectrum resources. The distribution of spectrum is not an end goal. In particular; the plan seeks to foster effective uses of spectrum infrastructure so that it can support agile business, bolster homeland security, support communication needs, promote the administration of justice, foster federal transportation infrastructure, (US Federal Strategic Spectrum Plan 1) and spur scientific research. Thus, the federal spectrum policy plan is designed to maximize allocation and optimize utilization of electronic spectrum.

The DoD Electromagnetic Spectrum Strategy is the product of a credible and pragmatic evaluation documenting the effects of commercial spectrum applications on military applications. Unique military uses of spectrum inform the militarization of spectrum. The DoD notes that “Electromagnetic spectrum (EMS) access is a prerequisite for modern military operations” (Department of Defense). The strategy also contains possible solutions to mitigate risks of commercial spectrum usage on military operations. Highlights of the policy include the recommendations for increased military involvement in spectrum innovation and need for efficient spectrum management.

Similarities and differences

This section identifies the converging and diverging points of the spectrum policies. The similarities manifest in the objectives. On the other hand, the differences are revealed in both objectives and contextual framework of the strategies.

A content analysis of the two strategies shows same and variant objectives.

Both strategies have a general aim of bolstering security. The Federal Spectrum Plan emphasis on homeland security and the DoD Electromagnetic Spectrum Strategy underscores the importance of spectrum in defense operations whether aerial, land, cyberspace, or sea. Complementarily, the two strategies are immersed in the security of US territory. The Federal Spectrum Plan states: “The goal is a U.S. spectrum policy for the 21st Century that will… ensure our national and homeland security” (1). The DoD Electromagnetic Spectrum Strategy makes a similar indirect assertion that “Like air, space, land, maritime, and cyberspace domains, military forces maneuver within the EMS to gain tactical, operational, and strategic advantages” (Department of Defense 2).  Therefore, there is a presumption that the role of EMS in gaining tactical, operational and strategic advantages fuels military success in preventing and averting external threats to domestic security. The preservation of security facilitates the fruition of constitutional ideals to the effect that Americans are assured of a secure haven enabling the ideals of liberty, life, and happiness.

The Federal Spectrum Strategy captures the commitment of the federal government to outlines a “strategy to address the diverse mission-driven needs of the Federal agencies as well as the President’s broadband goals and protection of lives and property. This strategy is needed to support Federal missions and the spectrum-dependent systems upon which they rely, while at the same time fostering the commercial systems that underpin the nation’s economic growth and technological innovation” (1).  On the other hand, the aims of the Military Strategy vary from the commercial interests advocated by the Federal Spectrum Plan. Of note, the global growth in consumer demand for wireless devices (McCreary and Electronic Warfare Directorate 2) is causing scarcity of spectrum frequencies leading to a fear of possible downscaling of frequency allocated to non-commercial military purposes. Indeed, the Congress has vetoed spectrum auctions to plug in the Federal deficit. Thus, the competing claims of commercial wireless against security concerns necessitate innovative approaches to increase the spectrum space available to the military.

Contextualizing the spectrum policy environment requires an appreciation of the interface of market forces and optimal spectrum usage. As such, the federal government ought to institutionalize market incentives to promote efficient utilization of spectrum. Among federal market incentives for efficient spectrum management include spectrum valuation, spectrum auctions and increased sharing of the finite spectrum resources (US Federal Strategic Spectrum Plan 11). Similarly, the DoD Strategy notes that the merge of its spectrum research capacity and the market can contribute to the optimal management of spectrum. The Strategy obliges DoD to focus its research into the creation of new frequencies as well as the design of portable military systems that can exploit existing commercial spectrum technology.

Whereas the Federal Plan offers generalized options for spectrum management, the DoD perceives agile and flexible usage as the impetus to equitable utilization and management of spectrum resources. The Federal Plan recommends the institution of a federal plan for strategic spectrum management. Consequently, it advises that federal agencies should domesticate the provisions of the overall Federal strategy for spectrum management. Additionally, the Federal Plan expresses the need for public-private partnerships to identify best practices in spectrum management. The DoD’s Strategy innovative methods for spectrum management. The military as an actor in the spectrum discourse argues for the need for scalability and agility in the use of spectrum. Indeed, the DoD notes that its militarization of spectrum is built on spectrum efficiency, flexibility and adaptability, and agility.

Alternatives to spectrum challenges

Both strategy documents recognize the paradigm shift from the military domination of spectrum to commercial uses of spectrum. The Federal Spectrum Plan’s preoccupation with commercial uses of spectrum tends to subsume the utility of electromagnetic spectrum in military applications. On the other hand, the DoD recognizes that commercial spectrum applications pose a threat to the DoD’s spectrum usage. Logically, the DoD proposes increased education and research efforts for development of dual-use electromagnetic spectrum technologies. Dual use spectrum technologies that promote commercial and military applications have the potential to transform equitable allocation of spectrum (Department of Defense 5). Dual use spectrum usage increases promote efficient management of spectrum resources by increasing the interoperability of spectrum technologies and freeing up frequencies. Therefore, the Federal Spectrum Plan should be reconciled with the DoD’s strategy to come up with scalable and interoperable spectrum technology that supports the dual use of commercial and military equipment without sacrificing defense needs at the altar of commercial gains.


There is increased preoccupation with the commercial utility of spectrum resources as evinced in the Federal Spectrum Strategy. This shift towards economic gains of spectrum resources is itself adverse to the economy because it diminishes the military’s capacity to protect the US from external threats that may disrupt the economy. Nevertheless, the military’s prioritization of research into spectrum technology may avert any dire risks associated with diversion of finite spectrum resources from military applications to commercial uses.




Department of Defense. (2013). DoD’s Electromagnetic Spectrum Strategy. Dpeartment of Defense.
McCreary, L. J., & Electronic Warfare Directorate. (2010). A Strategy Framework for Electromagnetic Spectrum Control.
National Telecommunications and Information Administration. (2008). US Federal Strategic Spectrum Plan. U.S. Department of Commerce.