Spectrum Efficient National Surveillance Radar (SENSR)
Demand for space on the radio spectrum is increasing due to technological innovations such as 4G mobile services and the rapid expansion of wireless internet services. A Presidential mandate calling on federal agencies to free portions of the spectrum led to the Spectrum Pipeline Act of 2015 (PDF). This bi-partisan budget control act states the following:
- The program must submit a plan to free a minimum of 30 MHz spectrum below 3.0 GHz for auction by 2024
- Auction proceeds to cover 110% of relocation or spectrum sharing cost
- $500M appropriated for research, development and planning
The FAA and the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security have been examining the feasibility of making 50 MHz of the spectrum available within 1300-1350 MHz.
The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Technical Panel consisting of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), OMB and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), signed and approved the Spectrum Pipeline Plan sent to Congress in January 2017. The assessment is funded through the Spectrum Reallocation Fund via the SENSR Pipeline Plan. Those funds have been used for research, engineering studies and economic analysis.
Status and Next Steps
The SENSR team has assessed the feasibility of making 50 MHz of the 1300 to 1350 MHz band available for reallocation for shared federal and non-federal use. The aim of the feasibility study was to identify potential surveillance solutions and evaluate the capability to auction the spectrum.
The SENSR team released multiple Requests for Information to receive industry input on the program’s overall approach, feasibility, requirements and acquisition strategy. The responses have assisted the team in refining the program strategy. Industry partnership also was vital to determining the program’s feasibility within the parameters of cost, technical boundaries, and schedule requirements.
The SENSR team completed a feasibility assessment as documented through FAA’s Acquisition Management System Initial Investment Decision (IID) on March 18, 2020. The IID provided conditional approval for the team to move forward with the investment analysis pending policy level support for modifications to the 2015 Pipeline Act that would unlock additional benefits identified by the Joint Program Office (JPO). The proposed changes sought to free up additional spectrum space for wireless users while also providing the most robust surveillance solution to meet the mission of all three agencies. A Policy Coordination Committee (PCC) — made up of executives from the National Security Council (NSC), National Economic Council (NEC), OMB, FCC, NTIA, NEC, NSC and the White House Policy Council — was established to address the desired modifications to the Pipeline Act; however, the legislative adjustments lacked favorable support.
The SENSR program was directed by the PCC to shift direction toward a study focused on assessing the feasibility of retuning existing long-range Air Route Surveillance Radars (ARSR-4) and Common Air Route Surveillance Radars (CARSR) in the near term, eventually replacing ARSR-4 systems and those CARSR systems that cannot be returned with new radar technology within the L-band using SENSR auction proceeds (as seen in the graphic below)
(click to enlarge)
The JPO issued a final integrated report that combined the findings of the retuning assessment and the market survey in 2021. Discussions continue between the respective JPO departments and the Tech Panel/NTIA/Department of Commerce on the conclusions of the assessment.