GAO: the Pentagon lacks “strategic objectives” on alternatives to GPS

U.S. Army Sgt. Brian Sunderman coordinates programs on a Defense Advanced GPS Receiver during the Urban Orientation event in the 2013 U.S. Army Reserve Best Warrior Competition at Fort McCoy, Wis., June 25, 2013. (U.S. Army photo by Timothy Hale/Released)

SMD 2022 – The Armed Forces and the Office of the Secretary of Defense have at least 11 ongoing efforts to develop technologies to provide positioning, navigation, and timing to back up GPS in the event of an outage, but the agency Congressional oversight is concerned that so far the Pentagon has little strategic direction to guide them.

The Department of Defense PNT Enterprise mission calls for alternative PNT capabilities in operational situations where GPS is unavailable or unreliable. … However, there is currently no strategic goal with defined and measurable short-term actions for the development of these capabilities,” the report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) warns, published on August 5.

This is despite the fact that the DoD has long had a TNP oversight board to direct research, development, and procurement programs. Rather than focusing on developing new systems, the GAO found, the group instead focused on the arguably equally important issue of equipping military radios and ground systems to receive the M-signal. Encrypted code.

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This council meets at three levels. At the top are the chairs: Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Heidi Shyu, Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Bill LaPlante, and Vice Chairman of Chiefs of Joint Staff Adm. Christopher Grady. Below is an executive management board, chaired by DoD Chief Information Officer John Sherman. And on a day-to-day basis, six working groups focus on different aspects of the NTP.

Of the 11 programs cited by the GAO, the Army and Navy are responsible for four each. The Air Force has two more, and OSD has one. The programs are a mix of efforts to upgrade GPS receivers to allow access to both M-Code and projects to develop capabilities to exploit other sources of PNT signals.

And some projects are more distant than others, the GAO report explains.

For example, the Army’s two flagship efforts – the portable Dismounted Assured PNT System (DAPS) and the vehicle-mounted Assured PNT System (MAPS) – are expected to transition to major acquisition efforts in 2024, the GAO report notes. . Another Army program, the receiver simply named Alternate Navigation (ALTNAV), remains experimental.

Beyond individual programs, the DoD has pushed a development strategy based on a “modular open systems (MOSA) approach,” the report says. “This approach incorporates a modular design and open standards for key interfaces and can easily accept data from alternative PNT sources from various vendors without redesigning the entire system.”

Each of the services has at least one program — the military, which is the largest user of GPS receivers, has two — aimed at implementing MOSA, but the GAO says each is also developing its own version of the approach. To try to keep MOSA’s efforts from drifting too far apart, the DoD appointed the Army to lead an effort to write a DoD-wide “reference architecture” for MOSA. , which was released in October 2021, but the GAO found that the Shyu’s office is “still determining the way forward for MOSA TNP efforts.”

GAO PNT Report on Open Standard Programs

Service efforts to develop PNT receivers capable of using multiple signal sources. (GAO chart)

The GAO review came out a day after an interagency meeting was convened by the Department of Transportation (DoT), including representatives from the Department of Defense, to assess the status of the U.S. government’s efforts to expedite more resilient PNT capabilities for military, civilian and commercial GPS users.

The half-day meeting reviewed the DoT’s January 2021 demonstration of the pros and cons of current technology to deliver “complementary PNT” services, as well as “critical infrastructure sectors’ perspectives on the need for resilient PNT solutions; successes and barriers to adoption of complementary PNT technologies in end-user critical infrastructure applications, and U.S. government actions to accelerate adoption of resilient PNT solutions,” a DoT official told Breaking Defense .

The DoT study was mandated by Congress in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2018.

This bill also directed the DoT, DoD, and Department of Homeland Security to jointly develop a plan to ensure backup GPS capabilities are widely available in the event GPS signals are degraded or lost for any reason. Outages can be caused by anything from the inability of signals to reach receivers in dense urban environments or remote locations, signal interference from wireless broadcasts – hence the DoD’s fears of the controversial 5G wireless network developed by Ligado – or deliberate jamming.

This plan, however, has yet to emerge from the interagency process.

With respect to the DoD, GAO recommends that the OSD develop metrics to validate the progress of various service efforts to develop new PNT capabilities. The report also recommends that the NTP Supervisory Board work to overcome its coordination problems.

Dino J. Dotson