The U.S. economy has become too dependent on GPS (Global Positions System), warns Dr. Bradford Parkinson, the “father of GPS.” Dr. Parkinson and many other experts are calling for a backup system to augment GPS, not in space, but here on earth where it’s harder to hack. The concept is known as PTA, which stands for protect, toughen, and augment.
It’s a single point of failure for U.S.’s most critical infrastructure. The direct value of GPS to the U.S. has ballooned to $66 billion dollars a year, yet there is still no viable backup system. It’s believed other countries, most notably Russia and China, already have backup systems in place, and are heavily invested in jamming and spoofing operations that look to undermine the world’s confidence in GPS. The Resilient Navigation & Timing Foundation lays out some of the work being done to address this vulnerability.
Two recent reports have underscored the threats to the GPS system from space-capable adversaries. Both the Worldwide Threat Assessment, released Jan. 30 by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and the Defense Intelligence Agency’s newly released Challenges to Security in Space detail the potential for China, Russia and others to damage the constellation or disrupt its signals.
With worries mounting about these risks, and the more mundane but still harmful prospect of regional jamming or spoofing, organizations throughout the U.S. government are working on ways to address vulnerabilities and find ways to operate without GPS.
To develop and test technologies for hardier navigation satellites and augmentation systems the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) and the Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) have been working on an on-orbit test bed called the Navigation Technology Satellite-3. NTS-3 will be used to demonstrate technology and new concepts of operation including experimental antennas, flexible and secure signals, increased automation, and use of commercial ground assets. Harris Corp. was tapped to be the prime contractor late last year and is expected to have the spacecraft available for launch by 2022.
“The National Defense Strategy tells us we must evolve our nation’s Position, Navigation, and Timing capabilities to be more resilient,” said AFRL Space Vehicles Director Col. Eric Felt. “NTS-3 is all about resiliency, and I am incredibly excited about the resiliency experiments our SMC, AFRL, and Harris team will be able to conduct with NTS-3’s innovative and flexible hardware, software, and waveforms.”
While that research is underway the Air Force is working on ways to upgrade existing systems. The GPS Directorate has been working for some time on upgraded, swap-in receiver cards capable of using the new military M-Code. Three contractors— L3 Technologies, Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems, and Rockwell Collins — are developing the cards and will supply them directly to the interested services when they are ready and tested.
The Air Force is also working with Northrop Grumman and Honeywell International on upgrading existing navigation hardware through the EGI-M program (Embedded Global Positioning System (GPS) /Inertial Navigation System (INS)-Modernization).
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