JUST IN: Army Investing in New Positioning, Navigation, Timing Technology (UPDATED)
Photo: Defense Dept.
Army Futures Command is funding and testing new systems that will help troops maintain critical positioning, navigation and timing capabilities against adversaries that employ area-denial weapons.
“Soldiers are finding themselves operating in contested environments with degraded or no GPS signal at all,” said Jeri Manley, deputy director of the command’s assured PNT cross-functional team. “It's our job … to explore new technologies, to be able to give those soldiers enhanced GPS signals, to be able to operate through those denied and contested environments.”
Col. Nick Kioutas, program manager for position, navigation and timing, said such technology is critical across the Army’s portfolio.
In a “contested environment, we can't shoot, move or communicate without some sort of PNT capability,” he told reporters July 16 during an Army Futures Command media day at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall in Arlington, Virginia. The service's multi-domain operations concept “talks about penetration, disintegration and exploitation — and PNT is needed for all of those," he noted.
The cross-functional team is one of eight such groups spearheading the development of new technologies as Army Futures Command embarks on an ambitious modernization strategy focused on long-range precision fires, next-generation combat vehicles, future vertical lift, the network, air-and-missile defense and soldier lethality.
Manley's team is currently overseeing a PNT Assessment Exercise, or PNTAX, at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico. The event kicked off July 22. It is scheduled to run through mid-August, Manley said.
“We're bringing 34 soldiers to operate and test the equipment because the equipment is … [in] different phases of development,” she said. “We're getting that test data and that soldier feedback early and often.”
Kioutas added that exercises such as PNTAX can be useful opportunities for industry to demonstrate their products.
“We’re trying to ask them to go develop things for the government and come show us what they got,” he said. “But it's really hard to do it if they don't have a place to test it.”
Often, industry will have to test their products inside buildings or in special chambers due to U.S. laws regarding electronic jamming, but that can be very limiting, he noted.
The Army is currently working on replacing its defense advanced GPS receiver, or DAGR, Kioutas said. The device is outfitted with a military code known as the selective availability/anti-spoofing module chip. However, the Defense Department is moving to the next code level known as the M-Code, he said.
“We're going to be getting rid of these [DAGR systems] over time,” he said. “We have 300,000 of them, so it's going to take us a little bit of time. We're upgrading the software in these to be more spoof-resistant because it's going to take a while" to fully replace the devices, he added.
The cross-functional team has multiple lines of effort including a mounted and dismounted assured PNT system, Kioutas said. The dismounted version will be integrated with the Army’s Nett Warrior situational awareness system and replace the DAGR, he added.
The mounted version will include jamming and spoofing protection that can be used on military vehicles, according to the Army. It will be able scalable, modular and have an open standard interface.
The cross-functional team also has a space line of effort, Manley said. Last year, it completed a military utility assessment of a Kestrel Eye satellite which was operated by soldiers from Indo-Pacific Command. The system weighs 110 pounds and flies in low-Earth orbit, she noted.
“The soldiers operated that satellite with a telescope … to take an image of a particular area on the Earth, and we're able to get that signal down within just a matter of minutes,” she said. That is an important capability because U.S. warfighters on the battlefield could task such satellites to gather and transmit critical intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance information, she added.
They could see “formations, tanks, weaponry and have really an unprecedented level of situational awareness,” Kioutas said.
Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the location of White Sands Missile Range.