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GAO Report checks defense on PNT tech

June 20, 2021  - By
Cover: USGAO Report

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A May report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) explores Department of Defense (DOD) strategy for positioning, navigation and timing (PNT) technology to complement GPS. The 51-page report takes a comprehensive view of alternative PNT policy and leadership across the department.

While GPS will remain the core of DOD’s PNT solution, it will use other PNT technology to complement GPS or as an alternative for when GPS is degraded or unavailable. DOD is exploring both improved sensors to provide relative PNT information, and external sources to provide absolute positioning and navigation.

DOD also is working to create common standards and interfaces to help integrate and field new PNT technologies faster and at lower cost. DOD also is developing its PNT modeling and simulation capabilities to evaluate the performance of new PNT technologies.

Challenges for DOD

Officials from across DOD and experts told GAO that alternative PNT solutions are not prioritized within DOD. For example, there is no central program office responsible for developing the variety of alternative PNT technologies across DOD.

DOD’s continued reliance on GPS, despite known GPS vulnerabilities to disruption, presents a challenge for obtaining sufficient support to develop viable alternatives. Defense officials and experts also said challenges in establishing clear PNT performance requirements hinder technology development.

In response, GAO developed six policy options that may help address challenges with developing and integrating alternative PNT technologies. The policy options identify possible actions by policymakers, who may include Congress, federal agencies and industry groups.

  1. Increase collaboration. Consider mechanisms to coordinate across DOD to clarify responsibilities and authorities in prioritizing the need for alternative PNT technologies.
  2. Focus on resiliency. Consider selecting the most resilient technologies as the cornerstone of the PNT suite for military missions, rather than defaulting to GPS.
  3. Clarify requirements. Consider opportunities to clarify what level of PNT performance actually is needed for missions, rather than defaulting to requirements that match GPS performance.
  4. Coordinate with industry. Consider ensuring DOD and industry coordinate so that industry is prepared to meet DOD’s needs, and DOD can leverage industry advances.
  5. Institutionalize open architecture. Consider making the open architecture initiative more permanent, including providing funding.
  6. Analyze vulnerabilities. Consider having DOD conduct ongoing analysis of vulnerabilities of different PNT systems.

The GAO reviewed technical studies, agency documents, and other key reports; interviewed government officials and researchers about alternative PNT technologies; and convened a three-day meeting of experts from government, non-governmental organizations, academia and industry.

About the Author:


Senior Editor Tracy Cozzens joined GPS World magazine in 2006. She also is editor of GPS World’s newsletters and the sister website Geospatial Solutions. She has worked in government, for non-profits, and in corporate communications, editing a variety of publications for audiences ranging from federal government contractors to teachers.

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