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GPS in an era of global competition

April 2, 2022  - By

By Alex Damato
Acting Executive Director, GPS Innovation Alliance 

Alex Damato

Alex Damato

Innovation is the watchword in Washington this year. Amidst an ongoing supply-chain crisis and rising global trade tensions, policymakers have put renewed emphasis on U.S. leadership in such industries as semiconductors, wireless broadband and artificial intelligence — areas rightly seen as the “enabling technologies” of the 21st century.

Alongside chips and supercomputers is another innovation underpinning everything from our communications networks to financial transactions and air transportation: GPS technology. 2022 will see a flurry of activity to accelerate U.S. competitiveness for the modern economy and accelerating the modernization of our GPS constellation must place high on this list.

It’s no surprise that allies and adversaries alike have taken notice of GPS. While for decades U.S.-led GPS was the “only game in town” for global navigation satellite systems (GNSS) services, the current global picture is much changed. Russia, China, the European Union, Japan, India and other nations have explored, tested and deployed satellites to build out their own global or regional positioning, navigation and timing (PNT) networks and capabilities. The more recently deployed GNSS — including China’s BeiDou, which was completed in 2020 — represent a competitive threat by our international adversaries in spite of U.S. GPS technology advancements in performance and resilience. The potential loss of global leadership poses a dramatic challenge for U.S. interests.

Although our current GPS constellation continues to enable critical services that touch nearly every aspect of daily life, the oldest satellites were launched in the late 1990s. As new, more advanced GPS satellites go up in the sky, we can take several policy steps here on the ground to ensure that GPS remains the global standard — undermining attempts to create an information ecosystem independent of the United States and reliant on our international competitors. 

Enter the United States’ GPS modernization program. Allocating the resources necessary to accelerate the launch of new GPS satellites will pave the way to keeping GPS globally competitive — both in defense and civil applications. Take accuracy, for starters. New GPS satellites will bring three times better accuracy than existing systems and up to eight times improved anti-jamming capabilities, both of which will keep us competitive and add critical security against domestic spoofers and foreign adversaries. 

While U.S. firms should continue to create multi-constellation receivers that are interoperable with global PNT signals, U.S. policy should promote American technological leadership by accelerating modernization of the GPS space and control segments. Importantly, a necessary element of this technological leadership is development of a systematic roadmap to spur adoption of these new modernized features in civil applications. Establishing this clear pathway for civilian applications of a modernized GPS constellation is critical to ensuring that the potentially more than $1 billion of economic benefits added every day by the U.S. civil GPS sector are fully realized.

As Congress continues to focus on innovation and global competition, the GPS Innovation Alliance is committed to working with policymakers to promote the critical security, economic and diplomatic benefits to the United States of investing in next-generation GPS infrastructure.

Originally a product of the Sputnik era, GPS has demonstrated the very best features of competitive U.S. government investment. As the United States prepares for a renewed era of global competition, the promise today of invigorated support for GPS remains the same. 

The United States must continue to lead by modernizing GPS and establishing a clear pathway for civilian applications of the improved constellation. (Image: matejmo/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images)

The United States must continue to lead by modernizing GPS and establishing a clear pathway for civilian applications of the improved constellation. (Image: matejmo/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images)

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