Money doesn’t buy progress for GPS

March 15, 2018  - By

Alan Cameron

While it sounded like good news at first, once the real results were plucked from the slurry, they resemble nothing so much as the same old uncertainties.

About the future of GPS III, I mean.

Additional money allocated by Congress to the Department of Defense budget — $80 billion on top of $549 billion for FY18 and $85 billion added to the $562 billion previously set for FY19 — alleviated longstanding worries about sufficient funding for GPS. The satnav system has always been at the mercy of raiding by other military programs, over budget and cash-strapped. At least that pressure will be off, we thought.

But money on paper does not always lead, expeditiously or at all, to boots on the ground or birds in the sky. The funds come with an enthusiasm for reorganizing everything. To streamline it, effectivize it, make it more…businesslike.

In the case of the Space and Missile Defense Command, this means eliminating three top-level decision-making positions, and designating someone other than the secretary of the Air Force as responsible for space budget prioritization.

Congress stopped short of its initial idea, which was to establish a whole new department for military space activities, separate from and equal to the Air Force. But there’s no doubt that the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act strongly rebukes the current way of doing space things in the Pentagon and the Air Force — while proffering more money to do them.

Like many announced initiatives to drain the swamp elsewhere, this one has just drawn in more murky water. It may take four or five years, according to some with Pentagon insight, to figure out new procedures, lines of command and the actual fulcrums of decision-making. In the meantime, matters will — you guessed it — slow down.

All this as the GPS III launch schedule and OCX next-generation ground-control readiness slide rightward, and military GPS user equipment can count on at least a decade to even partially update. Mind you, Increment I of the new M-code cards is not yet complete. Once it is, the three major contractors who have developed them will compete to sell their varying versions to the different branches of the military, the different arms of those branches, and the different weapon systems (716, by GAO’s count) operated by those arms.

The pursuit of increased resilience in space, clearly destined to be a contested domain in the event of large-scale international conflict, may actually inhibit itself in the near term.

As noted below, the previous wielder of this space has relinquished satnav matters to take up, as he says, “some unfinished business with life.” I owe him a great debt. He gave me my start here.

Glen Gibbons Retires

Glen Gibbons announced his retirement from active leadership of Inside GNSS magazine at the end of last year, when he wrote he was “promoting myself to Editor Emeritus.” Gibbons was editor of GPS World from 1989 to 2005, and editor and publisher of Inside GNSS from 2006 through 2017.

In 2003, he received the U.S. Institute of Navigation’s Norman P. Hays Award for inspiration and support contributing to the advancement of navigation. GPS World joins all those around the industry and the international GNSS community in recognizing and thanking him for his many years of coverage of and service to the field of positioning, navigation and timing.

About the Author: Alan Cameron

Alan Cameron is the former editor-at-large of GPS World magazine.