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Protect GPS from threats, foreign and domestic

March 31, 2022  - By
Matteo Luccio

Matteo Luccio

Currently, 37 Global Positioning System satellites are on-orbit, with 29 of them set healthy. The system continues to provide an average 48-centimeter position accuracy. Despite this achievement, the U.S. government — specifically, the Space Force — continues to modernize GPS’s space, control and military user equipment segments.

Modernization of the space segment is centered on the GPS III satellites, which provide up to eight times better anti-jam capability and a new L1C signal to improve user connectivity. GPS IIIF satellites, scheduled for delivery starting in early 2026, will add a search-and-rescue payload, a fully digital navigation payload, and greatly enhanced anti-jam capability for military operations.

Modernization of the control segment is focused on the next-generation Operational Control System (OCX), scheduled to become operational early next year. OCX will sport an updated architecture to provide enhanced command-and-control capabilities and enhanced cybersecurity. Despite the pandemic, all 17 global OCX monitoring station installations were completed last summer, and most of the remaining equipment was fielded by the end of 2021.

Twenty-four GPS satellites are broadcasting the military code (M-code). The Modernized GPS User Equipment (MGUE) program is developing military GPS receivers able to take advantage of these signals to improve defenses against spoofing and jamming while allowing navigation warfare operations.

On the civil side, GPS modernization will play a key role in the development of the Next Generation Air Transportation System and intelligent transportation systems. The Department of Defense coordinates its GPS activities with the Department of Transportation (DOT), the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and many other federal departments and agencies via the National Executive Committee for Space-Based PNT. The term “space-based PNT” refers to GPS, GPS augmentations and other GNSS.

However, this government-wide coordination and cooperation is contradicted by the stand of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on the matter of Ligado Networks’ applications to modify its license for terrestrial service, which it approved in 2020. The FCC’s decision is opposed by the executive branch, represented by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), and by 14 federal agencies and departments individually (including the departments of Defense, Transportation, State, Treasury, Justice, Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, Energy and Homeland Security), as well as by the National PNT Advisory Board and by most GNSS receiver manufacturers and aviation organizations. NTIA took the unprecedented step of filing a still-pending petition for reconsideration with the FCC. The concern is that Ligado’s proposed transmission power exceeds the thresholds established by the DOT’s April 2018 GPS Adjacent Band Compatibility study to protect GPS users from harmful interference.

So, the list of threats to GPS now includes solar flares, spoofing, jamming, “legal jamming” by Ligado, and the Russian government’s recent threat to destroy GPS satellites. Modernizing GPS must proceed hand-in-hand with protecting it.

About the Author:


Matteo Luccio possesses 20 years of experience as a writer and editor for GNSS and geospatial technology magazines. He began his career in the industry in 2000, serving as managing editor of GPS World and Galileo’s World, then as editor of Earth Observation Magazine and GIS Monitor. His technical articles have been published in more than 20 professional magazines, including Professional Surveyor Magazine, Apogeo Spatial and xyHt. Luccio holds a master’s degree in political science from MIT. He can be reached at mluccio@gpsworld.com or 541-543-0525.

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