UK government PNT plan focuses on policy, timing center, eLoran, defense time and SBAS

October 18, 2023  - By
Image: RistoArnaudov/E+/Getty Images

Image: RistoArnaudov/E+/Getty Images

The United Kingdom’s Minister for Science, Research, Innovation announced in Parliament today a 10 point “policy framework” for advancing positioning, navigation, and timing (PNT).

The announcement addressed improvements to both PNT technology and policy. 

Six technology efforts were listed:  

  • “National Timing Centre: develop a proposal for a National Timing Centre (NTC) to provide resilient, terrestrial, sovereign, and high-quality timing for the UK (UTC(NPL)), including sovereign components and optical clocks.” This project has been underway for some time and is being executed by the UK’s National Physical Laboratory. The announcement said another £14 million had been identified and was being allocated to the project. 
  • “MOD Time: develop a proposal for ‘MOD Time’ creating deeper resilience through a system of last resort and use NTC provided timing to support MOD.”  
  • “eLORAN: develop a proposal for a resilient, terrestrial, and sovereign Enhanced Long-Range Navigation (eLORAN) system to provide backup position and navigation.” In May, the UK’s spectrum office, Ofcom, sought interest from industry in obtaining eLoran broadcast licenses. The U.S. Department of Transportation issued a similar request for information this month.  
  • “UK SBAS: develop a proposal for a UK Precise Point Positioning Satellite-Based Augmentation System (SBAS-PPP) to replace the UK’s use of the European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service (EGNOS), monitor GNSS and enable GNSS-dependent high accuracy position for autonomous and precision uses.” Since Brexit, the UK has not been a part of the EU’s Galileo enterprise. This SBAS decision comes after the UK government researched and rejected the idea of establishing its own GNSS. 
  • “Next Generation PNT: deploy existing R&D funding into a UK Quantum Navigator and investigate possible options for a UK sovereign regional satellite system.” Britain has made development of quantum capabilities, including PNT, a particular national focus. 
  • “Infrastructure Resilience: rollout resilient GNSS receiver chips, develop holdover clocks, and consider options for legislation on CNI sectors to require minimum resilient PNT.” The U.S. Executive Order 13905 points in a similar direction as this idea for legislation, which is a good segway to the announcement’s policy provisions. 

Four organizational and policy initiatives included in today’s statement in Parliament: 

  • “National PNT Office: establish a National PNT Office in the Department of Science, Innovation and Technology to improve resilience and drive growth with responsibility for PNT policy, coordination, and delivery.” Last year the Resilient Navigation and Timing Foundation reported a cross-government office had been established by the UK that included representation from the Ministry of Defence. That office was within the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS). Since then, BEIS has been split into two departments, one of which is Science, Innovation, and Technology.  
  • “PNT Crisis Plan: retain and update a cross-government PNT crisis plan to be activated if GNSS-provided PNT is lost and identify and implement short term mitigations.” Similar plans exist in the United States. The absence of an interference detection and monitoring system, though, has helped stymie U.S. government efforts to respond quickly and effectively. 
  • “PNT Skills: explore options for centers for doctoral training in timing and PNT and review PNT skills, education, and training for longterm sovereign PNT capability.” A similar need has been identified by the U.S. President’s National Space-based PNT Advisory Board. 
  • “Growth Policy: develop a PNT growth policy, including R&D programs, standards and testing, to drive innovation for PNT based productivity.” The U.S. PNT R&D Plan is a similar effort. 

Also mentioned in the statement to parliament are two new PNT documents published today by the UK Space Agency. The first is a summary of technical concepts developed under the Space Based PNT Programme. The second is an updated report on the economic impact to the UK of a disruption to GNSS.  

Both documents should be available in the House of Commons Library shortly. 


About the Author: Dana Goward

Dana Goward is president of the Resilient Navigation and Timing Foundation. He is the proprietor at Maritime Governance LLC. In August 2013, he retired from the federal Senior Executive Service, having served as the maritime navigation authority for the United States. As director of Marine Transportation Systems for the U.S. Coast Guard, he led 12 different navigation-related business lines budgeted at more than $1.3 billion per year. He has represented the U.S. at IMO, IALA, the UN anti-piracy working group and other international forums. A licensed helicopter and fixed-wing pilot, he has also served as a navigator at sea and is a retired Coast Guard Captain.