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Exclusive interview with US DOT

November 3, 2023  - By

DOT LogoIn September, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) released the Complementary PNT Action Plan: DOT Actions to Drive CPNT Adoption. On October 16, Matteo Luccio asked a few questions about the plan to Karen Van Dyke, Director for Positioning, Navigation, and Timing (PNT) and Spectrum Management in the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology (OST-R). Below are Luccio’s questions and Van Dyke’s responses.

What is your office’s charter within the federal government to advance the development and deployment of complementary PNT?

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) is the lead for civil PNT requirements in the United States and represents the Federal civil departments and agencies in the development, acquisition, management, and operations of GPS. The DOT Positioning, Navigation, and Timing (PNT) and Spectrum Management program (within the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology) coordinates the development of Departmental positions on PNT and spectrum policy to ensure safety, mobility, and efficiency of the transportation network. The Department also provides civil PNT system policy analysis and coordination representing Federal civil agencies responsible for critical infrastructure in the requirements development, acquisition, management, and operations of GPS.

These efforts support Federal policy governing PNT programs and activities for national and homeland security, civil, commercial, and scientific purposes. These include Executive Order 13905, Strengthening National Resilience Through Responsible Use of Positioning, Navigation, and Timing Services (EO 13905), and Space Policy Directive 7, The United States Space-Based Positioning, Navigation, and Timing Policy (SPD-7).

Which GPS vulnerabilities and at what scale is this plan addressing?

The DOT Complementary PNT Action Plan addresses disruption, denial, and manipulation of GPS for critical infrastructure sectors. These vulnerabilities of GPS include unintentional and intentional jamming and spoofing (both measurement and data spoofing) of the GPS signal and physically impeded environments in which the availability of the GPS signal is impacted (e.g., indoors, underground, and urban canyons). This plan is intended to address vulnerabilities/limitations of GPS on both a widespread and local scale.

How and when will this action plan move the federal government’s posture on CPNT from study to action?

In 2020, the DOT Volpe National Transportation Systems Center (Volpe Center) conducted field demonstrations of candidate PNT technologies that could offer complementary service in the event of GPS disruptions. The purpose of the demonstrations was to gather information on PNT technologies at a high technology readiness level (TRL) that can work in the absence of GPS.

While this demonstration was a snapshot in time, there were two central recommendations from the demonstration:

  1. U.S. DOT should develop system requirements for PNT functions that support safety critical services.
  2. U.S. DOT should develop standards, test procedures, and monitoring capabilities to ensure that PNT services, and the equipage that utilize them, meet the necessary levels of safety and resilience identified in Recommendation 1.

The culmination of the demonstration program was the 2021 Report to Congress, Complementary PNT and GPS Backup Technologies Demonstration Report (2021 Demonstration Report). The PNT resiliency recommendations distilled in the 2021 Demonstration Report were vetted through a Federal interagency review process. During the same period, SPD-7 (directed to U.S. Federal Space-Based PNT service providers) and EO 13905 (directed to PNT users) were issued in a coordinated effort to strengthen U.S. PNT policy.

As part of its ongoing responsibilities as civil PNT lead, the Department has developed a Complementary PNT Action Plan to drive CPNT adoption across the Nation’s transportation system and within other critical infrastructure sectors. The plan describes actions that the DOT plans to pursue over the next several years, including engaging PNT stakeholders; monitoring and supporting the development of CPNT specifications and standards; establishing resources and procedures for CPNT testing and evaluation; and creating a Federal PNT Services Clearinghouse. Taken together with efforts of other Federal partners, these initiatives will continue to strengthen the resilience of the Nation’s PNT-dependent systems, resulting in safer, more secure critical infrastructure.

It should be noted that the U.S. Government is not procuring CPNT systems for non-Federal stakeholders, and as always, all activities are subject to the availability of appropriations.

How does DOT intend to engage PNT stakeholders?

DOT held a PNT Industry roundtable on August 4, 2022 that included representatives from Complementary PNT Technology vendors and critical infrastructure sectors. https://www.transportation.gov/pntindustryround

Feedback from this DOT industry roundtable informed the development of the DOT Complementary PNT Action Plan.

On September 11, 2023, DOT issued a Request for Information (RFI) as one of the steps to drive adoption of Complementary PNT services to augment GPS for the Nation’s transportation system, and through the Executive Branch Interagency Process, for other critical infrastructure sectors. U.S. DOT is planning a resiliency test, evaluation, and performance monitoring strategy for PNT-dependent transportation systems. Taken together with efforts of other Federal partners, these initiatives will strengthen resilience of the Nation’s PNT-dependent systems through the U.S. Government’s purchasing power as a demanding customer of Complementary PNT (CPNT) services, along with critical infrastructure owners and operators, resulting in safer, more secure critical infrastructure for the nation.

The DOT Volpe Center issued this RFI seeking information from industry about availability and interest in carrying out a small-scale deployment of very high technical readiness level (Technology Readiness Level (TRL)≥8) CPNT technologies at a field test range to characterize the capabilities and limitations of such technologies to provide PNT information that meet critical infrastructure needs when GPS service is not available and/or degraded due environmental, unintentional, and/or intentional disruptions. This deployment is intended to test these technologies against CI relevant requirements in order to gain confidence in performance and foster user adoption.

It is likely that DOT will hold future industry roundtables with Complementary PNT technology vendors and critical infrastructure sector owners and operators.

About the Author: Matteo Luccio

Matteo Luccio, GPS World’s Editor-in-Chief, possesses more than 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@northcoastmedia.net or 541-543-0525.