The Government Accountability Office (GAO) said that the Department of Defense (DoD) is failing to properly prioritize the development of Global Positioning System (GPS) alternatives.

In a May 10 report, GAO explained that DoD relies on satellite-based GPS for critical operations with its aircrafts, ships, munitions, land vehicles, and ground troops, and plans to keep GPS as the core of its positioning, navigation, and timing (PNT) solution.

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At the same time, DoD is in the process of developing new PNT technologies to complement GPS or use as an alternative for when GPS is degraded or unavailable, and the government watchdog agency opined that the development of PNT alternatives is not being prioritized as it should.

GAO explained challenges DoD faces in developing and fielding these new technologies, and identified policy options to help address DoD’s challenges. Specifically, GAO said that the level of precision that GPS provides may not be needed for all applications. Instead, DoD should clarify the performance requirements for new technologies, rather than simply defaulting to GPS-level precision. This shift could help get appropriate technology into the field faster, GAO said.

While DoD is looking to develop new PNT technologies, GAO said that Pentagon officials and experts feel that alternative PNT solutions are not being prioritized at the agency.

Officials specifically mentioned that there isn’t a central program office responsible for developing the variety of alternative PNT technologies across DoD. Further, GAO said that DoD’s “continued reliance on GPS, despite known GPS vulnerabilities to disruption, presents a challenge for obtaining sufficient support to develop viable alternatives.” DoD officials and experts also said the Pentagon’s challenges in establishing PNT technology performance requirements is hindering technology development.

The report provides six policy options to help address challenges with developing and integrating alternative PNT technologies, including new actions for policymakers and stakeholders in Congress, Federal agencies, and industry groups.

The policy options are:

  • “Increase Collaboration: Policymakers could consider mechanisms to coordinate across DoD to clarify responsibilities and authorities in prioritizing the need for alternative PNT technologies.
  • Focus on Resiliency: Policymakers could consider selecting the most resilient technologies as the cornerstone of the PNT suite for military missions, rather than defaulting to GPS.
  • Clarify Requirements: Policymakers could consider opportunities for DoD to clarify what level of PNT performance is actually needed for missions, rather than defaulting to requirements that match GPS performance.
  • Coordinate With Industry: Policymakers could consider ensuring that DoD and commercial industry coordinate so industry is prepared to meet DoD’s needs, and DoD can leverage industry advances.
  • Institutionalize Open Architecture: Policymakers could consider making the open architecture initiative more permanent, including providing funding.
  • Analyze Vulnerabilities: Policymakers could consider having DOD conduct ongoing analysis of vulnerabilities of different PNT systems.”

Each broader policy option includes specific opportunities and considerations for the DoD and other stakeholders to weigh before taking action.

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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk's Assistant Copy & Production Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.