The United States military is developing a new Global Position System (GPS) signal resistant to interference, such as jamming. The Department of Defense (DoD) plans to install this technology on hundreds of weapons systems, but a recent report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that incomplete data hinders deployment efforts.
For more than two decades the DoD has been modernizing GPS to use a more jam-resistant, military-specific signal called M-code. The department plans to test this equipment in lead weapon systems including aircraft, ships, and combat vehicles – eventually, it plans to incorporate modernized GPS equipment in about 700 weapon systems.
The DoD has begun to select priority systems for M-code capability, but incomplete data have hindered these efforts. The report notes that the widespread operational use will take several more years due to “developmental challenges and delays with the user equipment that will receive the signal.”
DoD has maintained a database on modernizing the GPS enterprise and the military services enter the required data. Until mid-2021, the database did not have a field to identify priority systems which led to significant issues with data completeness and accuracy remain, due in part because of user equipment delays, but also because the database does not have formal validation processes.
“Poor data hinders the congressional defense committees’ ability to track the progress of M-code and support DOD decision-making, ” the report notes.
These delays have limited the military services’ ability to fully develop plans for operationally testing M-code capability. Testing is expected to be complex and, once the equipment is ready, the services will need sufficient test data to support fielding decisions and user understanding of capabilities. In addition, delays to test plans put the timely fielding of M-code capability on priority systems at risk.
In their report, GAO made seven separate recommendations to the department, including that the DoD and the military services ensure the information in their GPS modernization database is sufficient to support priorities for planning for and fielding M-code, and that the data is validated
regularly. GAO also recommended that the military services finalize operational test plans for priority weapon systems once M-code equipment is available.
The DoD concurred with three of the seven recommendations and partially concurred with the remaining four.