It has been a transformative year for assured position, navigation, timing (APNT) technology on the battlefield. Based on an M-code mandate initiated by Congress, DoD military services have focused on implementing next-generation navigation technology that enhances APNT capabilities, especially against highly contested threats such as jamming and spoofing. As the technology continues to evolve, The Modern Battlespace editors connected with Todd Conerly, Director of Guidance and Navigation Solutions at Collins Aerospace, on lessons learned in 2021 and how APNT will evolve in 2022.
Assessing Baseline Requirements
With a stronger satellite signal power and other built-in advantages, Congress has upheld M-code as a necessary baseline requirement to address environments that are GPS challenged or denied. “It makes GPS more robust against enemy jamming. Everyone has to implement it,” Conerly explained.
While the M-code mandate solves a large part of the problem, there are remaining signal challenges that may be unique to each service or battlefield. For example, the U.S. Army has been soliciting industry feedback on reducing size, weight, and power (SWaP) consumption of PNT devices and components, multiple waveform integrations, and software-defined solutions for advanced performance.
“M-code is the requirement, but is it good enough?” Conerly asked. “There are still lots of questions out there – we still need to figure out what the exact minimum is that defense organizations need to procure, and what’s going to get them through future conflict.”
Taking a Modular Approach
To offer solutions beyond M-code that are affordable and effective, Conerly advised balancing the M-code requirement with threat matrices from potential adversaries. “A lot of units can meet the M-code requirement at a low cost, but this won’t get you everything you need to operate in a GPS denied environment,” said Conerly. “At the same time, not every vehicle or soldier needs to be able to operate in a fully GPS denied environment, so you need to make your tradeoffs. We need to understand what capabilities are needed for which platforms.”
To help the government understand what the tradeoffs are with capability versus cost, the APNT team at Collins Aerospace is focused on developing solutions that are modular and scalable. “Maybe a service can’t afford the most robust solution today, but we can build a scalable or modular solution that they can upgrade in the future,” said Conerly.
According to Conerly, taking a modular approach means exploring open standards so that solutions are easier to integrate into larger systems or with third-party features and functions. With the Army already pursuing an open system standard known as CMOSS, Conerly says, “We’re doing things now to prepare for that eventual evolution to full open standards.”
According to Conerly, 2021 was a landmark year for APNT systems, as both defense and industry leaders recognized that this dialogue must extend beyond GPS. “GPS used to be the exclusive element of these conversations,” said Conerly. “But in 2021, APNT became its own solution. At Collins, we’re viewing it at that level and seeking solutions that are affordable and effective.”
The focus of 2022, Conerly says, will be on refining requirements. To drive this refinement, military services will need to focus particularly on adversary capabilities and environments. Services have yet to find alignment on what this looks like, and Conerly advises pushing this priority for APNT in 2022.
“They need to mature their requirements for each of the platforms when they’re seeking solutions,” Conerly said. “This should be the big focus because then industry can go design the systems that best meet those requirements,” he concluded. This joint effort will make significant strides in maintaining overmatch in the future battlespace.