On the battlefield, location accuracy is a life-or-death factor, so it’s no surprise that GPS (Global Positioning System) has become indispensable to global militaries. GPS provides armies with location accuracy and timing for navigation, targeting, and command of troops, missiles and military devices and assets.
The GPS constellation is based on 24 satellites aligned in 6 orbital planes, and was initially developed by the US Department of Defense, as the Navigation Satellite Timing and Ranging (NAVSTAR) system. GPS first served the US army in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, for navigating in extensive desert terrain throughout the Middle East.
Despite its widespread military usage, GPS doesn’t really meet security demands for military applications. It can be hacked, either by jamming or by spoofing: Adversaries can jam a signal with noise, or spoof it with false times or coordinates, which could disorient a multitude of devices on a network. These attacks are not too complicated to launch, but their implications and damage can be massive, and they are difficult to prevent. There have been thousands of such incidents, many of which were carried out by states and organizations.
Another disadvantage of GPS is its sensitivity to environment settings; it may suffer reception issues underground, inside buildings or next to metal surfaces which prevent direct satellite vision.
Varioius entities worldwide are working on alternatives to GPS. DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, is one of them, and has several candidates under work: (source: https://www.darpa.mil/news-events/2014-07-24)
- Adaptable Navigation Systems (ANS) – new algorithms and architectures for rapid integration of PNT (Positioning, Navigation & Timing) sensors in multiple platforms, reducing development costs and times. ANS is based on cold-atom interferometry, which measures the relative acceleration and rotation of a cloud of atoms stored within a sensor.
- Microtechnology for Positioning, Navigation, and Timing (Micro-PNT) leverages extreme miniaturization made possible by DARPA-developed micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) technology. Micro-PNT comprises a portfolio of diverse efforts collectively devoted to develop highly stable and precise chip-scale gyroscopes, clocks and complete integrated timing and inertial measurement devices.
- Quantum-Assisted Sensing and Readout (QuASAR) intends to make the world’s most accurate atomic clocks—which currently reside in laboratories—both robust and portable. QuASAR researchers have developed optical atomic clocks in laboratories with a timing error of less than 1 second in 5 billion years. This could potentially enable entirely new radar, LIDAR and metrology applications.
- The Program in Ultrafast Laser Science and Engineering (PULSE) applies the latest in pulsed laser technology to significantly improve the precision and size of atomic clocks and microwave sources, enabling more accurate time and frequency synchronization over large distances. If successful, PULSE technology could enable global distribution of time precise enough to take advantage of the world’s most accurate optical atomic clocks.
- The Spatial, Temporal and Orientation Information in Contested Environments (STOIC) program seeks to develop PNT systems that provide GPS-independent PNT with GPS-level timing in a contested environment. STOIC comprises three primary elements that when integrated have the potential to provide global PNT independent of GPS: long-range robust reference signals, ultra-stable tactical clocks, and multifunctional systems that provide PNT information between multiples users.
XTATE.AI, an Israeli-based technology company, has also developed an interesting alternative to GPS, based on AI and data science. Their solution, Eureka, is an innovative non-GPS technology for locating and identifying soldiers, targets and points of interest using RF communication in non-standard spectrum ranges. Eureka has a fully secured way for sharing and communicating information among team members, and also features central battle management center.
Hopefully, one of these technologies can pave the way to more secure, reliable location-based capabilities.