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The US Military’s concept of combat is that in the near future all domains of war will be contested, a multi-domain battle. This includes the GPS signals that the military and the commercial world are so reliant upon for location and timing of operations. The US Army, through its position, navigation and timing (PNT) program, is trying to secure this front.

The program will take the Army to the next level of navigation warfare and PNT capability beyond just GPS alone, according to Kevin Coggins, the service’s program manager for PNT. Coggins told that GPS is currently the gold standard for how to get PNT information. Adversaries have figured out how to attack this technology, he said, noting that it has many vulnerabilities detailed in open-source materials for exploitation.

“We’re not used to operating in an information-contested environment,” Maj. Gen. Lori Reynolds, The chief of the Marine Corps Forces Cyberspace command, explained, referring to the last 15 years of war against technologically inferior adversaries.   

Coggins provided a three-tiered approach to countering threats to PNT, from the lowest-level threats to the peer level. The easiest way to counter GPS signal jamming is to give soldiers on the ground situational awareness sensors so they can detect that piece of the electromagnetic spectrum and see the noise in that space. If this is impossible, chip-scale atomic clocks, which have become less costly, can be put into a device independent of GPS to allow electronic warfare systems, radios and the like to continue to function.

When dealing with more sophisticated adversaries that might have multiple jammers, more expensive complements such as anti-jam antennas might need to be brought in. With a near-peer or peer adversary, Coggins explained that secure radio frequency power technologies controlled from the ground rather than space are an option, though that route would also be expensive. The better side to this option, however, is that only a small number is needed, he said — not every soldier requires such a capability.

With threats to PNT and cyberspace, forces might have to revert to more primitive technologies when denied. Reynolds said she was encouraged when recently visiting Japan, for a Marine exercise, as some in the division were using maps and single-channel radios. “They know how to do that, and we used to do that all the time, and so bringing back those old skills and know that if all else fails,” Marines can use a single-channel radio, she said.