Behind the eye-grabbing new night vision, more lethal artillery and faster aviation being developed by the Army’s new cross functional teams sits a group that gets little attention but without which many soldiers would be groping blindly in the dark on the battlefield.
The Assured Position, Navigation and Timing CFT has the unenviable task of figuring out how to find ways to move friendly troops safely in hotly contested terrain and also help connect a myriad of systems to put the right effects at the right time and place in the most precise way.
Willie Nelson serves as the head of the team that’s bringing next-level wayfinding and infrastructure for targeting to soldiers. They look primarily at navigational warfare and ways to protect U.S. PNT systems so that operators are aware and can act if they’re jammed or spoofed.
Something that’s taken for granted, the signal strength on a cell phone, for instance, isn’t something that’s readily available to soldiers using navigation or even targeting equipment. It takes specialists in certain areas to even detect and evaluate if a system is being jammed.
APNT efforts are working toward a way for any user of any such equipment to see their own signal strength and jamming concerns.
And also finding ways to do the PNT work with degraded or unavailable GPS.
Nelson was quick to note that GPS remains the “gold standard” and isn’t going away. But, he said, GPS had its battle debut in the 1990-91 Persian Gulf War but has not had major upgrades since its inception.
So, the Pentagon is converting GPS to mCODE, a new data encryption standard for GPS.
The team is working mounted, dismounted and situational awareness efforts currently. Soldiers will, for the first time, have an alternate way to navigate built into their vehicles that’s not GPS.
Next year, the APNT team expects to conduct testing of the Mounted Assured Position, Navigation and Timing system in the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command area of operations, Nelson said.
There’s also work to consolidate systems. Past equipment development often meant that each system had its own GPS. That’s created scenarios in which a single vehicle with multiple tracking, targeting and communications systems could have seven or more GPS antennae poking out.
Part of MAPS will be to reduce that to a single, backed up, improved anti-jamming antenna.
In August, the CFT along with a host of research partners and the developers conducted a PNT exercise, testing 80 capabilities with 500 participants at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico. What was presented and tested there will be reviewed as they move forward on MAPS and DAPS.
They’ve worked with U.S. Army Europe forces focused on their specific geographic problem sets. And much of the recent APNTEX included sensor to shooter based data handling tests and forward observers tied to a tactical unit’s weapon system for firing.
The White Sands Missile Range is one of the few places that testers can work in a GPS-denied or degraded environment in a real world setting.
A year from now, in October 2020, they expect to conduct another PNT exercise, Nelson said.
And for individual soldiers hoofing it on foot, APNT is in the prototyping phase of its Dismounted Assured Position, Navigation and Timing system, Nelson said.
That will tie in with the existing Nett Warrior, an Android smartphone-based situational awareness tool that will eventually be both tied in to a single, soldier-borne power and networking system and linked to a goggle device being developed known as the Integrated Visual Augmentation System.
Beyond both the individual soldier and vehicle systems, APNT CFT is also exploring areas of space. Last year they assessed the Kestral Eye satellite, run by soldiers in INDOPACOM, working in low-earth orbit.
If those efforts are successful, and researchers think they will be, then it can give tactical-level units beyond line-of-sight capabilities for a variety of uses without GPS.
And APNT is more than just dots on a map. The CFT is working a modeling and simulation project at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland to look at how weapons systems work without PNT.
Nelson told Army Times that there might be ways in which some weapons systems can operate in degraded or denied GPS environments but haven’t yet been tested.
Between the mounted, dismounted and weapons systems work, the team overlaps with other CFTs. For instance, the dismounted portion of PNT work is tied closely with the Soldier Lethality CFT. The mounted, of course is sharing findings with the Next Generation Combat Vehicle. And the weapons part of their responsibilities is tied closely with long range precision fires.
The LRPF team is constantly tweaking the 155mm round for the howitzer platforms. Part of pushing its ranges farther also includes keeping those rounds on target. To do that, they are developing a Precision Guidance Kit.
And APNT works to keep the PGK safe from jamming or other methods of deterrence so it stays on target.
Todd South has written about crime, courts, government and the military for multiple publications since 2004 and was named a 2014 Pulitzer finalist for a co-written project on witness intimidation. Todd is a Marine veteran of the Iraq War.