While DoD continues its development of Global Positioning System (GPS) M-code anti-jamming, anti-spoofing chips, cards, and receivers, the modernized GPS ground segment will not be ready for fielding until this December, at the earliest, and Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Space Acquisition and Integration Frank Calvelli is telling Congress that the Department of the Air Force will reassess its estimated need for 27 Lockheed Martin [LMT] GPS satellites that broadcast the M-code signal–three more than fielded now.

For the GPS M-code space segment, the U.S. Space Force “met its approved requirement for 24 M-code-capable satellites on orbit, but determined that it needs at least three more to meet certain user requirements for accuracy,” according to a June 5th Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, GPS Modernization: Space Force Should Reassess Requirements for Satellites and Handheld Devices (GAO-23-106018).

“Building and maintaining this larger constellation presents a challenge,” the study said. “GAO’s analysis indicates it is not likely that 27 satellites will be available on a consistent basis over the next decade [because of a lag between older GPS satellite retirements and new launches]. Unless the Air Force assesses its operational need for satellites to establish a firm requirement for a 27-satellite constellation, other DoD efforts could take priority, leaving the warfighter with GPS user equipment performing below the required capability levels.”

In addition, GAO advised the Department of the Air Force to require Space Force’s Space Systems Command “to produce a sound business case” for the Military GPS User Equipment (MGUE) Increment 2 handheld receiver “prior to initiating the rapid prototyping phase of the middle tier of acquisition, or else not initiate the handheld rapid prototyping effort due to the absence of a sound business case [the lack of a major, committed customer].”

The Department of the Air Force agrees with the GAO report’s recommendations, Calvelli wrote in a May 18th letter to GAO.

MGUE Increment 1 includes application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) chips by GlobalFoundries to execute M-code functions, the cards that have such chips, and receivers. L3Harris [LHX], Raytheon Technologies [RTX] and BAE Systems have received funding under MGUE Increment 1.

That effort has included developing a Raytheon ASIC aviation/maritime card for the Northrop Grumman [NOC] B-2 stealth bomber and the Arleigh Burke-class (DDG-51) destroyers and a ground card–the L3Harris ASIC card–for the U.S. Army’s Stryker and the Marine Corps’ Joint Light Tactical Vehicle.

In fiscal 2024, SSC plans for MGUE Increment 1 testing of the aviation/maritime card using a Raytheon Miniature Airborne GPS Receiver 2000 – Modernized (MAGR-2K-M) on a B-2, while the MGUE Increment 1 testing of the aviation/maritime card using a Raytheon GPS-Based Positioning, Navigation and Timing Service (GPNTS) Receiver on an Arleigh Burke destroyer is expected in fiscal 2025.

Unlike MGUE Increment 1, MGUE Increment 2 is to include handheld receivers. In addition, the MGUE Increment 2 development is to aim for incorporation on precision guided munitions as a first step before the development of the handheld receiver. MGUE Increment 2 cards are to have a smaller, more power efficient ASIC that will have enough commercial demand to avoid the shortages seen in GlobalFoundries’ production of ASICs for Increment 1.

The MGUE Increment 2 effort to develop the Next Generation ASIC and the smaller M-code card is expected to cost $1.4 billion, and Raytheon, BAE Systems and L3Harris are developing MGUE Increment 2 cards, which are to have their critical design reviews by SSC by Sept. 30.

Since the late 1990s, the Pentagon has been developing the GPS military code–M-code–to have a stronger signal and more advanced encryption, but initial operational capability may be years away.

The GPS M-code ground segment, the Raytheon GPS Next-Generation Operational Control System (GPS OCX), has had delays in its expected delivery by April this year, due to schedule slips in incorporating new hardware and software, in part due to COVID-19 (Defense Daily, June 27, 2022).

Raytheon has said that GPS OCX “will provide improved accuracy of the current system and will be able to fly more than twice as many satellites”–an increase that the company said “will increase coverage in hard-to-reach areas such as urban canyons and mountainous terrain.”

DoD cost estimates for GPS OCX increased from $3.9 billion in November 2012 to nearly $6.8 billion in September 2020. A DoD Selected Acquisition Report released in April last year said that the total acquisition cost for GPS OCX would now be about $6 billion–$800 million less, in part due to the creation of a new budget line dedicated solely to funding for OCX for the GPS IIIF satellites.

GAO said last August that the cost to move to M-code “will likely be billions of dollars greater than the $2.5 billion identified through fiscal year 2021, because significant work remains” (Defense Daily, June 17, 2022).

“Additionally, current PNT [positioning, navigation, and timing] receivers are not designed to easily add in new sources of PNT information,” GAO said last year. “We reported in 2021 that such PNT receivers are a challenge to fielding new capabilities, as these systems cannot be upgraded affordably.”

To avoid significant upgrade costs, the Air Force has been developing an open-systems GPS M-code Resilient Embedded GPS/Inertial Navigation System (R-EGI) receiver by Huntsville, Ala.-based Integrated Solutions for Systems, Inc. for use on Air Force F-16s and possibly F-15Es and F-15EXs.

The R-EGI, however, apparently does not meet the size and power requirements for Navy platforms and so the Air Force will not be able to use R-EGI for the service’s  Embedded GPS Inertial Navigation System – Modernized (EGI-M) receiver program under which Honeywell [HON] and Northrop Grumman are replacing old GPS receivers on Air Force and Navy platforms.

“According to documentation from DoD, both [EGI-M] contractors have experienced significant delays and cost overruns, including breaches of key schedule milestones by as much as 15 months,” GAO said in its new report. “According to an Air Force program official, over the course of fiscal year 2022, it became clear that neither contractor would be able to meet its revised schedule baseline. The Air Force is currently working with the contractors to prepare a new schedule. Though the schedule is still under development, Air Force officials stated they cannot deliver EGI-M to support initial fielding before fiscal year 2025.”

Some Navy EGI receivers are to reach the end of their service lives in 2025 “and the receivers and the cards that support them are no longer in production,” according to the GAO report. As a result, the Navy faces a potential capability gap starting in 2025…. If the legacy receiver’s end-of-life occurs beginning in 2025, as expected, and EGI-M is not yet available for integration, Navy officials told us they might have to ground select aircraft.”

On March 9th, John Sherman, DoD’s chief information officer, told the House Armed Services Committee’s (HASC) cyber, information technologies and innovation panel that his office is leading the Pentagon’s PNT modernization effort.

The latter “is critical to enabling advanced weapon systems to function in today’s highly contested
navigation warfare environment,” according to Sherman’s prepared remarks to HASC.

“To date, the [military] services accomplishments include the fielding of GPS M-code ground receivers in
key systems that include the Army’s Mounted Assured PNT System or MAPS which is in the [Raytheon] Patriot system, currently in South Korea,” Sherman said. “The Navy has started fielding GPNTS, and Non-GPS Aided PNT for Surface Ships or NoGAPSS into the surface fleet…In a joint effort by the Navy and DISA [Defense Information Systems Agency], global timing resiliency is being achieved though the Critical Time Dissemination initiative and Defense Regional Clocks.”