GAO: US military must reevaluate GPS modernization

USA Government Accountability Office (GAO) claims that the US Space Force (USSF) must re-evaluate its plans to modernize the Global Positioning System (GPS).

GPS is the primary source of positioning, navigation, and timing information for the US military and its partners.

The Department of Defense (DoD) has worked for more than two decades to modernize GPS with a more jam-resistant, special military signal known as “M-code”. USSF is responsible for GPS modernization.

The GPS system consists of three parts that work together to provide M-code: a ground control part, a space part and user equipment.

However, it is unclear whether the current constellation of 24 satellites will meet the accuracy needs of some users. Having three more satellites could help, but the State Department may not be able to keep all 27 consistently available over the next decade.

Unless the DoD evaluates its operational need for satellites to determine a firm requirement for a 27-satellite constellation, other DoD efforts could take precedence, leaving the warplane with GPS user equipment to perform below required skill levels.

In addition, the USSF is seeking to expand the use of M-code technology by developing a second augmentation consisting of an improved M-code chip and card, as well as a handheld receiver.

The USSF does not have a major committed customer for the portable receiver. The Army, the biggest potential user of such a device, has its own plans for portable receivers, and Marine Corps officials say the service is still considering its options.

Without a good business case for the proposed handheld product, the USSF risks expending significant resources without providing benefit to military users.

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The GAO has made two recommendations with which the Department of Defense has agreed.

First, it must assess the number of satellites necessary to meet operational needs. Second, it should either develop a good business case for the M-code enabled Increment 2 handheld, or abandon the effort altogether.

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