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In its last leg, Trump Admn issues policy directive on GPS & alternative PNT


In its last days in office, the Trump Administration issued yet another policy directive highlighting the importance of the Global Positioning System (GPS), and underlining the need to develop an alternative Positioning, Navigation and Timing (PNT) service. Issued on January 15, the Memorandum on Space Policy Directive 7 (SPD-7), establishes the implementation actions and guidance for United States space-based PNT programs and activities for America’s national and homeland security, civil, commercial, and scientific purposes. 

The Department of Homeland Security has identified 16 sectors as critical infrastructure and any disruption in GNSS availability, reliability, resilience and integrity would have enormous implications on economy and national security 

The latest policy supersedes National Security Presidential Directive-39 (NSPD-39) of December 15, 2004 (United States Space-Based Positioning, Navigation, and Timing Policy), and complements the guidance set forth in last February’s Executive Order on Strengthening National Resilience through Responsible Use of Positioning, Navigation, and Timing Services, and the section on Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) included in National Space Policy that came out in December 2020.

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Dr Scott Pace, then Executive Secretary of National Space Council, had told us in October that a new PNT policy was in the works and was expected to come out soon. Dr Pace, had since stepped down and returned to the George Washington University effective January 1, 2021.

The directive reiterates that the United States will continue to operate and maintain the GPS to satisfy civil, homeland security, and national security needs, consistent with published performance standards and interface specifications. Further, it will continue to provide worldwide access to its space-based GPS services and government-provided augmentations, free of direct user fees, and provide open, free access to information necessary to develop and build equipment to use these services.

The details

SPD-7 further provides guidance for:

  1. A sustainment and modernization of the GPS; and federally developed, owned, and operated systems used to augment or otherwise improve GPS;
  2. Implementation and operation of capabilities to protect United States and allied access to and use of GPS for national, homeland, and economic security, and to deny adversaries hostile applications use of United States space-based PNT services; and
  3. United States participation in international cooperative initiatives regarding foreign space-based PNT services and foreign use of GPS and its augmentations.

Recognizing that GPS is a key component of multiple sectors of critical infrastructure in the country, SPD-7 warns that cascading effects from extended PNT service disruption or denial can adversely affect all sectors. GPS is critical for transport sector, including land, sea, and air, for navigation, positional awareness, and other vehicle capabilities, while many information systems rely on the GPS timing signal to enable both fixed and mobile communications.

“An extended outage of GPS, or extended period of spoofed or manipulated GPS signals, could cause severe economic losses and put lives at risk,” the memorandum underlines.

Further, GPS remains critical to national security with its applications virtually integrated into every facet of the US military operations.

ALSO READ: Open Industry Alliance launched to strengthen PNT resilience

In this background, there must be an alternative plan for potential signal loss and or authenticity since in many applications even small degradations can result in loss of life.

The United States “encourages the development of alternative approaches to PNT services and security that can incorporate new technologies and services as they are developed, such as quantum sensing, relative navigation and private or publicly owned and operated alternative PNT services,” SPD-7 says. It adds that the US supports the use of foreign satellite-based PNT services to supplement GPS as integration of new services can improve its accuracy, availability and resilience.

Roles and responsibilities

The Space-Based Positioning, Navigation, and Timing Executive Committee (Executive Committee) will be the interagency body responsible for guiding and preserving whole-of-government interests in the provision of space-based PNT services, augmentations, and space-based alternatives, with Deputy Secretaries of the Department of Defense and the Department of Transportation, or their designated representatives, as the co-chairs. Additionally, the members of the Executive Committee will be at the deputy secretary level or equivalent from the Department of State, the Department of the Treasury, the Department of Justice, the Department of the Interior, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Commerce, the Department of Energy, the Department of Homeland Security, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, NASA, or their designated representatives, and the heads of other executive departments and agencies (agencies) invited by the Co-Chairs.

The Administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration will serve as an ex officio member consistent with the Administrator’s duties to advise the President on telecommunications and information policy issues.

The memorandum also mandates the Executive Committee to publish an implementation plan within 120 days to enact over a five-year period all provisions of this directive.

The policy also lays down elaborate roles and responsibilities for various agencies, who have to allocate resources required to fulfill the objectives of this policy. They include:

  • Secretary of State;
  • Secretary of Defense;
  • Secretary of Commerce;
  • Secretary of Transportation;
  • Secretary of Homeland Security;
  • Director of National Intelligence;
  • Administrator of NASA.

Alternative PNT

The Department of Homeland Security had identified 16 infrastructure as critical and any disruption in GNSS availability, reliability, resilience and integrity would weaken these critical infrastructure that sustains the national security, business operations and public safety. In April 2020, the department had submitted a report to Congress laying out potential roles for the Federal government and private industry in creating and operating contingency layers for PNT. The Report on Positioning, Navigation, and Timing (PNT) Backup and Complementary Capabilities to the Global Positioning System (GPS) observes that the position and navigation functions in critical infrastructure are so diverse that no single PNT system, including GPS, can fulfill all user requirements and applications.

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There is also a recommendation for a series of application-specific PNT systems, rather than a single alternative, and that this be developed in coordination with industry owners and operators, with regulatory and financial incentives to encourage adoption.

In December, prominent PNT companies came together to form a new coalition to give voice to the demand for open-market approach to backing up GPS/GNSS for critical infrastructure. The Open PNT Industry Alliance will fortify economic and national security by supporting government efforts to accelerate the implementation of backup PNT capabilities for critical infrastructure.

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