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DARPA and GPS Backup – The “D” Stands for “Defense”

September 24, 2015

We were very glad to see the announcement this week that DARPA had awarded a contract to Rockwell Collins to develop technologies that could serve as backups for the military’s GPS system. Last year DARPA had posted on its site that military use of GPS had “…evolved from a strategic advantage to a vulnerability.” It is good to see them acting on this concern and continuing to push forward the boundaries of positioning, navigation and timing (PNT) science and technology.

That said, those concerned with today’s GPS vulnerabilities and how they could impact critical infrastructure, commerce, and the 99% of individual GPS users who are not in the military should remember that:

– DARPA’s projects are typically focused on ‘bleeding edge’ technologies that will be useful in 20 years or so. The problem we have is right now. In fact, in the United States we are 11 years overdue responding to a 2004 presidential mandate to acquire a GPS backup system.

– “The “D” in “DARPA” stands for “Defense.” So DARPA’s projects tend to be focused on military applications, like helping a smart bomb find its way to a target. Even when their projects come to fruition (and if any are implemented), they won’t necessarily help secure national infrastructure, or ensure that during a GPS outage UPS can deliver packages and Uber can find its customers.