Image: RNT Foundation

Blog Editor’s Note: The author is President of the RNT Foundation.



Senate proposes $15M to develop GPS alternatives

October 20, 2021  – By 

This week Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, released that body’s version of nine different appropriations bills. The accompanying report for the bill to fund the Transportation Department (DOT) outlines the Senate’s intentions and way forward for establishing alternatives to GPS.

The report provides $15 million for the fiscal year that began on the first of October “to establish a program that leads to wide adoption of multiple technologies that provide the necessary GPS backup and complementary PNT as identified by the Department’s report.”

The department report referenced was on a demonstration project that examined GPS backup and complementary technologies from 11 different vendors. That DOT report found, based on the technologies demonstrated, a combination of signals delivered from space, terrestrial low frequency (LF) and ultra-high frequency (UHF) broadcasts, and fiber would best meet the nation’s needs.

The Senate report accompanying the funding bill outlines components of the GPS alternatives program, including:

  • development of safety-critical PNT requirements and standards,
  • user adoption models to facilitate responsible use of resilient PNT, and
  • procurement of services deemed appropriate by the department.

The Senate Committee report can be found here. Relevant provisions are on page 12.

Services Contracts

While not setting a deadline for issuance of a Request for Proposal, the mention of procuring services is seen by many as a strong indication that Congress expects more than just additional studies.

Services contracts, as opposed to the government building its own system, have long been advocated by numerous members of industry and by the Resilient Navigation and Timing Foundation. Contracting for services with commercial providers is a better model, they have argued, as the needed technologies are mature and commercially available. Also, issuing one or more services contracts would avoid the need for the huge funding lines and lengthy delays inherent in a government major systems acquisition.

Many have suggested that services contracts would also be a much more economical approach for the government. They say commercial interests can operate their systems more efficiently, and that they could offer additional services to other customers, potentially reducing costs to the government.

ADS-B Sets Example

Such an approach was used by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for the ADS-B air traffic safety and management system. The FAA needed to monitor and use signals from ADS-B equipment aboard a wide variety of aircraft flying in U.S. airspace. Rather than building a nation-wide ground infrastructure, the FAA issued a long-term service contract for a company to collect and provide the signals. The awardee, Exelis (now L3Harris), won the contract, built the infrastructure, and now provides ADS-B information to the FAA and others on a subscription basis.

Most observers expect the portions of the Senate bill and report about the GPS alternatives program to be adopted in conference with the House and then enacted into law.

How far the Department of Transportation will be able to develop the program this fiscal year remains to be seen. The Senate provisions do require DOT to report on its progress in a year’s time. Earlier informal reports and updates to the committee are likely to inform funding and other legislation on this effort for fiscal year 2023.

Dana A. Goward is President of the Resilient Navigation and Timing Foundation