Sunday, March 18, 2012

Will the Department of Defense Replace GPS?

GPS is one of those technologies that has completely changed the way that people function, and I would argue completely for the better. While I talk a lot about how knowing how to use a paper map is a good skill, at the end of the day, GPS is incredibly useful and helpful. But, according to an article by the National Defense Magazine, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter is somewhat less of a fan, and would be all too happy to see GPS reliance gone completely.

“[GPS] is very expensive to launch and operate,” Carter said during a podcast in April. According to Carter, GPS makes the United States vulnerable and “is impossible to use in the valleys of Afghanistan or in a big city, or in places where the signal is poor.”

Ash_Carter_DOD_Secretary_Portrait

DOD Secretary Ash Carter

It has been well documented that GPS signals can easily be spoofed, which does indeed pose quite the problem for the United States military, which relies on GPS for a number of things, including launching missiles and navigating through national airspace. For several years, DARPA has been researching alternatives and ways to improve the use of PNT devices, and very recently the government petitioned for comments on using eLORAN as a backup for GPS. But, that’s not what Carter is referring to either.

Carter instead envisions an alternative GPS he refers to as the “GPS of things” which basically involves objects being fitted with high-tech micro-electromechanical chips that will allow objects to keep track of their position, orientation, and time from the moment they are created with no need for updates from satellites. “Pretty soon I won’t be launching anymore of those satellites,” Carter said.

Of course, the Defense Secretary was quick to add that the Pentagon is not intending on decommissioning GPS anytime soon, and that satellite launches (such as the upcoming GPS-III satellites currently in production) will continue while the government looks for alternate solutions.

I’m no expert, but basically what it sounds like is the “GPS of things” technology would allow objects to calculate position from a fixed point (based on where it was programmed) and, combined with maps and other technologies, would internally be able to figure out location. The article that I read was unclear as to whether or not this idea has been tested to any degree or what sort of accuracy could be expected. With recent developments in GPS allowing for centimeter accuracy, any replacement technology is going to have some big shoes to fill.

What do you think? Is GPS on its way out with all of the threats of unreliability as far as military use goes?

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