5 DARPA projects to break the military's dependence on GPS
DARPA, whose early investments in geospatial positioning systems led to the explosion of the technology across government, is doing a what-if exercise: What happens if military units are facing a threat, and GPS becomes vulnerable or unstable because of solar storms or jamming?
To pursue countermeasures, the research agency is putting its budget into programs that could provide critical geospatial data to troops when GPS was unavailable.
“Position, navigation and timing (PNT) are as essential as oxygen for our military operators,” DARPA Director Arati Prabhakar said in an agency post. “Now we are putting new physics, new devices and new algorithms on the job so our people and our systems can break free of their reliance on GPS.”
DARPA cites five current programs designed to fill in gaps in the military’s geospatial line of defense.
1. Adaptable Navigation System
The ANS program is developing algorithms to integrate sensors across multiple platforms. It also wants to build better geospatial measurement devices using cold-atom interferometry, a technique for measuring the acceleration of atoms stored within a sensor.
ANS would also use non-navigational electromagnetic waves, including commercial satellite, radio and television signals as well as lightning strikes to provide points of reference for positioning systems. The technologies are “much more abundant and have stronger signals than GPS, and so could provide position information in both GPS-denied and GPS-degraded environments.”
2. Microtechnology for PNT
The program is a collection of efforts to develop highly stable and precise chip-scale gyroscopes, clocks and complete integrated timing and inertial measurement devices. DARPA has built a prototype with three gyroscopes, three accelerometers and a master clock on a chip that fits on the face of a penny. The self-calibrating, high-performance microscale sensors could offer size, weight and power improvements over existing sensors.
3. Quantum-Assisted Sensing and Readout
QuASAR aims to make the world’s most accurate atomic clocks portable. Researchers have developed optical atomic clocks with a timing error of less than 1 second in 5 billion years. “Making clocks this precise portable could improve on existing military systems such as GPS and potentially enable entirely new radar, LiDAR and metrology applications,” DARPA said.
4. Program in Ultrafast Laser Science and Engineering
PULSE uses laser technology to improve the precision and size of atomic clocks and microwave sources, enabling more accurate time and frequency synchronization over large distances, according to DARPA. If successful, PULSE could enable global distribution of time precise enough for the world’s most accurate atomic clocks.
5. Spatial, Temporal and Orientation Information in Contested Environments
The STOIC program seeks to develop GPS-independent positioning tools with GPS-level timing in a battle zone. STOIC includes three primary elements that when integrated have the potential to provide global PNT independent of GPS: long-range robust reference signals, ultra-stable tactical clocks and multifunctional systems that provide PNT information between multiples users.