A critical part of Army modernization will be upgrading positioning, navigation and timing (PNT) systems to allow Soldiers to know exactly where they are, where friendly forces are and where autonomous information and attack systems are at all times.
A team from the U.S. Army Joint Modernization Command (JMC) recently spent several weeks at White Sands Missile Range assessing the latest dismounted navigation systems, gathering Soldier feedback and observations on the latest technology available from industry.
The assessment was part of the Army’s PNT modernization effort led by the Assured Positioning, Navigation and Timing (APNT) Cross-Functional Team (CFT), which is responsible for placing emerging PNT, Tactical Space and Navigation Warfare technologies into the hands of Soldiers.
The newest PNT systems have impressed Soldiers with the ability to maintain position accuracy while in a city, inside buildings, or other environments that interfere with the traditional Global Positioning System (GPS), said Capt. John Sexton, logistics applications officer at JMC, headquartered at Fort Bliss.
“There are a couple systems that use emerging technology, using multiple sources to correlate and pinpoint exactly where you are based on those different data sources that they’re pulling in,” Sexton said. “It’s fascinating because typically you think of GPS as the system to tell me where I’m at, but there are now other sensors they are adding to enhance positioning accuracy.”
As the Army faces a future of competing with peer or near-peer adversaries in Multi-Domain Operations (MDO), Soldiers will need to be able to operate in challenged PNT environments where GPS may not be available, said Capt. Javier Martinez, observer/analyst at JMC. One of the new dismounted systems will replace the defense advanced GPS receiver, or DAGR, that the Army currently uses for PNT.
“This is important because it will enhance the ability of Soldiers to move and maneuver in combat situations and in contested environments,” Martinez said. “We’ve relied on GPS signal for almost 30 years. Now, we’re adding to GPS with other sources to increase accuracy to know where we are at, at any time.”
The dismounted systems being assessed by JMC are impressive not only for their accuracy, but for their easy portability, said Sgt. 1st Class Jorel Santiago, an air defense observer/controller Non-Commissioned Officer in the MDO Group at JMC.
“The mapping systems that they have are normally in heavier pieces of equipment, like a laptop,” Santiago said. “Now it’s becoming more hand held and on the Soldier, so those capabilities are going to be useful. The lighter they are, the easier they are for Soldiers to carry.”
JMC’s assessors worked with Soldiers with the Colorado National Guard to test the PNT systems in a variety of conditions at White Sands. JMC’s role is to assess the available PNT systems to help find the best one for the Army. The exacting process should help the Army save money while getting the best equipment possible into the hands of Soldiers.
“Our role is to assess the military feasibility of the dismounted systems,” Sexton said. “Does this dismounted system make sense for a Soldier to carry in the field? Will it get him through his dismounted mission? We’re looking at aspects of size, weight and power. Is it going to tangle up on things? Does it impede movement? Is it easy to use, for Soldiers to quickly adapt to it?”
This dismounted PNT assessment was one of the worldwide multi-echelon, joint and multinational live experiments JMC plans and executes in support of the Army’s modernization strategy. The JMC also leads a yearly Joint Warfighting Assessment – the Army’s premier modernization and interoperability exercise.
Once the equipment capabilities and Soldier feedback is assessed, the APNT CFT will use the information to build requirements for modernized PNT systems. Getting accurate, easy-to-use PNT systems into the hands of Soldiers is critical to the joint forces’ capability in MDO.