GPS Obituary? Not Just Yet

It’s “too early to tell” if the Air Force will eventually get out of the business of maintaining the Global Positioning System satellite constellation that provides precision navigation and timing for many millions of users around the world, said service Secretary Deborah Lee James on June 18. Speaking with defense journalists in Washington, D.C., James said the Air Force is exploring a variety of self-contained, jam-proof technologies—Air Force and DARPA officials have described hyper-accurate miniaturized inertial measurement units, for example—to ensure that US platforms and weapons know their positions precisely. “We’re very interested in ensuring into the future that we have” precision navigation, guidance, weaponry, and timing, “in other words, those kinds of capabilities which GPS brings us today,” said James. There are “a variety of proposals on the table. … We’ll be pursuing some of those,” she said. The Air Force hopes to “leapfrog into the future and not just stick with one technology [just] because it’s been very helpful” until now, she noted. “We need to continue to advance,” she said. The Air Force has provided GPS signals as a free international public service for 20 years. James said getting out of the GPS business is “not a goal that I’ve ever heard of.”