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DOD Failing to Track Progress on Military Alternatives to GPS, GAO Says

A new report says military leaders don’t have enough information to make crucial decisions about ongoing efforts to develop alternatives to the Global Positioning System.

Defense Department officials are failing to track progress on efforts to develop alternatives for the military's Global Positioning System and lack key information to make decisions on funding those initiatives, according to a new report.

The Government Accountability Office said DOD is not measuring overall progress on new navigation systems the military is developing to counteract emerging threats targeting GPS and position, navigation and timing data, otherwise known as PNT. The GAO report published on Friday said the Navy had not completed business cases for four of its alternative PNT efforts, leaving DOD officials in the dark about potential risks, benefits, project costs and more. 

Business cases are a crucial step in the budgetary process for agencies to determine how resources and technical support should be allotted for ongoing projects. While the PNT Oversight Council is tasked with managing the DOD's portfolio, the GAO report said it has prioritized GPS modernization efforts over the initiatives to develop PNT alternatives. 

Without proper oversight, the military may face potential gaps as it transitions to M-code, a stronger encrypted signal the DOD is implementing to prevent GPS vulnerabilities. 

DOD identified at least four major threats GPS faces, including anti-satellite weapons, jamming, spoofing and cyber – and the GAO report notes that those vulnerabilities will remain prevalent threats even with a stronger encryption system. 

GAO called on the PNT Oversight Council to create strategic objectives and metrics measuring progress on DOD's alternative PNT initiatives. The report also recommended the Navy complete its business cases.

DOD said it "has already made significant progress" in completing or partially completing most of the outstanding elements of its business cases and agreed that completing the business cases "is appropriate to reduce uncertainty and risk in their respective programs."

"However, the Department also recognizes that not every program requires every element of a business case, and gives acquisition officials the flexibility to meet those needs through reasonable alternatives," DOD said in response to the GAO report. 

While GPS has become a fundamental component in most technology in the military and public life, the signals the system relies on are highly susceptible to manipulation. Recent international conflicts have also raised concerns that a country like Russia could interfere with GPS and PNT data, which the U.S. and its allies rely on.