Contested Area Navigation and Time

How do we help the U.S. military navigate and communicate without using the Global Positioning System (GPS)?


North Korea has jammed GPS signals repeatedly along its border, disrupting navigation systems used by South Korean cell phones, automated teller machines (ATMs), aircraft, fishing vessels, cars and pedestrians. Adversaries could launch similar attacks against the U.S. military, with devastating consequences. Navigation signals from GPS satellites play vital roles guiding weapons systems and autonomous systems and tracking positions of friendly troops to avoid fratricide. Jamming those signals could cause higher casualties. GPS satellites also provide a timing signal that plays a critical role in maintaining contact between communication devices as they hand off from one signal source to another. Jamming U.S. communications links could make it difficult or even impossible for U.S. forces to coordinate operations.

Capabilities Used
Positioning, Navigation & Timing (PNT)

Draper develops novel PN&T solutions by combining precision instrumentation, advanced hardware technology, comprehensive algorithm and software development skills, and unique infrastructure and test resources to deploy system solutions. The scope of these efforts generally focuses on guidance, navigation, and control GN&C-related needs, ranging from highly accurate, inertial solutions for (ICBMs) and inertial/stellar solutions for SLBMs, to integrated Inertial Navigation System(INS)/GPS solutions for gun-fired munitions, to multisensor configurations for soldier navigation in GPS-challenged environments. Emerging technologies under development that leverage and advance commercial technology offerings include celestial navigation (compact star cameras), inertial navigation (MEMS, cold atom sensors), precision time transfer (precision optics, chip-scale atomic clocks) and vision-based navigation (cell phone cameras, combinatorial signal processing algorithms).

Precision Instrumentation

Draper develops precision instrumentation systems that exceed the state-of-the-art in key parameters (input range, accuracy, stability, bandwidth, ruggedness, etc.) that are designed specifically to operate in our sponsor’s most challenging environments (high shock, high temperature, radiation, etc.).  As a recognized leader in the development and application of precision instrumentation solutions for platforms ranging from missiles to people to micro-Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), Draper finds or develops state-of-the-art components (gyros, accelerometers, magnetometers, precision clocks, optical systems, etc.) that meet the demanding size, weight, power and cost needs of our sponsors and applies extensive system design capabilities consisting of modeling, mechanical and electrical design, packaging and development-level testing to realize instrumentation solutions that meet these critical and demanding needs.

Contested Area Navigation and Time
By jamming signs from GPS and communications satellites, enemies could keep U.S. pilots from navigating safely and coordinating their operations during combat. Photo credit: U.S. Navy

The U.S. military is addressing threats to GPS access with more advanced receivers, and it plans to begin using a new GPS signal called the M-code in 2017 that will make it tougher for adversaries to disrupt access to the navigation signals. These actions will improve the U.S. military’s ability to maintain access to GPS signals, but will not ensure it.


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Draper’s expertise with chip-scale atomic clock technology can help provide a highly accurate timing capability for troops who cannot access GPS signals.


To help the U.S. military navigate and communicate in contested environments without relying on GPS, Draper is drawing on a diverse array of engineering disciplines to provide combinations of technologies to meet the needs of different missions. Some of these solutions leverage technologies that Draper developed to enable navigation without external references before GPS existed, notably inertial navigation. Draper continues to improve its inertial sensing technology so that pilots as well as dismounted troops can navigate accurately for long periods without access to GPS or other external signals, and it is complementing this expertise by working with universities to bring cutting-edge sensor technology into the field that enables users to rely on visual cues for navigation.

To address timing needs, Draper contributed to the development of chip-scale atomic clock technology for military and commercial customers. Currently, Draper is working with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to demonstrate next-generation clocks that will allow critical systems to stay synchronized for weeks without GPS.

Technical Contact
Stephen P. Smith