The US Air Force Strategic Development Planning & Experimentation (SDPE) Office, alongside the Naval Surface Warfare Centre, took steps forward in April toward making the USAF’s new Precision, Navigation and Timing (PNT) concept of operations a reality.
The USAF demonstrated fused PNT technologies within an 'Agilepod' (an ISR pod comprised of a series of 30-inch square compartments that can be assembled in different configurations) during six successful Phase I sorties on an airborne testbed in Colorado and successfully fit-tested the configuration on a T-38 at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico, ahead of planned Phase II flight tests in August.
According to Major Andy Cottle, SDPE’s Operational Experimentation Lead for Complementary-PNT, the sorties explored a concept of operations developed by Air Force Futures aimed to rethink the services’ approach to PNT by adapting open software architectures with existing PNT technologies like Vision Navigation (VisNav), Signals of Opportunity (SoOP) and magnetic anomaly navigation (MAGNAV).
He explained that the sorties successfully demonstrated that a fused VisNav/SoOP system could perform within the reconfigurable AgilePod throughout a wide range of aircraft and environmental conditions.
“PNT isn’t a new challenge for the Air Force, but we know uncontested Air Force dominance isn’t assured and we can’t be complacent,” Cottle said. “This concept recognizes that a single alternative-PNT technology isn’t going to give us the edge against our adversaries as they attempt to disrupt traditional GPS sources; we need to think differently about ways to employ those technologies together to achieve our desired effects.”
Cottle stated that the tests were just the first phase in a series of flight tests aimed to rapidly explore the operational utility of this concept, adding that during the tests, the team will also assess the MAGNAV technology for potential incorporation in future tests.
In another important milestone, the team completed a successful fit-check of the AgilePod on a T-38 to prepare for Phase II flight testing at Edwards Air Force Base with the 586th Flight Test Squadron in August.
The contested PNT problem is one also under consideration in Australia.
DST Group has coined the term STaRshots (Science Technology and Research shots) to describe the first number of identified missions, which include a 'world-leading' Quantum Position, Navigation and Timing (PNT) system.
This aims to use quantum-based science - theories of energy and matter - in collaboration with Five-Eyes partners (particularly the Royal New Zealand Navy) to offset operational reliance on GPS satellite services, which are highly likely to be targeted by a near-peer advesary in the event of a major conflict.