Acquisition Reform Baked-In

By August 25, 2016September 1st, 2018Acquisition, Army ALT Magazine
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Army PNT program uses open systems architecture, competitive prototyping to spur continuous innovation.

by Mr. Kevin Coggins

While acquisition reformers debate changes intended to put programs on the path to success earlier in their life cycle, one critical Army program is already living that goal.

That would be the program management office for Positioning, Navigation and Timing (PM PNT), which reports directly to the Army acquisition executive. PM PNT is charged with delivering next-generation positioning and timing technologies and has embraced key elements of acquisition reform and Better Buying Power (BBP) 3.0. In partnership with industry and government organizations, the PNT program office is using open systems architecture and competitive prototyping to structure a program that intended to drive continuous, disruptive innovation to support the warfighter and overcome emerging threats and challenges.

Global Positioning System (GPS) technology has become an integral tool in safely navigating, gaining and maintaining force positions in the field. But as the threat environment changes, our adversaries have become more sophisticated in attacking existing GPS capabilities. The Assured PNT (A-PNT) strategy pursued by PM PNT is addressing this challenge, with three main objectives:

  • Increased protection.
  • Increased efficiencies.
  • Affordable migration path to Military Code (M-Code), a new signal from space with improved security and anti-jamming capabilities.

Increased protection ensures readiness—the Army’s No. 1 priority. As the Hon. Eric K. Fanning, secretary of the Army, recently testified before Congress, “Having accurate PNT information is fundamental to our forces’ ability to maintain initiative, coordinate movements, target fires and communicate on the move.” Other senior leaders agree [see quotes below]. To equip Soldiers to be able to safely navigate and communicate in any environment, meet current threats and pace the emergence of threats, we must integrate new capabilities in the field and invest in the future to ensure we continue to overmatch our adversaries.

“While DOD will of course continue to support the GPS satellites, which we engineer and launch … we also need to find alternatives for military use that are more resilient and less vulnerable.” —Secretary of Defense Ash Carter

“Enhancement of positioning, navigation and timing is critical to the Army.”— Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning

“We’re investing in the development of assured PNT enablers. This provides access to trusted PNT information, while responding to numerous threats.”— Ms. Steffanie Easter, principal deputy to the assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology

The increased efficiencies objective addresses systemic issues in the adoption of GPS technologies that have resulted in redundant procurement and integration costs. These redundant costs are associated with the use of multiple GPS receivers on the same platform, with resultant power and weight burdens on mounted platforms and on the Soldier.

The third objective addresses DOD’s plan to modernize the GPS capability to M-Code. This requires replacing most of the hundreds of thousands of GPS receivers already integrated into our weapons systems with receivers that are M-Code compatible. We are working to achieve this mandate at the lowest possible cost through platform distribution of PNT, open systems architectures, and thorough systems engineering to ensure we procure M-Code receivers that meet Army requirements. Affordability is about being a responsible steward of taxpayer dollars, and we take this very seriously.


D3 provides a single platform for distribution of PNT data and is currently being installed on the M1200 Armored Knight. D3 eliminates redundant systems and simplifies future migrations, which over time will reduce costs. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Tracy Smith, Georgia National Guard)


To achieve these objectives, A-PNT combines materiel solutions, such as GPS, sensors and other technologies, into an architecture that brings increased reliability and security. This approach makes A-PNT a holistic system of systems (SoS) capability, where one aspect alone is not sufficient. For example, if a dismounted Soldier has a requirement for his PNT device to have a certain level of accuracy, pseudolites (or pseudo-satellites, acting in place of GPS) can be used to send radio frequency signals to the dismounted device. The sum of these parts working together is how the requirement is fulfilled. The capabilities complement one another in order to provide our forces with unhindered access to trusted PNT information in all conditions.

The SoS architecture approach also will reduce size, weight and power (SWAP) for the warfighter and platform by decreasing the number of individual GPS devices a Soldier or vehicle needs to carry. For example, one of the solutions within the A-PNT capability is the D3 (Defense Advanced GPS Receiver (DAGR) Distributed Device). The D3 provides a single platform for distribution of PNT data simultaneously to multiple systems that require secure GPS information. It is the first product that complies with the PNT SoS architecture, and it is currently being installed on the M1200 Armored Knight vehicle.

For mounted platforms, D3 is a key component of the A-PNT capability—eliminating redundant systems and simplifying future migrations, which over time will reduce costs. With D3, the Army has one PNT device servicing up to eight clients. This allows us to remove antennas, power cables, data cables and GPS receivers that are no longer needed from the vehicle. The D3 is also upgradable to M-Code.

To stay responsive to evolving threats, there is an open architecture requirement within the A-PNT SoS concept. As Congress has noted in acquisition reform proposals, open architecture systems provide more flexibility and potential cost savings than closed systems. Open architecture supports forward compatibility that will provide the ability to adapt to emerging needs and disruptive technology improvements with a “plug and play” capability. For instance, rather than conducting a complete redesign of a device when changes need to be made, which would be required on a legacy GPS receiver, with A-PNT, a new chip card could be inserted into a client system, thus increasing its capability instantly. This is a more efficient and affordable solution and follows DOD’s BBP 3.0 guidance to use modular open systems architecture to stimulate innovation.

Indeed, we are already seeing industry innovation through the plug-and-play open architecture approach. Vendors understand that the Army isn’t looking for standalone devices, but rather an SoS that boosts the overall capability. To create a pathway for this innovation, PM PNT is engaged in competitive prototyping with industry that will help us execute a better acquisition, ensuring that modernization continues for the life of the program.

For example, a recent Small Business Innovation Research contract demonstrated open architecture capabilities on a dismounted A-PNT System. The work showed the ability to change out two different vendors’ GPS cards, different types of inertial sensors and a chip-scale atomic clock in an open environment. Additional prototyping contracts have been awarded for pseudolites, and other partners are working on A-PNT prototypes for mounted platforms.


Soldiers with 2nd ABCT, 2-1 AD, employ a dismounted offensive against opposing forces in the training village of Zamania, Fort Bliss, Texas, May 8. Assured PNT combines materiel solutions, including for dismounted and mounted Soldiers, into an architecture that brings increased reliability and security. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Aura E. Sklenicka, 2 ABCT, 2-1 AD Public Affairs Office (PAO))

These prototyping efforts are a key part of the acquisition strategy for A-PNT, as they are helping to define requirements for post-Milestone B engineering and manufacturing development contracts. Like open architecture, early prototyping is a major area of emphasis in congressional efforts at acquisition reform. By executing these efforts prior to Milestone B, we can not only incorporate state-of-the-art technologies and techniques into our later contracts, but we can also avoid costly changes to the program in the future.

The relationship with industry goes beyond prototypes and includes open and ongoing communication. In April 2016, PM PNT released a request for information (RFI) to solicit industry feedback on the requirements and proposed acquisition strategy for the A-PNT program. The RFI asked for industry’s feedback on potential acquisition approaches, including an incremental delivery strategy, as well as different contract types, potential small business participation, and compliance with additional Army open architecture standards. Following the RFI, PM PNT hosted an industry day on Aug. 2-4 at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, in order to update potential vendors on the Army’s planned timeline and structure for A-PNT.

In addition to partnerships with industry, the PM PNT program office works with various government organizations both within the Army and from other services—looking beyond our immediate silo to develop and deliver the most reliable and efficient PNT solutions. Within the acquisition process, PM PNT has two very important Army allies: the Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) and the Research, Development and Engineering Command (RDECOM). Once gaps are identified and needs are assessed by the PM, TRADOC is responsible for determining the official requirements. From there, RDECOM’s research and development expertise determines what technologies exist or can be pursued to fulfill those requirements. RDECOM looks at what is feasible at present to combat the current threat, while also looking into the future—what are the new technologies on the horizon, and how can we increase our capability to meet the emerging threat?

TRADOC plays another integral role in PNT: training. TRADOC trains the Soldiers and operators of our integrated systems to know how to operate when their GPS is not available. As it will take time to upgrade to A-PNT, it is critical to train in environments where GPS does not work. Our Soldiers must be able to demonstrate the ability to improvise and adapt when GPS is not available and successfully execute the mission.

The Army also works very closely with organizations in our partner services, such as the Air Force Research Laboratory, the Naval Research Labs and the GPS Directorate, to name a few. These partner organizations are performing cutting-edge research and other work that directly benefits the Army PNT mission.


Soldiers with 2nd Armored Brigade Combat Team (ABCT), 2-1 AD conduct early morning operations in the training village of Khuribad, during the Network Integration Evaluation 16.2, Fort Bliss, Texas, May 9. New PNT capabilities are needed to equip Soldiers to safely navigate and communicate in any environment. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Aura E. Sklenicka, 2 ABCT, 2-1 AD Public Affairs Office (PAO))

In order to facilitate collaboration with these and other partners, align capabilities and continue planning for the transition to A-PNT and M-Code across the program executive offices, an Army PNT integrated product team (IPT) was established under the direction of the assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology. The PNT IPT provides the domain and functional expertise to ensure the production of the SoS architecture. The PNT IPT meets biannually with individual working groups gathering throughout the year to work through the specialized challenges for their domains. This meeting of the minds helps to further innovation and support BBP 3.0 by carefully considering and distributing each requirement to develop the highest quality product for the Army.

A paradigm shift in GPS technology is taking place, and PM PNT is taking charge in leading the Army to more efficient and robust PNT solutions. In delivering capabilities beyond GPS, we must also reduce SWAP and maximize affordability, all while ensuring PNT is seamless, simplified and trustworthy for the Soldier. Identifying complementary and alternative PNT sources that work well together in an integrated environment is key to readiness. With acquisition reform and BBP 3.0 informing every step we take, we will continue to shape a program exhibiting continuous innovation and technical excellence.

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Mr. Kevin M. Coggins, Senior Executive Service, is the program manager for direct reporting PM PNT. He holds a B.S. in electrical engineering from the University of Florida, with studies and research focused in the fields of computational neuroscience, signal processing and sensors. He is Level III certified in program management and systems engineering. He is a member of the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers, the Institute of Navigation and the Army Acquisition Corps.

This article will be printed in the October – December issue of Army AL&T magazine.

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Related Links:

Assured PNT

It’s About Time—All of It

Beyond GPS