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NIWC Atlantic Helps Marines Achieve U.S. Space Force Certification Milestone for Next-Generation GPS

By Steve Ghiringhelli | NIWC Atlantic Public Affairs | Sept. 30, 2020

WHITE SANDS, N.M. —

Naval Information Warfare Center (NIWC) Atlantic helped the Marine Corps obtain U.S. Space Force (USSF) certification this summer for next-generation GPS technology that will make warfighters more dominant in the information warfare domain. 

The achievement followed a period of many weeks that NIWC Atlantic engineers spent at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico validating “Military Code” (M-Code) on the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV). As a result, Air Force Program Executive Office (PEO) for Space Production, which is part of the USSF Space and Missile Systems Center, certified the Military GPS User Equipment (MGUE) Increment 1 program’s M-Code receiver as ready for operational testing on the JLTV lead platform.

M-Code is a powerful, jam-resistant and highly accurate GPS signal developed by the Department of Defense (DoD) to modernize the nation’s GPS capabilities. M-Code will use a new constellation of satellites to reach Earth in addition to providing the legacy capabilities that current military GPS receivers provide.

The Marine Corps is the first service to achieve the certification milestone under the MGUE Increment 1 program, a critical part of the DoD-wide effort to deliver a stronger, more secure signal to the joint forces.

“From pinpointing friendly forces to executing command and control, Marines depend on strong and secure GPS,” said Lt. Col. Thomas Dono, program manager for Communications Systems at Marine Corps Systems Command (MCSC). “Thanks to the hard work of many partners — including NIWC Atlantic — the Marine Corps is poised to acquire groundbreaking GPS capabilities that will make the Corps a more agile, lethal, effective and better connected naval expeditionary force-in-readiness.”

Before and throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, members of NIWC Atlantic’s Land Systems Integration (LSI) Division traveled to New Mexico and partnered with an Air Force Test Squadron and its jamming capabilities to validate M-Code signal receptivity and disposition in a GPS-denied environment.

Capt. Wesley Sanders, NIWC Atlantic commanding officer, said LSI engineers from the command’s Expeditionary Warfare Department have been leading the way on the MGUE front for years.

“The U.S. Space Force’s recent recognition of that work is a tremendous accomplishment on what has been a long road to PEO certification,” said Capt. Sanders. “I believe our teams are unquestionably among the best in the integration business.”

With secure and restricted GPS a long-standing priority, the U.S. military has spent years launching new satellites, revamping ground-control stations worldwide and developing enhanced positioning, navigation, and timing (PNT) capabilities for receiver cards to pull in M-Code. 

“A major consideration in GPS modernization efforts has been in determining how MGUE should be integrated across multiple DoD programs, contracts and organizations in the most incisive and efficient manner,” said Kevin Charlow, NIWC Atlantic deputy executive director. “With our partners, NIWC Atlantic engineers are making the DoD’s mission to deliver M-Code capabilities to the warfighter one step closer to becoming reality.”

For the complex integration efforts aboard the JLTV, the Marine Corps tapped NIWC Atlantic.

“The receiver cards had to properly sync to a large network of highly complex transmitters and receivers from space to ground level,” said Pete Ward, LSI division lead. “Validating that the JLTV can receive M-Code not only enhances Marine Corps offensive capabilities but also prevents adversaries from exploiting our information.”

A major feature of M-Code is the signal’s “blue force” jamming capability as well as its receivers’ ability to detect and reject false signals, thus degrading an adversary’s spoofing capabilities.

“In the New Mexico desert, we needed to validate that the new M-Code was strong enough to operate closer to signal jammers than legacy GPS without degradation,” said Jake Witmer, NIWC Atlantic’s MGUE project lead for the Marine Corps. “So we constructed a realistic war setting, turned on the jammers and tested wave after wave of electromagnetic input to verify that capability.”

The Marine Corps JLTV is a pathfinder lead platform for the MGUE program, and the Army, Air Force and Navy plan to soon follow with their own lead platforms. Eventually, MGUE receiver cards will be loaded onto hundreds of DoD weapon systems.

Jessica Price, an MGUE project officer with MCSC at the time of testing, said a modernized GPS is necessary for Marines operating in a contested maritime environment, where secure, resilient and timely information is essential.

“NIWC Atlantic’s support in integrating and testing M-Code receiver cards in Marine Corps host applications on the JLTV platform has been crucial,” said Price. “It will directly inform the Marine Corps on future procurement and fielding decisions.”

Following further risk reduction testing at NIWC Atlantic later this year, the Marine Corps will undergo an integrated test called Field User Evaluation (FUE). Led by MCSC personnel, the FUE will provide Marines the opportunity to use M-Code for the first time and will inform any final Marine Corps decision on MGUE.

“We are proud to be a part of such groundbreaking work that will ultimately deliver essential GPS capabilities to the Marines,” said Ward. “We believe that Marines operating under M-Code will not only propel them to the cutting edge of the information war but also keep them safe, keep them connected and keep them dominant.”

As a part of Naval Information Warfare Systems Command, NIWC Atlantic provides systems engineering and acquisition to deliver information warfare capabilities to the naval, joint and national warfighter through the acquisition, development, integration, production, test, deployment and sustainment of interoperable command, control, communications, computer, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, cyber and information technology capabilities.