GPS Visionary Helps MITRE Map National Strategy

June 2020
Topics: GPS, Position, Navigation, and Timing, Global Positioning System, Satellite Communications, Signal Processing
While John Betz may not be a household name, his research influences the GPS technology we use every day. His work—and MITRE's—are integral to the development and modernization of our nation's position, navigation, and timing capabilities.
John Betz in his office.

In honor of his tremendous contributions to the field, the Royal Institute of Navigation named John Betz a Fellow on June 30 with the citation: "In recognition of technical leadership in development, compatibility, and interoperability of the Global Navigation Satellite Systems." Global Navigation Satellite Systems are the equivalents of GPS operated by other nations.

One of his legacies is the 2019 report Betz authored that defines a national strategy for navigation and timing. It outlines several cost-effective recommendations that will help ensure we have a robust, reliable PNT system for military and civilian use for many years.

The good news is that we don't need a technological breakthrough to improve our current system. "We can achieve significant gains by more effectively and efficiently applying the technology and resources we already have," he says.

But it won't be a quick fix. Making the needed improvements requires a focused and persistent national effort over several years. "It's imperative that we address the limitations of our current PNT system and start to mitigate them now."  

Making Strategic Investments

MITRE has been deeply involved in PNT for decades. "Our role isn't simply providing our sponsors with technical expertise but also our perspective and knowledge of the history. This includes knowing what's worked, what hasn't worked, and why," Betz says. "The goal is to help our sponsors use their funding in the most effective way."

We've supported many sponsors in this area including DoD and the FAA as well as the Departments of Homeland Security, State, Transportation, Commerce, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. We provide a system-wide perspective—focusing on what the individual sponsors need and also what our country needs.

A good example is our recommendations for the next generation of GPS satellites. "We have strongly advocated that the next block of GPS satellites be able to transmit a high-powered military signal where needed," Betz says. "It's an efficient and effective way to defeat adversaries' jamming attempts, increasing the safety and effectiveness of our warfighters."

In another example, Betz points to MITRE's efforts to partner with DHS to give critical infrastructure owner-operators more robust and resilient navigation and timing capabilities. Much of our critical infrastructure is privately owned and potentially vulnerable to interruptions in service.

"MITRE has been instrumental in guiding the private critical infrastructure owner-operators in developing effective processes and structures that will improve their operations," he continues. "They need to understand how resilient they are now, how much they need to be, and how to get that increased robustness."

Too Much of a Good Thing

Another important component of the national PNT strategy Betz proposes is to reduce overall reliance on GPS because its failure could cause widespread outages. Since GPS technology is both inexpensive and easy to include, it's built into thousands of applications that don't require its full global capabilities.

One way to reduce vulnerability is to eliminate GPS in applications that only require approximate time. A clock may be sufficient instead. "We call that 'designing out GPS' and replacing it with a simpler and less vulnerable solution when you don’t need everything that GPS offers."

In a similar vein, he suggests using positioning technologies that don't require satellites for local applications, such as automated port facilities.

A third suggestion for reducing reliance involves the strategic use of other countries' satellite navigation (SATNAV) systems, such as the European or Japanese systems, when appropriate. "Once we learn how to reduce the risk, using the less trustworthy signals from other SATNAV systems wisely is another way to achieve diversification and lessen GPS reliance."

These and other recommendations are laid out in the national strategy.

"I always tell people that GPS is a team sport,"  Betz says. "Anytime an individual is recognized it's really a recognition for the team because no one individual has made any part of GPS happen. There are dozens of MITRE staff who have contributed to it over time.

"I'm proud to have been part of the effort."

Betz is a MITRE Fellow Emeritus. He has previously been named to the GPS Hall of Fame and honored with the Kepler Award.

—by Kay M. Upham

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