Protecting GPS operations is vital to our defense, civil and economic success in the 21st century. For many of us, the acronym “GPS” is synonymous with the dashboard navigation in our car and the display on our mobile phone. It’s fair to say that GPS is generally viewed in the public as a commonplace, high-availability location and navigation service. But GPS operations are embedded throughout the
United States
and are now essential to how we defend our nation, conduct business and live our lives.

There is insufficient public awareness of the many diverse and far-reaching applications that are enabled by the nation’s GPS, including commercial aviation, maritime navigation, financial services and many forms of recreation – to name just a few. Even less public attention is afforded the technical resources required to deliver and maintain this highly reliable national asset. One of these is information assurance, which is an important objective for the U.S. Air Force as they set out to modernize the GPS enterprise.

Daily reports of commercial, civil and government cyber attacks are common. The larger and more complex our information systems become, the greater the potential for data breaches and security compromises. Government reports indicate defense and civil agencies are spending large sums of money to fend off and fix damage from cyber attacks and computer network problems.

The mission of the Air Force is to fly, fight and win in air, space and cyberspace. The Air Force has put industry partners on an aggressive path to make GPS a cyber-secure enterprise. Let’s first consider that the GPS enterprise consists of three very important elements – the space segment, control segment and user segment. The Air Force has put in place new standards for security, and when these standards are matched with new hardware and software products, the solution has led to innovative protection measures for GPS. We gain another advantage in that cyber security is designed into the core architecture for each of the modernized GPS segments.

Recent GPS space vehicles will broadcast an additional, more secure signal, called M-Code, for assured military navigation applications. Flexible power is another space vehicle feature that will boost signal power to provide military users protection against intentional and unintentional interference. These protective measures will help guarantee
forces and mission partners assured precision navigation, while denying the same capability to adversaries.

In order to fully implement the assured precision navigation capabilities of the space vehicles, the Air Force requires a next generation GPS control segment, known as GPS OCX. GPS OCX will enable signal assurance for existing and future space vehicles and deliver more accuracy, higher reliability, and new mission capabilities to defense and civil users. Our adversaries understand GPS assured precision navigation gives
and coalition forces a decisive edge and they will challenge us accordingly. The information assurance technologies core to GPS OCX are essential to protect signals, capabilities and GPS from the growing worldwide cyber threat. The Air Force is currently on track to put OCX into operation by 2014.

GPS OCX is also a key enabler to allow military and civil users the full benefits of a net-centric GPS enterprise. OCX net-centric information flow will connect GPS operators to users, command centers and mission partners around the globe. Both military and civil user equipment designers will be able to take full advantage of new services and information assurances that GPS OCX brings.

There is little question the initiative to embed cyber protection measures throughout the enterprise is vital to our defense, civil and economic success in the 21st century. And GPS OCX is at the center of the Air Force vision for a secure and reliable GPS.

Dale Meyerrose, a retired Air Force major general, is vice president and general manager of cyberspace solutions for Harris Corp., which is competing for GPS OCX work.

He served as chief information officer for the National Intelligence Community from 2005 to 2008.