Space

US Space Force completes upgrade to help protect GPS capabilities

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Space Force has completed upgrades to the Global Position System’s ground segment that will allow it to partially use a new military GPS signal known as M-code, the service announced Aug. 6.

While the new anti-spoofing, anti-jamming, encrypted M-code signal has been available on many GPS satellites for years, the military has not had the corresponding ground and user equipment to access and leverage it. The $6.2 billion Next-Generation Operational Control System, or OCX, being built by Raytheon Technologies for that purpose is five years behind schedule and isn’t expected to be delivered until June 2021.

To provide access for war fighters in the interim, the Air Force awarded Lockheed Martin a contingency operations contract in 2016 to build an M-code upgrade to the current GPS Operational Control System. That M-Code Early Use upgrade will allow war fighters with the appropriate equipment to use some aspects of the new military signal until OCX is ready. M-Code Early Use was delivered in June 2019, entered a trial period in October and was approved for everyday use in March 2020.

The M-Code Early Use hardware and software upgrades were completed July 27, clearing the path for the system to enter the operational acceptance phase in November 2020. Installation took place at the master control station at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado and the alternate master control stations at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.

The upgrades allow OCS to task, upload and monitor M-code on the GPS constellation and will support testing and fielding military ground user equipment that can receive the signal.

“Working closely with Lockheed Martin and our other mission partners — with the common national goal of providing enhanced [positioning, navigation and timing] signal security and safety always in sharp focus — means we’re able to deliver the right mission capability faster to our warfighters,” said Lt. Col. Steven Nielson, program manager of the M-Code Early Use project.

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