Space

Allies begin ordering M-Code-enabled GPS receivers

WASHINGTON — Germany is expected to receive its first GPS receivers capable of using a new, more secure military signal in 2021, according to the U.S. Space Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center.

In a Nov. 23 release, SMC stated that its GPS Foreign Military Sales office received its first order for Military GPS User Equipment with M-Code capability from Germany on Sept. 30 — the first such order from a U.S. ally.

M-Code is a highly anticipated anti-spoofing, anti-jamming GPS signal designated for military use. Currently, there are 23 GPS satellites on orbit capable of broadcasting M-Code.

“It will improve interoperability with our defense partners’ equipment and operations while increasing navigation warfare effectiveness for allied operations,” SMC noted in its statement. “Providing [Military GPS User Equipment] to our allies is another example of SMC delivering vital capabilities to the war fighter and the world.”

SMC noted that the order from Germany is just the first of many as the organization works to facilitate access to M-Code-enabled GPS user equipment to 58 authorized nations.

While details about the German order were not released by SMC, the center noted that additional foreign military sales are in development and it has a multilateral agreement to loan M-Code-ready ground-based receivers to approved partners for early integration and testing. Additionally, SMC said it is working with several nations on M-Code prototyping, demonstration and platform planning efforts.

The order highlights the fact that after years of work and major delays, M-Code could soon be available. Despite the fact that nearly two dozen M-Code-capable GPS satellites are on orbit, the ground system needed to enable the new signal is behind schedule. According to a 2019 Government Accountability Office report, the $6.2 billion Next Generation Operational Control System being built by Raytheon Technologies is five years behind schedule. Delivery of that system is now expected in June 2021.

To help offset that delay, the U.S. Air Force awarded Lockheed Martin a contract in 2016 to build an M-Code upgrade for the current GPS ground system. That upgrade will enable M-Code Early Use, a limited version of the signal, until the new ground system 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 required hardware and software upgrades were completed July 27, with an operational acceptance phase slated for November.

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