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Sometimes being on time isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s the only thing to do. That’s especially true if your job is protecting our country or operating the financial, telecom, and energy industries, which rely on PNT—Position, Navigation, and Timing—technology delivered through the Global Positioning System, or GPS.
Thirteen of the 16 most critical categories of the U.S. infrastructure rely on GPS for position or timing information, according to the Department of Homeland Security. Missile defense is another vital user of timing information. It requires precision timing and frequency signals that are accurate and robust even when GPS is not available.
That’s why the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) asked Booz Allen to find new ways to protect the timing information essential to finding and tracking ballistic missiles—and the missiles that shoot them down.
“Missile defense is another vital user of timing information. It requires precision timing and frequency signals that are accurate and robust even when GPS is not available.”
One way to share timing information is through traditional landlines, but you can’t run a wire between all the systems that protect our country. So, when scientists looked at the sky, they saw an affordable and easy way to do it with GPS. However, a system was needed to be certain that time would be available when GPS is disrupted.
MDA found the needed expertise. We were tasked with designing accuracy, stability, anti-jam, anti-spoof, and redundancy capabilities to meet the demanding requirements of missile defense.
We’re not equipment manufacturers and we don’t build GPS or back-up clocks. We take an unbiased approach that focuses on systems integration to create solutions based on standards and best practices.
It’s not easy to hire a PNT engineer, however, because schools don’t offer degrees in PNT. At Booz Allen, we hire smart engineers and let them learn from experienced senior PNT engineers in our PNT lab.
We’ve invested in GPS simulators, instrumentation, and robotic mobility platforms to give engineers the tools to experiment with techniques to mitigate problems before they’re discovered in the field.
One tool we developed is a “fly-away kit” for use in the field. The kit enables testing in a closed environment at development labs by emulating the protocols, accuracy, and anomalies of time and frequency systems. The MDA now can accurately predict what would happen if GPS is lost and provide vital data to contractors developing new systems that use time and frequency information.
In its first use at a development lab, the fly-away kit exposed integration problems that had not been anticipated.
Now, developers address these issues before systems get into the field. Without this capability, the MDA would spend scarce resources—not to mention precious time—going down blind alleys.