Defense and GPS

GPS is an invaluable tool to the U.S. military, and there are more than 1 million GPS receivers in use by the Department of Defense (DoD) and our nation's armed forces.

Testifying on Capitol Hill in June 2011, DoD Chief Information Officer Teresa Takai said, "Simply put, GPS is integrated into almost every aspect of U.S. military operations."

It is crucial to training operations as well as on-the-ground patrols, satellite-guided weaponry, communications synchronization systems, search and rescue missions and humanitarian relief efforts. The military utilizes GPS devices ranging from sophisticated weapons systems to "off the shelf" commercial equipment.

General William Shelton, commander of the U.S. Air Force Space Command, called GPS "an essential capability that is a tremendous enabler and enhancer of joint, combined, and allied operations." Estimating that the U.S. has invested roughly $34 billion to build and operate the GPS constellation, Gen. Shelton called it "a global utility serving a worldwide user population."

The GPS constellation is comprised of 24 active satellites, all procured and operated by the U.S. Air Force. The first satellite was launched in 1978 for DoD use. Later, President Ronald Reagan declared that GPS, once operational, would be available and free to all.

GPS devices are carried by combat ground soldiers, and are attached to most vehicles and aircraft deployed in combat zones. The technology allows commanders to make operational and tactical decisions in real time.

Among many other functions, the military uses GPS for navigation, reconnaissance, and coordination of troop and supply movements. For a variety of military weapons, including cruise missiles, ICBMs and precision-guided munitions, GPS allows for accurate targeting of enemy forces.

While GPS is now a utility relied on by a massive user base in many sectors, it remains a critically important DoD asset, and the U.S. Air Force is carrying out a modernization of GPS, a project referred to as GPS III. Funding was approved by Congress in 2000 and the project is expected to be completed by 2020. The modernization is intended to make GPS more resistant to intentional jamming and will provide new, even more capable satellites that will improve both accuracy and availability.