A newly formed advisory group concerned with the viability of the Global Positioning System believes the US must maintain its leadership role in space-based radionavigation and timing information, but that there are monetary and technical issues that could preclude just that. For one thing, the National Space-based Positioning, Navigation, and Timing Advisory Board believes that the Air Force plan to include selective availability in its next generation GPS III satellites engenders international mistrust of GPS. With SA, the Pentagon can turn off or degrade public access to GPS signals at any time. According to the recently released minutes from the board’s first meeting—held in March—chairman James Schlesinger, one-time Defense Secretary, says that SA “made some sense when there was some plausibility of a nuclear missile exchange, but that he cannot conceive any scenario in which SA has any credibility today.” Alternatives to GPS are emerging, including the European Union’s Gallileo, Russia’s GLONASS, and one from China. Even retired Air Force Gen. Lance Lord, former commander of Air Force Space Command, acknowledged that there are other solutions “that are more elegant” than SA. The consensus was that SA and other no longer necessary elements such as nuclear detection systems only add to satellite cost and weight.
Unlike nearly every other innovative technology throughout history, Maj. Gen. DeAnna M. Burt believes the space enterprise emerged backward. “Every other domain started with an entrepreneur who built something,” Burt, the special assistant to the Chief of Space Operations, told an audience at AFA’s Air, Space & Cyber Conference.