GPS labs at Robins service troops worldwide

  • Published
  • By Amanda Creel
  • 78th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
The chaos of cubicles in Bldg. 301 has many wishing they had their own personal GPS system to guide them to their desired location.

However, for the Joint Service System Management office helping their coworkers find their way through Bldg. 301 is easy compared to helping troops around the world locate targets and one another.

The office is responsible for the only operational GPS lab in the Department of Defense. Members of the office help develop and test software for the GPS systems used throughout the military.

The JSSMO is part of the 752nd Combat Sustainment Group, and representatives from all military branches are on site.

One of the systems to use the GPS equipment maintained here is the Blue Force Tracker. The BFT is used by all military branches and can track friendly units regardless of their location.

Not only can the system see where the unit is located it can also determine whether or not a unit is moving and what form of transportation they are using.

"It can see them on the ground or in an aircraft. It can see them flying around or driving around," said Willie Jackson, JSSMO integration engineer.

He said the Robins GPS lab is the only lab DOD-wide that can maintain the GPS receivers, without the GPS receivers, the BFT would not be able to provide grid coordinates or the timing needed for synchronization.

"We are responsible for the software updates for the system," Mr. Jackson said.

Two receivers are presently used with the system: the Precision Lightweight GPS Receiver and the Defense Advanced GPS Receiver. The DAGR is the most recent version and many of the PLGRs are being phased out and replaced.

The lab is equipped with a replica of the equipment used in the combat and tactical vehicles to test software before sending it to the field, Mr. Jackson said.

The receivers are designed as a removable device allowing military members to take the receiver with them when leaving the vehicle.

"It can tell them how to get out of the area or allow them to notify other units of their location," Mr. Jackson said.

More than 40,000 BFTs are in use throughout the US military. The systems are used in rotary aircraft or helicopters, Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, Humvees and tanks.

Other equipment using the GPS receivers include laser range finders, which are primarily used by Special Forces and the Tactical Air Control Party. The JSSMO also does software testing utilizing the LRFs to ensure any software updates will not hinder their use in the field. Both the VECTOR 21 and the MARK 7 LRFs send a laser beam to the target and determine the location of and distance to a target. The MARK 7 can be used in pitch black because it provides the user with nightvision.

"It can light up the night as if it were daytime," Mr. Jackson said.

By 2011, the office is expected to more than double the amount of equipment it is responsible for because of the addition of the DAGR and other GPS-related equipment said Fred Sartain, GPS system support manager.

He added the projected growth is just the beginning. He expects the JSSMO's mission to continue to grow because of the importance of GPS to today's warfighter.

The GPS receivers are only one area the lab is responsible for; other equipment maintained includes the Single Channel Ground to Air Radio System. This radio is designed to continually hop from one radio channel to another in order to keep the radio from being jammed or from being detected.

Without GPS the radio would not be able to maintain the timing it requires to be synchronized, Mr. Jackson said.

Another GPS-enabled technology the office is responsible for is the development of a Combat Survivor Evader Locator. The radio was planned after Capt. Scott O'Grady was shot down during Operation Deny Flight, which enforced the no-fly zone over Bosnia. Captain O'Grady's F-16 Fighting Falcon was shot down by a surface-to-air missile June 2, 1995 south of Banja Luka, Bosnia. For six days, he evaded capture before being rescued by a Marine Corps search and rescue team after the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines combined their efforts.

It was the six-day wait that prompted the development of the CSEL, said Stephen Morrissey, an equipment specialist for the lab.

The CSEL radio is a handheld GPS worn in a pilot's vest.

"When a pilot goes down in enemy territory, we can pinpoint his location and send in an alert team," Mr. Jackson said.

The radio enables the pilot to communicate messages at the touch of a button, such as "I'm injured" or "enemy nearby."

"It lets you know their location at all times even if they are incapacitated," Mr. Morrissey said.