Pulse magazine

Volume 31, December 2020

M-Code is here

Warfighter relying on GPS

With innovative operating control systems coming online, there is a need for a secure signal that delivers anti-jamming and anti-spoofing solutions. M-Code, a powerful, highly encrypted military GPS signal, is more secure than any other in use today.

If you have ever been lost while driving, searched for late night take-out on your phone, or tried to summit a mountain in the fog, you’ve probably depended on the Global Positioning System. The defense sector also depends on GPS, and it is critical to have a reliable signal that enables accurate positioning, navigation, and timing – or PNT. From piloting an aircraft to a target location, to communicating rallying points over rough terrain, each of these depends on a GPS signal.

But what would happen if GPS signals failed? Our everyday lives would be affected, defense forces could venture into hostile situations, and technology enabling our connected lives as we know them would be lost. Rest assured, there are currently 30 GPS satellites working diligently to emit signals at the speed of light, though the signals from some of these satellites are in jeopardy. Our adversaries have the capabilities to mask GPS signals and produce fake ones, and commercial and defense sectors are asking, “Where am I?” more often.

The GPS signals of today support national defense; homeland security; and civil, commercial, and scientific requirements. As recently as 2017 it was estimated that GPS has provided more than $1.4 trillion of economic benefit in the United States alone. Owned by the U.S. Government and operated by the United States Air Force, the GPS satellite constellation sends out recurring signals, sharing information about each satellite’s precise location and the time they sent the signal. Devices with GPS receivers such as smart watches, pet collars, and other electronics receive these signals, calculating their distance from three or more GPS satellites to triangulate their location. But signals coming from some of these satellites can be jammed and manipulated.

The U.S. Air Force undertook a massive modernization upgrade across the GPS satellite system, ground segment, and user equipment to provide enhanced capability in the form of a new military Code (M-Code) signal to our warfighters. Today, there are 23 M-Code-capable GPS satellites currently active, and the associated M-Code GPS User Equipment, along with anti-jam and anti-spoofing M-Code receivers, are in high-demand by U.S. military. They are also a priority focus for companies such as BAE Systems.

BAE Systems is one of three companies in the world developing M-Code core technology and M-Code GPS receivers for the U.S. military after recently acquiring its Navigation & Sensor Systems business in July 2020. Precision Strike, the managing business area within the Electronic Systems sector, is undergoing massive growth in the GPS marketspace, with NSS delivering M-Code receivers to protect the warfighter. In fact, five out of eight NSS military GPS technologies have completed their M-Code security approvals and are currently in full development. These technologies could then be integrated into more than 700 military systems requiring M-Code upgrade.

So why is M-Code important? With PNT at risk, M-Code is a trusted and secure GPS signal that is crucial for our ground forces, airborne platforms, and weapons systems. With innovative operating control systems coming online, there is a need for a secure signal that delivers anti-jamming and anti-spoofing solutions. M-Code, a powerful, highly encrypted military GPS signal, is more secure than any other in use today. 

It also comes down to anti-jamming and anti-spoofing. Our adversaries are hard at work increasing the strength of their electromagnetic signals in order to create added “noise” that can overcome the transmission signals from our GPS satellites. There have been intentional instances of jamming all over the world that disrupt communications, defense systems, and other GPS devices, which are all vulnerable to adversary jamming practices.

With many branches of our government relying on accurate PNT information, this data is exposed to intentional or unintentional GPS signal disruption, which is why M-Code signals will provide secure anti-jamming protection. There is also deception jamming, which is the art of effectively spoofing fake GPS signals to create disinformation.

GPS spoofing happens when someone uses a radio transmission to send a counterfeit GPS signal to a receiver that counters and overcomes a GPS satellite signal. Spoofing can lure aircraft or ground forces off course and put them in harm’s way, but the highly encrypted and more powerful M-Code signal will protect GPS signals from spoofing and will deliver added security to our warfighters.

As we look ahead, BAE Systems anticipates more military systems will upgrade from today’s Y-Code (the original military GPS encryption signal) to M-Code, as our warfighters are depending on trusted and secure GPS now more than ever. As adversary jamming and spoofing becomes more prominent, M-Code will be the game-changer our military forces need to overcome challenging signal environments.

With more than 45 years of trusted GPS experience, BAE Systems is a proven name in areas such as precision munitions, seeker design, and system integration. The addition of NSS, along with their innovative M-Code receiver technologies, has resulted in an even stronger team.

Learning from each other and innovating every day, our optimized M-Code GPS receivers are out for delivery and will help our warfighters get home safely. M-Code is here.

By Jake Drouin, Communications, Nashua, New Hampshire