House denies request to fund hybrid GPS receivers

House lawmakers have denied an $81 million Defense Department request for the development of handheld satellite navigation receivers capable of receiving Iridium and Global Positioning System signals, saying the concept is not sufficiently proven to warrant funding.

DOD requested $71 million for the effort in the Air Force research and development budget for fiscal year 2008. Defense officials requested an additional $10 million in the U.S. Special Operations Command budget.

Researchers at Boeing’s Phantom Works division have worked for years on fusing signals from the Iridium and GPS constellations. Their goal is to make the combined signal more accurate and less susceptible to jamming, they say. Company officials have termed the technology “i-GPS.”

Last year, Boeing’s work sparked the interested of John Young, DOD’s director of defense research and engineering, who found it so promising he helped include $81 million for the development of Iridium- and GPS-capable receivers in the fiscal 2008 DOD budget request. According to DOD budget documents, officials plan to field these receivers in early fiscal 2010.

Young told Federal Computer Week today he is anxious about the proposed cuts to the project included in the House version of the 2008 Defense authorization bill. Young said officials from his office recently contacted the House Armed Services Committee to address what he called misinformation conveyed to that panel about the program.

“We were able to update the committee on recent initial testing, which demonstrated that i-GPS can indeed provide centimeter-class accuracy in the presence of aggressive jamming,” Young said.

Last week, President Bush also took issue with the proposed cuts to the i-GPS receiver development effort. “These reductions will cause significant delays in fielding critical new capabilities and force the continued use of aging or obsolete equipment,” a May 16 administration statement reads.

Some Air Force officials are skeptical of i-GPS out of fear that its professed anti-jamming capabilities could affect how quickly the Pentagon buys and fields the service’s next-generation GPS satellite constellation, dubbed GPS-III, according to defense sources.

David Whelan, Boeing’s vice president for strategic growth, told FCW today he had no comment on the cuts the House proposes. “We support the president's budget request and are working to mature and prove technology that exploits all signals of opportunity, such as Iridium or other communications signals, to improve position, navigation and time for U.S. warfighters," Whelan said.

The Senate Armed Services Committee will finish marking up its version of the fiscal 2008 defense authorization bill later this week. If senators move to fund i-GPS, the two chambers will have to reconcile their differences in a conference committee.

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