ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (April 20, 2018) - A new Army and Air Force partnership will establish the first distance learning program designed for engineers seeking advanced positioning, navigation and timing, or PNT, credentials.
In a recently signed Memorandum of Agreement with the Air Force Institute of Technology, or AFIT, engineers from the US Army's Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center, or CERDEC, will have access to AFIT's world-renowned Guidance, Navigation, and Control, or GNC, Master of Science in Electrical Engineering degree curriculum, which is currently offered only in residence at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.
"We've had a strong research partnership with AFIT for several years because they are a military and academic institution that for decades has focused on military PNT problems," said Adam Schofield, Emerging Technologies branch chief for CERDEC's Command, Power and Integration Directorate. "We naturally turned to them last year to establish this program to help address the growing need for PNT education and allow us to deliver innovative PNT solutions faster."
The Army recently assigned PNT research and development efforts to one of its Cross Functional Teams, which are now under the newly established Future's Command, to pursue senior leaders' top modernization priorities in preparation for tomorrow's threats.
"Soldiers depend on PNT during ground and air maneuvers and lethality and precision fires operations, but the GPS signal is inherently vulnerable to interference from both the environment, such as trees and buildings, and adversaries who electronically block the signal," Schofield said. "In response, we must develop complementary PNT technologies that maintain capability to support many Army warfighting functions and the Soldiers who rely on them."
CERDEC is the Army's applied research and advanced technology development center for command, control, communications, computers, cyber, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance - or C5ISR - capabilities that support Army Modernization priorities and enable tactical overmatch for the joint warfighter. Its PNT research and development efforts span more than 40 years, from map and compass-based PNT to its current focus of providing accurate PNT technologies when the GPS signal becomes degraded or denied.
AFIT, which houses the Autonomy & Navigation Technology, or ANT, Center, is the Air Force's graduate school of engineering and management as well as its institution for technical professional continuing education.
"We are proud of AFIT's reputation in GNC," said John Raquet, director of the ANT Center and Professor of Electrical Engineering within AFIT's Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. "We are [Department of Defense] DoD-focused, and I believe we have researched more ways to navigate than anyone in the world, especially in terms of complementary, or non-GPS systems."
AFIT is designing the distance-learning program in response to increased government and industry requirements to build PNT expertise within a workforce that is sometimes unable to travel for long-term training due to mission requirements at their duty stations.
"CERDEC has really pushed AFIT to create a PNT distance learning program due to its growing PNT research and development advances," Raquet said. "We saw the tremendous value we could bring to the greater Army and the DoD as a whole by accelerating new employee distance learning in navigation technologies."
The three-year Master of Science program, funded by participating organizations, should be available on a space-available basis for government and industry partners in 2019. The first class will include students from CERDEC and three other DoD organizations. Each student will work with an AFIT faculty advisor, and each participating DoD organization will provide a local mentor to facilitate the program, provide technical guidance and collaborate with AFIT to align the student's thesis research project with his or her current job responsibilities prior to their enrollment.
"Often the challenge with full-time employees taking distance classes is that the students must prepare their research project thesis on evenings and weekends," Raquet said. "By being a part of organizations such as CERDEC, the students can perform their thesis research on a work-related project, which makes this distance-learning program both feasible and relevant."
Some of the planned coursework will coincide with CERDEC's current research into mounted PNT, which integrates multi-sensor navigation timing systems, such as barometers, inertial and velocity sensors, into ground vehicles. The coursework should also align with CERDEC's dismounted PNT efforts, which provide Soldiers with wearable technologies that address size, weight and power restrictions and its vision-aided navigation efforts, which incorporate cameras into PNT systems to track a person's relative position to determine movement.
Another feature of the PNT distance learning program will be its flexibility; students not seeking an advanced degree will still have an opportunity to enhance their PNT knowledge by taking non-degree coursework as a refresher or to target a specific PNT technology, Schofield said.
"The Army continues to demand that we deliver faster and be more innovative, but to do this, we need specialized training," Schofield said. "That is exactly what our organization, and what we believe other organizations, will get out of this partnership; innovative ideas and PNT-focused training that we can't obtain anywhere else to help us meet the DoD's critical demands for robust PNT technologies of the future."