WHITE SANDS MISSILE RANGE, N.M. — As part of its ongoing transformation effort, the Army recently brought together joint, multinational and industry partners to experiment with emerging technologies in a denied and degraded environment.
Held at White Sands Missile Range during the month of August, the fifth annual PNT Assessment Experiment, also known as PNTAX, provided an opportunity for participants to evaluate new tools and systems and align their understanding of how future warfighters can operate successfully in settings where access to standard GPS and communications functionality may be limited.
PNTAX is part of Army Futures Command’s campaign of persistent experimentation and continuous learning. The experiment allows participants to field-test new and existing space-based, terrestrial, aerial and ground technologies. Analyzing the effectiveness and interoperability of these technologies enables the Army and its partners to improve kinetic and non-kinetic targeting and increase Soldier mobility, lethality and survivability.
“Experiments like PNTAX provide a valuable opportunity for Soldier touchpoints that directly influence requirements,” said Mike Monteleone, director of the Army Futures Command Assured Positioning, Navigation and Timing/Space Cross-Functional Team (APNT/Space CFT), which hosted the event.
“This is an environment where we can learn as an enterprise, ensuring we can build resilience and situational awareness of the battlespace. With situational awareness of the battlespace, we can more confidently build force survivability and lethality,” Monteleone said.
Putting technology in the hands of the Soldier
PNTAX provides an opportunity for early, immersive experimentation, which allows the Army and its partners to put technology, at any readiness level, directly into Soldiers’ hands. These early opportunities for direct end-user feedback, referred to as Soldier touchpoints, directly inform the technology development and capability requirements process.
This year, PNTAX provided a multitude of Soldier touchpoints across multiple divisions. Soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division conducted terrain walks and feedback for the Dismounted Assured Positioning System with system training conducted by partners at the Program Manager for Positioning, Navigation and Timing.
Additionally, Soldiers from the 1st Armored Division had the opportunity to conduct their own training objectives utilizing the threat environment provided by the experiment. They were faced with tailorable, threat-based GPS denied and degraded environments and were presented with opportunities to conduct realistic tactical scenarios as if they were in a multi-domain operating environment.
Soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division worked with the CFT’s sensor-to-shooter team in the denied environment to learn from its effects upon the links associated with the tactical architecture, while the 2nd Infantry Division facilitated a variety of ground maneuver activities that enabled operations throughout the experiment.
“This is training I can’t recreate at my home station,” said Warrant Officer Andrew Farnsworth, electronic warfare technician from the 1st Armored Division. “The waveforms in this environment provide a unique opportunity for Soldiers to test and integrate capabilities in a denied and degraded environment.”
Connecting with joint, industry and multinational partners
This year’s PNTAX hosted a variety of participants. Government, industry and academic partners converged on the range with their technology in tow, seeking to test advanced abilities in a challenging environment. Partners were encouraged to experiment with their technology, at any readiness level, to understand its strengths and limits. This approach allows for continuous improvement, a greater understanding of the environment and ultimately, better equipment in Soldiers’ hands.
Allied partners from Canada and Australia joined to observe and scope future participation, while partners from the United Kingdom conducted land navigation experiments with their Soldiers. Multinational participants worked alongside their participating Soldiers and U.S. Soldiers to replicate what operations will likely look like in future, combined force settings.
Partners are welcome to participate in the experiment with any relevant technology, as long as they agree to share data and lessons learned following the event. This exchange of information allows the Army to continue developing relevant scenarios for experimentation and advancement.
Navigating in contested environments
The open-air denied, degraded, intermittent and limited environment at PNTAX was achieved through jamming and a variety of other threat interfaces that resembled real-world, layered approaches Soldiers might face in a multi-domain operating environment. Because of the unique environments the team can create within the electromagnetic spectrum, the team is able to address a multitude of learning objectives.
“So much of our Soldiers’ mission and safety hinges on their ability to effectively operate in contested environments,” said Andy Hotaling, integration director of the APNT/Space CFT. “Events like PNTAX give the Army and its partners the opportunity to ensure the technology they may see in the future can perform in these operationally focused, intelligence-informed environments.”
“We have a lot of valuable data to interpret following our experiment,” Monteleone said. “This data is a crucial stepping stone that informs a variety of Army needs.”
He added that the Army intends to expand opportunities for allied partners, increase the number of Soldier training activities and broaden the scope of electromagnetic spectrum experimentation for participants during next year’s event.
Next year’s experiment is already in the early planning phase alongside our partners within the United States Air Force’s 746th Test Squadron and the Joint Navigation Warfare Center, U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command and the Army Test and Evaluation Command.