The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has awarded Northrop Grumman a 13.3 million USD contract for the Phase 2 of the Blackjack program that will allow the company to “advance its Position, Navigation, and Timing (PNT) payload through emulation and Critical Design Review, and build PNT payload units destined for space flight”, as mentioned in the contract award notification.
The program’s goal is to help military aircraft navigate in GPS-degraded and GPS-denied environments. These kinds of environments are becoming a concrete possibility in future battlefields, with some examples of GPS jamming tactics already seen at work in conflict areas like Ukraine and Syria. Because of that, complex exercises featuring GPS jamming are becoming more common in the recent years in the United States and also in other NATO countries.
GPS jamming doesn’t require complex equipment, as small commercial off-the-shelf equipment, available also to the public, can be used to jam GPS reception in only a few seconds by emitting radio frequency interference signals or signal noise that can completely disrupt or degrade the reception of the GPS signal from the satellite constellation, depending on how strong is the signal used or which frequencies are being affected by the interference.
Even the latest addition the U.S. Air Force inventory, the F-15EX Eagle II, is being tested in a complex jamming environment during exercise Northern Edge 21, which saw the first two aircraft delivered to the service deploy to Alaska. “At Northern Edge we’re assessing how the F-15EX can perform in a jamming environment, to include GPS, radar and Link 16 jamming,” said Maj. Aaron Eshkenazi, F-15EX pilot in the 85th Test and Evaluation Squadron. “The other main goal is assessing the EX’s interoperability with fourth and fifth-generation assets. With more than 60 aircraft airborne during every vul (vulnerability period – the period of time when an aircraft is vulnerable to harm) at Northern Edge, we’re putting the jet in the role it will perform in once it’s fielded, and seeing how it does. So far, it’s been performing really well.”