BYO What?

February 26, 2013  - By

Every time I see a headline or read an article concerning BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) from a government source, where that source details only the risk associated with BYOD, especially where GPS/PNT (position, navigation and timing) is concerned, I am incredulous. Consider these recent BYOD headlines:

  • BYOD – Disaster Waiting for Government Networks
  • BYOD – Bring Your Own Disaster to the Government Enterprise
  • BYOD – Are the Military Networks Ready?
  • BYOD – Bring Your Own Destruction
  • BYOD – A Huge Security Risk?
  • BYOD – A Smart Choice or a Cyber Disaster?

Historical Perspective

The naiveté of the authors that penned these stories astounds me, as frankly they are out of step with the times by about 2,000 years. BYOD and the military go hand in hand. During Roman times, except for conscripts or slaves, Roman soldiers were expected to furnish their own supplies, their own weapons, their own horses and their own support. Often they brought their own slaves/servants to care for them in camp. In our (U.S.) Revolutionary War, many of the ragtag regiments were formed from state volunteers and local militias who were commanded by officers who, having paid for their commissions, supported the soldiers they brought to the fight, with food and uniforms; many were even expected to bring their own weapons and ammunition. The same applies to our (U.S.) Civil War, the War Between the States or the War of Northern Aggression, as my Southern colleagues are wont to constantly remind me.

Since warfare began, warfighters have supplied their own equipment (BYOD), and today’s warfighters are no different, especially when it comes to personal electronic equipment, even though antiquated DoD (Department of Defense) regulations frown on such behavior. Hopefully you can see where I am going with this, especially as it relates to GPS/PNT user equipment. Unfortunately, DoD regulations also specify our warfighters in all services must utilize the government-supplied GPS equipment known as MUE (Military User Equipment), and even specifies the consequences of not adhering to that inane policy. Consequently, warfighters generally have the GPS MUE readily available if it is embedded, thereby avoiding the horrendous user interface, but they invariably also have their own personal GPS/PNT devices close at hand.

These BYO-GPS-D are, without a doubt, more useful, certainly more user friendly, and actually provide a modicum of situational awareness, with such incredible features as actual moving color maps, annotated roads and rivers, up-to-date geographical features and even voice guided navigation — all features not available on the GPS MUE as a stand-alone unit today. Some PNT devices answer verbal inquiries from their users. Can you say, “Hi Siri, where am I?”

Fast Forward: First Gulf War

Consider the first Gulf War in 1990, which in GPS lore is touted in military aviation circles as the turning point for GPS transitioning from just another en route navigation system to a weapons systems multiplier and situational awareness tool that made believers of even the most jaded fighter pilots and land warriors. Suddenly fighter pilots and weapons systems operators were scoring “shacks” or direct hits on targets, on every sortie. Instead of using four bombs to hit one target, four bombs now equaled a direct hit on four targets — a phenomenal increase in accuracy, with minimal collateral damage, all due to the Global Positioning System.

For land warriors, the famous “left hook” strategy, employed during the midst of a major, once-a-decade sandstorm that placed American warriors behind the Iraqi forces occupying Kuwait, was widely credited with bringing the ground war to a close in just four days, and it could never have been accomplished without GPS. However, the part of this story that often gets misinterpreted is the sudden appearance of BYOD GPS devices during that extremely short duration conflict (August 2, 1990, until February 28, 1991).

Newspapers and military magazines carried numerous pictures of commercial/civil GPS devices taped to military vehicle windshields, windows on ships bridges, in fighter cockpits, inside tanks and fighting vehicles — and of course carried by individual warfighters, despite regulations to the contrary.

I Don’t Know Where It Came From Sir…It Just Magically Appeared!

What we tend to overlook is that these BYOD or personal PNT devices, despite warfighter protestations to the contrary (“Methinks thou dost protest too much…”) did not just appear overnight. Warfighters carried them in flight-suit pockets and briefcases for years. They saw minimal use, and then the U.S. decided to fight a war on and over a featureless desert. And I can confirm first-hand that navigating over a featureless desert without any external navigation aids is particularly troublesome. No landmarks, no ground-based navigation aids, no radar returns, and frequent sandstorms that obscure everything in sight and radically change the landscape make life a real challenge for warfighters prosecuting a war. Navigation in this environment is challenging at the best of times; add the fog of war and it becomes a nightmare. General William Tecumseh Sherman said “War is hell!” and while it can certainly never be a walk in the park, add GPS and precise navigation along with precision targeting/bombing becomes infinitely doable.

Personal Experience

I sat in my first aircraft cockpit and took my first flight more than 50 years ago. Contrary to popular belief, neither Orville or Wilbur Wright were my first flight instructors, just close friends, but I did learn a great deal from Charles Lindberg. Seriously, I can tell you that in the “good ol’ days” an inordinate amount of airborne time was spent determining your position/location, airspeed, altitude and heading to your destination or next waypoint, often with wildly varying degrees of accuracy. Ask any aviator hailing from that era and they will tell you we really had to work at it. It was a constant struggle where IFR (Instrument Flight Rules) frequently equated to “I Fly Roads.” Certainly it was gratifying when it all worked out, but also extremely frustrating when it did not, and there was no alternative.

Nature of the Beast

Fighter pilots by nature tend to be vain and querulous creatures that by definition are the best at what they do. Did you ever meet one who wasn’t? Just ask them and they will be quick to tell you they are the best fighter pilot in the world, every one of them. And they hate to ask for directions or admit they are lost, male and female alike, hence the old adage, “You can always tell a fighter pilot, but you can’t tell them much.” Indeed, just ask any fighter pilot worth their wings and they will invoke the Daniel Boone response when asked about being lost. When asked if he had ever been lost, that great woodsman, statesman and explorer replied, “Lost? No I can truly say that I have never been lost… I was mighty bewildered once for about four days, but never lost.”

Unfortunately pilots and/or navigators don’t have the luxury of pulling over and checking for moss on the south side of trees. But one glance at a GPS device in flight (it does not have to be an aviation-grade receiver) will tell you your current heading, time and desired heading to your next waypoint and final destination, speed along the ground, altitude, and of course current position down to a meter or better. This wonderful device leaves the intrepid aviator with time to concentrate on putting weapons on target, which, if they are also GPS guided, is almost a cinch.

Now you understand why aviators were among the first warfighters to embrace BYO-GPS, and why they seemed to just “pop-up” during the first Gulf war. Today’s ultra modern jets, such as the F-22 and F-35, have built-in GPS/PNT systems with redundant inertial systems, Doppler systems, and of course radars that are all tightly integrated. Some smart weapons even have their own GPS and laser systems on board. But you can bet your next paycheck there is a backup civil/commercial battery-operated BYO-GPS in a flight-suit pocket or helmet bag, just in case, as fighter pilots also have a great sense of self-preservation.

Warfighter GPS Equipment Database

I have personally compiled a “Warfighter GPS Equipment Database” over the last 10 years, since we have been at war in Iraq and Afghanistan. The database is comprised of more than 8000 entries from warfighters from all services, U.S. and allies alike. Only 1 in 40 warfighters utilize issued GPS MUE as a stand-alone handheld device, but every single warfighter (that’s 100 percent, a rare event in statistics) in the database proudly possessed and freely spoke about their own personal BYO-GPS device, with the majority of them being various iterations of a Garmin device, with Trimble devices and iPhones coming in a close second and third; although the iPhone and other smartphones are rapidly gaining ground on all the PNT devices in theater. So the bottom line is when it comes to BYOD, GPS is alive and well and has been for the last 23+ years with no end in sight.

BYOD Here to Stay

While thousands of warfighters have written me to say, “I love my Garmin, Trimble, iPhone, etc.” I do not have a single letter or email saying I love my PLGR or DAGR (precision lightweight and defense advanced GPS receivers or MUE). However, I will and must caveat my BYOD position by stating, as I always do, that while the PLGR and DAGR are, in my opinion, woefully inadequate as handheld PNT devices, they are extremely functional and sometimes the best/only option warfighters currently have as an embedded device, especially in a GPS-denied environment. Anything that improves on the display, battery life and user interface of the current GPS MUE is to be applauded.

So to be clear, I would never advise a warfighter not to utilize the GPS MUE issued to them, but would certainly encourage them to have a backup or two. Fortunately that encouragement is totally superfluous as I have yet to meet a warfighter who did not have at least one civil/commercial PNT receiver as a backup, even in the cockpit. During a recent visit to a local firefighting C-130 squadron, the navigator utilized the on-board, original equipment MAGR GPS unit, a Trimble unit, Velcroed to the navigation console, and two laptops with different independent GPS capabilities, such as color real-time moving map displays, and the navigator had a BYOD Garmin in his flight suit pocket. QED!

BYOD is here to stay!

Let’s embrace the technology of the 21st century, stop asking if our warfighters, government employees and government contractors should be allowed to use their own PNT, computer and communication devices, and begin incorporating the smartest and best devices in the world into our networks and enterprise infrastructures. For all the hype to the contrary, there really is no alternative.

Until next time, don’t forget to BYOD and happy navigating!


This article is tagged with and posted in Defense, Opinions

About the Author:

Don Jewell served 30 years in the United States Air Force, as an aviator and a space subject-matter expert. Don’s involvement with GPS and other critical space systems began with their inception, either as a test system evaluator or user. He served two command assignments at Schriever AFB, the home of GPS, and retired as Deputy Chief Scientist for Air Force Space Command. Don also served as a Politico Military Affairs Officer during the Reagan administration, working with 32 foreign embassies and serving as a Foreign Disclosure Officer making critical export control decisions concerning sophisticated military hardware and software. After retiring from the USAF, Don served seven years as the senior space marketer and subject-matter expert for two of the largest government contractors dealing in space software and hardware. Don currently serves on two independent GPS review teams he helped found, and on three independent assessment teams at the Institute for Defense Analyses, dealing with critical issues for the U.S. government. Don has served on numerous Air Force and Defense Scientific Advisory Boards. He writes and speaks extensively on technical issues concerning the U.S. government. Don earned his Bachelor’s degree and MBA; the Ph.D. is in progress.

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