By Don Jewell
Cards and Letters
It happens every year and it is an emotional rollercoaster. It generally starts a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving and continues until just after New Years – and it is simply heartbreaking. The letters and emails start arriving just like clockwork before the holidays and they all ask the same question – where can I buy the PHGPST or the Perfect Handheld GPS Transceiver?
As many of you know, who are faithful readers, I receive hundreds of letters and emails like this throughout the year from our warfighters and first responders, but the letters and emails over the holidays are special because they are from the wives, sisters, children, parents and grandparents of war fighters. They want nothing but the best for their loved ones. It breaks my heart to have to tell them that the PHGPST does not exist – yet.
Without a doubt, our warfighters and first responders, who put their lives on the line so that we may continue to live and thrive in a free world, where innovation and response to customer needs are hopefully met with success both emotional and fiscal, deserve nothing but the best, and that is the goal I continue to pursue on their behalf.
Paraphrasing Walter Kaufman, “Otherworldliness or ‘belief that there is a better world’ is the child of disenchantment with this world.” To say our warfighters are disenchanted with the antiquated legacy MUE or military user equipment they are forced by policy to utilize today is an understatement. DoD’s antediluvian MUE is a joke compared to what is available in the commercial marketplace today. Studies indicate our warfighters are aware of this dichotomy and have shown their disdain in the last ten years by using commercial and civil PNT equipment in theater 40/1 over the government’s archaic MUE handheld devices. Studies further show that MUE is utilized by our warfighters only as a last resort and as a matter of necessity due to the outdated policies and technologies that continue to prevail. However, I am happy to say these anachronistic restrictions are reportedly rapidly coming to an end.
Consider that the USMC (US Marine Corps) decertified the PLGR in 2009 because “the PLGR or Precision GPS Lightweight Receiver is an obsolete GPS military receiver” [ed. PLGR was designed circa 1988] and almost all Services today use the DAGR or Defense Advanced GPS Receiver [ed. the DAGR was designed circa 2002]. The DAGR was a major capability improvement ten years ago but today is technologically obsolete and primarily used as an embedded solution only. As an embedded device the DAGR serves its purpose — providing an antiquated, unfriendly user interface to legacy government equipment. For example, rumor has it that one version of the Stryker, of which the Army has more than 4,200 in service, described as a technologically advanced combat fighting vehicle, uses nine, count them, nine individual DAGRs. Draw your own conclusions. I suspect this has more to do with the inadequacies of the DAGR vice the capabilities of the Stryker. The good news here is that my sources in the DoD tell me there will be no further DAGR purchases. Now if I were giving this as an oral presentation, I would pause here for thundering applause and a standing ovation. Can I have an Amen?
Several years ago, I penned the following: “MUE is necessary because it is the only platform that currently provides SAASM (selective availability anti-spoofing module) protection, along with a second military frequency giving the military user an advantage over his civilian counterpart.” Today none of that statement is true from a purely intrinsic or commercial point of view. There are much more capable receivers with all these capabilities and more, to include real-time centimeter-level accuracy, available on the commercial market today.
This year the PNT (position, navigation and timing) marketplace has finally responded, and I am able to reply to warfighter family enquiries with more positive information. In just the last 18-24 months, the path to an actual PHGPST has been blazed by several major GPS manufacturers, and well-informed pundits say DOD policy changes may be in the wind as well.
I had a three-hour lunch several weeks ago with the chief PNT engineer from one of the companies pursuing the PHGPST. It was enlightening to hear him wax eloquent concerning their new PNT device and the capabilities it will provide the warfighter, first responders and commercial/civil users as well. Indeed, there is a real possibility, if DoD policy changes lag technology (can you imagine that ever happening?) that civil/ commercial users may be the first recipients of this technological manna from the gods. But not to worry — if the actions of our warfighters during the last ten years of warfare are any indication, the warfighters and first responders will merely purchase what they need, from whatever sources are available, regardless of antiquated policy and doctrine. As one Marine lieutenant colonel warfighter commander so eloquently phrased it, “So please tell me where I can purchase the PHGPST…because when your life and those of your fellow Marines is on the line, who gives a damn about policy … give me the best solution possible … because the current #@*&% MUE is not even in the same ballpark as the best.”
Unfortunately, the chief engineer declined to allow me to use the name of his company, but they have promised me a pre-production unit to test and write about. As to time frame, he assures me there will still be plenty of snow banks and icy mud puddles in Colorado for my exhaustive real-world tests. Ever since that lunch I have been like a kid at Christmas… I just can’t wait for the test unit to arrive.
However, while I am waiting with bated breath, another major PNT company/manufacturer pursuing the PHGPST has gone public with its intentions, and that is Trimble. I had the pleasure of visiting with Ann Ciganer and other Trimble executives in San Jose for a day recently, and then in early November attended Trimble Dimensions for the first time. I was simply amazed. Talk about feeling like a kid in a candy store – and that feeling had nothing to do with the venue – the Mirage in Las Vegas. Seriously, Jim Sheldon, general manager of Trimble’s Mobile Computing Solutions (MCS) Division and his team in Corvallis, Oregon, have outdone themselves. Their rugged line of PNT devices is simply jaw dropping in appearance and capability. I was privileged to sit in on some MCS planning meetings and I was blown away by what I heard — none of which I can relate here because of NDAs (non-disclosure agreements) and such — but suffice it to say that Trimble has been listening to its customers (what a concept) including warfighters/first responders, and it shows in the devices hitting the market now and in the next few months.
I was very impressed, and I guess it showed because one company PR/marketing pundit commented that I could probably write about nothing but Trimble rugged equipment for the next twelve months. Although he said it in jest, he was more correct than he knew. Indeed, another person in that group commented that I could write nothing but reviews for the next twelve months and become known as the Gunnery Sergeant Lee Emery military twin for GNSS. You may remember Emery hosted two History Channel programs: Mail Call, where he answered military questions, both modern and historic; and Lock N’ Load with R. Lee Ermey, which focused on the development of different types of military equipment, mostly weapons. I personally never missed an episode of either program and while I am flattered at the comparison, frankly I prefer the written word. But it does offer up the possibility of conducting even more PNT/GNNS equipment evaluations – the only issue being that it takes me about six weeks to properly evaluate a piece of PNT equipment, and it really helps if there is are lots of snow banks and deep icy puddles around. And remember, my rules of engagement are to never write a bad review, because why should you spend your time reading about something you can’t use, and, if at all possible, I won’t review equipment I have not personally used in the field under the most austere conditions available.
So in the next twelve months we will be looking hard at candidates vying for the title of the PHGPST, and I will do my best to keep you abreast of all the technological advancements and policy changes that make that possible. And maybe next year as the holidays approach, I will be able to respond with a plethora of choices for the PHGPST.
Until next year, semper fi and happy navigating.