Air Force picks KBR to use artificial intelligence (AI) in cognitive position, navigation, and timing (PNT)

Sept. 23, 2021
Goal is to prototype cutting-edge alternative PNT for use in GPS-denied environments where satellite signals are jammed, degraded, or spoofed.

KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. – U.S. Air Force researchers are using high-performance computing, artificial intelligence (AI), and cognitive electronic warfare (EW) to help aircraft and smart munitions navigate precisely without using GPS satellite navigation signals or timing.

Officials of the Air Force Research Laboratory at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M., announced a $49.7 million contract Wednesday to KBR Inc. (formerly Centauri LLC) in Chantilly, Va., for the Stealth & Cognitive Agile Navigation System (SCANS) project.

The contract provides for further research, investigation, comparison, and prototyping a cutting-edge alternative position, navigation, and timing (PNT) system for use in GPS-denied environments.

The SBIR phase III contract extends the previous efforts to develop a tactical PNT system for further development eventually to produce a prototype for commercialization.

Related: Naval aviation asks industry for research in artificial intelligence (AI), cyber, and hypersonic technologies

Cognitive tactical PNT is expected to capitalize on machine learning and AI to automate and speed-up critical PNT processes, ranging from analyzing electronic intelligence to developing new PNT measures in GPS-denied environments -- potentially in real-time and across large swathes of networked platforms.

A key part of effective PNT relies on the precise atomic clocks in Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites not only for reliable navigation and guidance, but also for critical timing necessary for military and civilian data networks.

Without access to GPS satellite timing systems -- such as when GPS signals are jammed, degraded, or spoofed -- means that precise timing must come from complex calculations that involve AI, machine learning, and a new generation of cognitive computing.

Next-generation cognitive computing is the use of computerized models to simulate the human thought process in complex situations where the answers may be ambiguous and uncertain. Cognitive computing overlaps with AI and involves many of the same underlying technologies to power cognitive applications such as expert systems, neural networks, robotics, and cognitive electronic warfare systems.

Related: Army seeks drastic reductions in the size and power consumption of embedded GPS modules

Cognitive PNT not only would use technologies like these to calculate precise timing, but also to devise new approaches to real-time navigation using inertial navigation gyros and even dead reckoning.

Use of dead reckoning estimates the position of a ship or aircraft based on starting point, speed, estimated drift, and direction of travel. Cognitive PNT is expected to be much more fast and accurate than using inertial navigation gyros alone when GPS signals are not available to update gyro-based navigation systems periodically.

On this contract KBR will do the work in Dayton, Ohio; Colorado Springs, Colo.; Sterling, Va.; and Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M., and should be finished by September 2026.

For more information contact KBR Inc. at, or the Air Force Research Laboratory at

About the Author

John Keller | Editor-in-Chief

John Keller is the Editor-in-Chief, Military & Aerospace Electronics Magazine--provides extensive coverage and analysis of enabling electronics and optoelectronic technologies in military, space and commercial aviation applications. John has been a member of the Military & Aerospace Electronics staff since 1989 and chief editor since 1995.

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of Military Aerospace, create an account today!