By John Liang / January 7, 2010 at 5:00 AM

U.S. Strategic Command and Air Force Space Command want to improve the Global Positioning System (GPS) constellation's satellite coverage, according to a STRATCOM statement released today.

"The need to support U.S. and allied military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, where terrain in geographically challenging areas can degrade complete coverage of GPS signals, drove a look for ways to improve signal coverage," the STRATCOM statement reads. Specifically, the command "approved an Air Force-developed approach that benefits not only military operations but all GPS users by taking advantage of the largest on-orbit GPS constellation in its history."

That new approach would do the following:

The current GPS constellation will be optimized to provide enhanced capability for all GPS users and provide better support to military forces operating in Afghanistan. Essentially, this plan will take advantage of today's constellation size and reposition satellites to improve coverage.

The existing constellation replenishment strategy positions new GPS satellites close to older satellites. This strategy protects against possible failing satellite vehicles. The current strength of the constellation will allow the constellation to be spread out and improve GPS
access worldwide.

The initiative will take up to 24 months to fully implement as satellites are repositioned within the constellation based on constellation health. The beneficial impact to all GPS users, including civilian users, will be slowly realized during that time period. Over the next two years, the number of GPS satellites in view from any point on earth will increase, potentially increasing accuracy of GPS receivers.

The STRATCOM and AFSPC team seeks to continually enhance GPS capability and is committed to meeting and exceeding civilian and military user requirements for worldwide, 24/7, positioning, navigation, and timing service.

InsideDefense.com reported last month that a program to produce a new generation of hybrid GPS receivers escaped termination in December, as House appropriators reversed their push to block the $60 million Pentagon officials wanted for the project:

House Appropriations Committee members opposed funding for the "High-Integrity GPS" program in their version of the fiscal year 2010 defense appropriations bill this summer. However, they yielded to their Senate counterparts’ position on the project’s funds, according to a Dec. 15 conference agreement on the legislation.

House lawmakers initially voted not to fund HIGPS because they believed the effort was “duplicative of other activities within the GPS program,” House Appropriations defense subcommittee spokesman Matthew Mazonkey told InsideDefense.com in an e-mail today. He did not address the question of what ultimately swayed lawmakers.

The HIGPS program is focused on developing handheld receivers fed with the signals from GPS satellites plus those emitted by the constellation of commercial Iridium communication satellites in low-Earth orbit. The result of this combination, advocates have said, is greater accuracy and resistance to enemy jamming.

Funding is executed through the Naval Research Laboratory, in part because the technology is destined as a navigation tool for dismounted Marine Corps forces and Navy SEALs.