“Situational and spatial awareness is still very much a human activity”
Air Vice-Marshal (AVM) Kym Osley joined the Air Force in 1977 and flew as an aerial navigator in F-111, Phantom, F-18 and other fast jet aircraft. In the 1990s, AVM Osley was responsible for major strike-reconnaissance projects within Capability Development (Air) Branch before becoming the Air Force strategic planner for three years and then commanding No 1 Squadron. In 1999, AVM Osley was posted to the United Kingdom as the Air Force Adviser before being appointed Officer Commanding No 82 Wing. In August 2004 he was promoted to Air Commodore and assisted with planning the future force structure for the Australian Defence Force.
AVM Osley deployed as Director of the Coalition Air Operations Centre in the Middle East in 2006-07 where he directed the employment of 425 Coalition aircraft and 25,000 airmen. After commanding Air Combat Group in 2007-08, he was promoted to AVM as Head of Australian Defence Staff (Washington) and then led the Australian Joint Strike Fighter Program from late 2010. In 2014, AVM Osley transitioned to the Reserves and took up a full-time position as a Managing Director in PricewaterhouseCoopers for six years, including leading the team to setup Defence Space Command.
What are the objectives of Australian Institute of Navigation (AIN)? Would you like to highlight some recent activities and the achievements of the AIN?
The Australian Institute of Navigation celebrated its 72nd anniversary this year, and continues to fulfil its key roles in promoting excellence in the application of spatial awareness technologies, advocating for leading edge developments in the field of navigation and recognising excellence among military and commercial practitioners of Navigation. Our members include those who have contributed significantly to the advancement of navigation in both the military and commercial arenas, including leading edge thinkers in the field of satellite navigation. The ‘best of the best’ military navigation practitioners in the RAN and RAAF are recognised through annuals awards of the Australian Institute of Navigation. In recent times, the AIN has partnered with military and Government agencies to explore how the risks associated with potential interruptions to satellite navigation can be mitigated. The AIN was a key advocate for the introduction of a Space Based Augmentation System in Australia.
You have over 40 years of experience in defence especially in air defence. You have closely observed and used the navigation technology. In your perspective, what is the general scenario of navigation technology in terms of status, trends and challenges?
The challenge in military combat aircraft is no longer monitoring (or ‘babysitting’) navigation systems and trying to determine where you are. The ability to know where you are with high accuracy at all times is now a given. The new challenge is the very high volume of navigation, situational awareness, sensor and other relevant military data that is bombarding the humans-in-the -loop of modern weapon systems and those individuals being able to assimilate data relating to the entire battlespace, validate the data when the enemy is trying to inject uncertainty and respond with the right decision, the right action at exactly the right time to achieve an overall outcome. Situational and spatial awareness is still very much a human activity – it is certainly not just about technology. The best, most capable and well-trained individual will prevail – not the person with just the best absolute technology. Thus all of the leading edge technology that is now entering the military eco-system is causing massive changes to the training and responsibilities of war fighters. A very large future challenge for navigation/situational awareness technology is the human/group interface – the information cannot just be displayed…it will need to be integrated in near real-time and aligned with real-time decision making of individuals and groups to be truly advantageous in getting a decisive combat outcome.
What is the status of satellite infrastructure and navigation technologies like SatelliteBased Augmentation Technologies (SBAS) and National Positioning Infrastructure Capability (NPIC) in Australia?
In the past 75 years, Australia has been at the forefront of many navigation developments but the implementation of those technologies has sometimes been slow due to having a large country with a relatively small population. SBAS is a case in point, where the benefits of SBAS were widely recognised in Australia but we were one of the last nations to get SBAS due to challenges in funding a national system. This remoteness may also delay the introduction of local high accuracy navigation augmentation systems in Australia for industry, transport and other applications when compared to other more populated regions around the globe. An area we are likely to see considerable advance is in urban air mobility and logistics resupply by uninhabited air systems – once the issues with civil air regulations are overcome.
Recently, Australia has also established National Space Agency. How is this development has helped the user communities?
While the Australian Space Agency is still a very new organisation, it has provided a centre of gravity for Government and Industry to determine broad strategies for how Australia should move forward at a national level in the space domain. It has provided a means for Government to start to articulate where it sees the priorities for development of national space capabilities and where the Government may provide seed funding for Australian space industry. It has also provided a central area to coordinate space-related legislation and regulations, which will be essential enablers for future Australian space enterprises. At this time, it is a modestly sized organisation that is heavily focussed on advocating for space-related industry and supporting the development of a space regulatory framework. In time we will see if the people and funding are provided to create a more comprehensive National Space Agency.
This is a world of multi-GNSS systems. What advantages do you see about this scenario?
I think we can expect nations to continue to want to field GNSS systems – for many reasons including national prestige, reliability of service, higher capabilities, etc. With ever cheaper launch costs and much increased use of Low Earth Orbit satellites we can expect that GNSS systems may also increasingly be fielded by non-state providers as a service. From a user perspective, multi-GNSS capable receivers will likely become almost ubiquitous, and offer greatly increased reliability and accuracy.
With increasing dependence on GNSS, how do you perceive the threats like interference, jamming and spoofing?
In a lifetime, we have gone from no GNSS to a high reliance on GNSS for positioning, navigation and timing (PNT). Interestingly, it would appear that because military and commercial aircrew train in so many reversionary navigation and flying modes, aviation is likely to be among the least affected areas due to interference, spoofing and jamming (assuming it is detected and reversionary modes can be used). The greater threat is an economic one, where nations could potentially suffer massive impacts in key commercial sectors if GNSS reliant services are denied or interrupted and adequate ‘backup’ or reversionary processes are not developed and regularly practiced. This could be through interruptions to banking, communications, inefficiencies in farming, delays in automated land transport, logistics, etc.
How do you think the GNSS positioning technology can take the advantages of other positioning technologies cell phones, Bluetooth and WiFi, etc?
GNSS technology is complimentary to other positioning technologies and we can expect that they will be increasingly integrated in ways that allow the strengths of each solution to be exploited while limitations are mitigated. What will be important will be very reliable and accurate navigation to within centimetres, 24/7, with no shielding effects and at modest cost. This will likely require a variety of globally accessible and low-cost terrestrial high accuracy navigation systems as well as many constellations of GNSS, integrated with high resolution imaging sensors. The more challenging scenarios for the future are likely to be in technology areas such as e-medicine where high accuracy positioning will be essential.
The military, and the development of next generation precision guided munitions in particular, are another area where we are seeing GNSS increasingly augmented with other sensors and positioning technologies. For example, including laser, infra-red, contrast tracking or radar sensors to provide additional guidance for munitions in the terminal phase.
What influences you envisage in satellite navigation in the near future given the advancements in the field of AI, Autonomous Vehicles, etc.?
Arguably, satellite navigation is just one enabler for autonomous vehicles. What is also required are additional ways for the vehicle to sense its surroundings – either through optical, infrared, radar or other imaging means – and then to use the GNSS information, sensor data and an understanding of the environment and rules governing how it should be traversed to determine the optimum way to proceed. Thus high reliability GNSS (including technologies such as multi-GNSS receivers, anti-spoofing capability and SBAS) would assist, but would not negate the need for integrated sensors and high computing capacity to achieve optimum outcomes in Autonomous Vehicles.
This mutual reliance between GNSS and other technologies (including mobile technologies and 5G) to deliver overall spatial awareness, information and communications services will grow over time, but become less obvious to the users who are just interested in the service being provided.
At a more macro level, there will be advantages in optimising ‘swarms’ of autonomous vehicles in commercial and military applications to achieve particular outcomes – such as improved efficiency of service, improved logistics or higher probability of military outcomes. This will necessitate the amassing of positional (primarily GNSS) data and then optimisation of the data using Artificial Intelligence systems. An example of this is any future air management system for autonomous air vehicles over built up areas, where there could be several thousand flying in congested areas, all needing to be sent on optimum paths with minimal delays, with adequate safety and with least use of the electrical charge in their batteries.