Satellite Communications

Russia to restrict military use of GPS stations in its territory

GPS Block IIR(M) satellite

Noting the use of navigational satellites to drive military weapons and daily living, countries such as Russia have continued to develop their own versions of the United States’ hugely successful Global Positioning System. However, building these systems requires significant international cooperation.

Russian officials have recently begun restricting the military use of the GPS ground stations located within its territory, a move that comes weeks after failed attempts to reach an agreement that would have allowed the Russians to build stations for its own navigation system, GLONASS, in the United States.

The last day an agreement could have been reached was May 31.

Russia will control the operation of 11 GPS sites, making sure that they cannot be used by the military, or for purposes not covered in the 1991 and 2001 agreements that set up the ground stations.

"We have worked out and implemented measures that exclude the use of these [GPS] stations for military purposes. Now they are under our full control," Dmitry Rogozin, Russian Deputy Prime Minister, said on his Twitter handle, as reported by RT.

The GPS stations in Russia are reference stations that are either used to monitor earthquake activity or provide differential corrections to improve accuracy – the stations pass only a limited amount of geodesic data, according to Nextgov. The Global Positioning System is governed by a master control station, an alternate master control station, 12 command and control antennas, and 16 monitoring sites, none of which are located in Russia.

It is thus unlikely that there will be any significant effect on worldwide users, though users in Russia might suffer from a loss of accuracy. Meanwhile, Russian officials have threatened to completely close down the stations if the two sides cannot come to an agreement.

"We hope that these negotiations will find solutions that will restore proportional cooperation; if not, from September 1, the operation of these stations will be stopped completely," Rogzin said, while assuring Russians that GPS quality will remain the same.

GLONASS is the only other satellite-based navigational system that can provide global coverage with quality similar to the U.S. GPS system. Flight tests of the system started in October 1982, and by 1995 the constellation contained 24 satellites. Currently, there are 14 GLONASS monitoring stations in Russia, one in Brazil, and one in Antarctica. Russia’s space agency, Roscosmos, has plans to expand stations to Australia, Spain, and Indonesia — and was planning on putting them in the United States as well.

But last year, the CIA and the Pentagon moved to block the State Department from allowing Russia’s space agency from building the monitoring stations, as reported by New York Times. American officials were worried that the stations could be used to spy on the United States, as well as improve precision missile guidance, especially since the stations would be on American soil.

Meanwhile, members of Congress chafed at the idea of a GPS competitor.

“I would like to understand why the United States would be interested in enabling a GPS competitor, like Russian GLONASS, when the world’s reliance on GPS is a clear advantage to the United States on multiple levels,” said Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), the chairman of a House Armed Services subcommittee.

About the Author

Joey Cheng is an editorial fellow with Defense Systems.

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