When GPS falters, where will the military turn?

The potential for spoofing and jamming is prompting a look at old and new technologies.

Whether you use it to find the closest grocery store or guide an artillery shell to its target, GPS has become the most ubiquitous navigational tool since the North Star.

Using 32 satellites in circular orbits around the Earth, the Global Positioning System is capable of providing time and location information in all weather conditions anywhere there is unobstructed sight to four or more satellites. The Defense Department created it, beginning in the 1970s, and achieved full operational capability in 1995, at that time with 24 satellites. The military has since relied heavily on GPS for such things as navigation, target tracking, and missile and artillery guidance.

But as useful as the system is, the technology is vulnerable to attack.

The relatively weak signals sent out by the satellites can be spoofed by stronger signals, sending receivers off-course. One example is the Iran-US RQ-170 incident in which an Iranian cyber warfare unit spoofed a UAV into landing in Iran. Students from the University of Texas at Austin also have conducted tests in which they took control of drones and an $80 million yacht using GPS spoofing.

The signal can also be jammed with small, low-power devices that can be easily bought on the Internet and have been used to hide locations or commit crimes. Last year, an engineer from New Jersey, in an effort to hide his whereabouts from his employers, used one of the devices to jam an airport GPS navigation system whenever he passed by.

GPS Block IIR(M) satellite

With its dependence on GPS and other satellite-based communication tools for nearly everything, DOD has begun raising questions about the weaknesses of the system.

“Needless to say, that is a capability that we are going to just have to sustain. The world wouldn’t have it any other way,” Gen William Shelton, chief of the Air Force Space Command, said at a breakfast on Feb. 7 discussing the new GPS III system, as reported by National Defense Magazine. “Do we have too much dependence on GPS? That is the question we are starting to ask across the Department of Defense. The answer is not to get off GPS, however. That will never be the answer in my view.”

The new GPS III system is expected to affordably replace legacy GPS satellites and improve anti-jamming capabilities. The system includes a new military code, or M-code, that uses a different frequency than public signals and is more resistant to jamming.

Regardless, the military has recognized the need for back-up navigation systems and has begun developing new technologies to meet the demand.

For instance, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has been developing chip-scale inertial measurement units (IMUs) and chip-scale atomic clocks. The program has been focusing on shrinking the size of atomic clocks and IMUs to a single chip the size of an apple seed. By combining inertial movement information and the exact timing of atomic clocks, the chip should be able to function as a GPS-free navigational tool.

Meanwhile, engineers in the U.K. have taken a different approach. At a conference at the U.K.’s National Physical Laboratory (NPL) on Feb. 12, researchers described a system using low-cost sensors that can pick up information about the environment, such as terrain height and magnetic fields, which would then be cross-referenced with a database in real time to determine locations. 

These systems would still require an initial GPS reference, however, and would be a mid- to long-term solution to the problem.

Another possible solution derives itself from World War II-era technology. Loran, short for Long Range Navigation, enabled ships and aircraft to determine location and speed from low-frequency radio signals that are transmitted by radio beacons. Made obsolete by GPS, the system was shut down in 2010. However, a new, digitized-version of the system, called eLoran, has been gaining ground as a possible GPS back-up system.

eLoran signals are nearly unjammable due to their high power; the signals have about 1.3 million times more power than GPS signals. The radio towers are land-based, meaning that they are not susceptible to space debris or space warfare and can operate concurrently with GPS, but can only provide a certain range.

Several countries have already implemented eLoran, including South Korea, which has been affected by North Korean GPS jamming, and the U.K. for use in maritime shipping. Meanwhile, the United States is still trying to come up with a plan to implement the system. While several departments such as DOD and the Homeland Security and Transportation departments have an interest in the system, none of them want to pay for the entire program as budgets continue to shrink.

While exploring possible solutions to the GPS back-up problem, DOD also is developing contingency plans for the worst, with the services holding “a day without space” training exercises featuring degraded communications and GPS capabilities.

 

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.