Find More Backups for GPS: AF Chief

Find More Backups for GPS: AF Chief

Editor’s note: After speaking with an Air Force official, I’ve changed the headline on this story to better reflect Gen. Schwartz’s focus on finding alternatives to GPS to be used when operating in denied environments.

In the face of threats from jamming and attacks on satellites the United States must lessen its dependence on the Global Positioning System when faced with denied environments and develop alternatives to GPS, the top Air Force general said today.

Gen. Norton Schwartz, Air Force Chief of Staff, told a conference organized by Tuft University’s Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis that GPS signals are particularly vulnerable in time of war since enemies know of the reliance U.S. forces place on its highly accurate signal. Everyone has read about the amazing accuracy of smart bombs and cruise missiles but few remember that those weapons depend on receiving a signal from a constellation of satellites orbiting the earth.

Schwartz’s call is driven by serious threats to GPS, according to officials familiar with the issue who would not discuss current threats in detail but confirmed that GPS has been jammed or interfered with recently.

The fact that the U.S., which invented GPS and most of what depends on it (ATMs, gas pumps, trucking companies and lost spouses), would consider stepping away from the system marks a cultural and technological milestone

Among the tools that could be used to lessen the dependence of troops on GPS are highly accurate digital maps which can be distributed electronically or even rely on that quaint old technology known as printing. In more developed environments cell phone tower networks can be used as does Apple’s iPhone. Of course, the US would have to control the cell phone network for that to work.

Schwartz’s comments come as the Space Posture Review, scheduled for release with the QDR but now delayed for as long as a year, has tentatively recommended that the U.S. scrap building five more GPS satellites and engage European allies on sharing their proposed Galileo global navigation satellite system.

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Goshdarnit those new “knife” things are just too risky. Someone could sneak in at night and run files along the edges, and then our knives wouldn’t cut anything anymore. Or they could just sit around and wait for our knives to get rusty, and THEN attack. And besides, knives are expensive anyway!

No, I’ll stick with my good old tree branch. Sure, it doesn’t work real well, and I can’t do much with it, and in fact the knife is better in almost every way that you care to define, but hey–tree branches are proven heritage technology. I’d rather have ASSURANCE than capability, and besides, training your people is more important than giving them better tools!

But seriously:

GPS existed for fifteen years before the USAF started using it, because REAL pilots navigate by TACAN (or even stopwatch-and-a-map) the way their grandfaterhs did. Hardly surprising that they’ll find a convenient excuse to go back to the Good Old Ways.

“In more developed environments cell phone tower networks can be used as does Apple’s iPhone. Of course, the US would have to control the cell phone network for that to work.”

Hee. GPS isn’t secure enough and so we’re going to go to CELL PHONES? Pull the other one, it’s got bells on.

This problem has been noted before:


Civil Satellite Vulnerability
Space News, 20–26 February 1995

Rapidly evolving space surveillance and anti-satellite (ASAT) technologies, along with world-wide knowledge of the tactical uses of satellite reconnaissance, navigation and communications systems, are creating an environment in which U.S. military satellites will come under increasing risk of attack from future adversaries.

This risk, however, is by no means limited to the military. The consequences of attacks against both civil and national security space systems should be carefully considered by companies operating and using space-based services, and by the U.S. Congress and the administration of U.S. President Bill Clinton.

Analysis of the use of space by U.S. and allied forces during the Gulf War reveals the enormous leverage an opponent possessing even rudimentary counter-satellite capabilities could exert. Similarly, examination of present and future civilian uses of satellites shows that a country able to destroy or degrade those systems would possess economic and political power over the United States.


Further in the future, but probably no more distant than the first decade of the 21st century, it will be necessary to consider attacks against global navigation satellites such as the Global Positioning System
and Russia’s Global Navigation Satellite System. Even more than low Earth orbit communications systems, global navigation satellite systems will support functions vital to society and involving the lives of thousands of people on a second-by-second basis. The recent drive to use augmented GPS for aircraft navigation and landing is an example of this trend; another is the impending use of GPS timing signals for synchronization of digital communications systems.

GPS incorporates elements of redundancy, dispersion and hardening that make it a more difficult target than low Earth orbit systems. But GPS is by no means invulnerable to advancing ASAT and counter-satellite technologies. Future, purely civilian, global navigation satellite systems may well be even more at risk.

[more snip]

Good thing we are shutting down LORAN-C next week instead of investing in eLORAN as a GPS backup. At least we will save $100 million a year. How many satellites will that buy?

How about old school knowledge of computerize presicion projectile? This does not require GPS reliablility. Sometimes we need to add additional alternatives if the GPS went out of service.

Gentlemen, GPS is a very valuable tool and should certainly not be discarded. However General Norton is correct when stating the vulnerably such networks have. We must be able to operate effectively in an environment where we don’t have the benefit of our GPS systems. This means continuing to train our officers and soldiers to read maps and compasses and navigate “the old fashioned’ way. The USAF must particularly ensure they have alternatives to GPS guided munitions like JDAM.

I fully agree with the Chief. GPS was a AFCC command requirement and was developed to replace aging air traffic control equipment as well improve weapons accuracy.
Given the world today it can also be use as a weapon. For example neither Russa or China have anything that can compete with GPS. The next time we take another cyber attack from either country we hit back using cyber tools developed by AFCC and cut off GPS.
The cyber attack tools can be found in the reports produced from 1979–1982, by me as the AFCC/SAC Red Team leader, during exercise Global Shield. In addition, while the chief is recoganizing this vunerability he needs to recreate AFCC and establish a real capability not the token, weak needed 24 AF under Space Command. Please remember Space Command was and remains a house keeping organization. It maintains space craft house keeping tools while the operator decides how the payload is used. The only reason cyber was placed in this command was to appease another 4 star rather than what is good for the AF the inventer of cyber.

“alternatives to GPS guided munitions like JDAM”.……Boots of bots on the ground (or in the air) illuminating targets.

CSAF appears to make GPS a target of interest in challenging budget years. Because most aircraft and weapons flown today or on the drawing board have no other way to be safely, all-weather capable or remotely navigatable without advanced technology using new guidance systems, the investment and conversion costs still make GPS or variants of it, a proven entity. While there are ways to better organize, operate, and control these assets, the existing contractors are not motivated to come up with readily implementable solutions to reduce cost and still maintain full capability. While much effort was attempted in the late 70’s and early 80’s to warn and prove the significant telecommunications threats to and vulnerabilities of systems (through cyber attackes), the fundamental driver for GPS was not to replace aging air traffic control equipment as one reader commented, but to implement a capability to fill the Precision Location System requirements while filling other stated needs from other services and agencies.

Wow! I think everyone has contributed just enough in giving all our adversaries all or most alternatives you could think of to solve the GPS problem. That is why they count on you so much in your postings. As a patriot, I want to thank you for your counter-intelligence and technology input!

Think OPSEC before you post…

Good thing there is no further need for the LORAN system that they just killed off.

Gen Schwartz should focus on countering GPS jamming & interference threats.

I work for a company that makes guidance systems for aircraft and missles. Some of our systems use GPS but only in conjunction with inertial navigation instruments in case of GPS signal interruption. Inertial navigation is very precise. To rely soley on GPS would be a disaster.

Probably already several (secret) funded projects.

But how precise is intertial navigation? If GPS can put a bomb within a few feet of the target, what can an inertial guidance system do? Even if it can be accurate to within 30–50 feet, that is still a HUGE difference that would be unacceptable in most air-support operations.

they are accurate to way closer than 30–50 feet. They use inertial navigation on the cruise missle, is that accurate enough?

when i say used on the cruise missle, it was the original navigation system, and a redundant system now, in case of GPS interruption.

Gen Schwartz is a wise man

I think This General is a dork. Apples iPhone? are you serious? Another step in the process of killing domocracy as we know it. Bush started it and this crap will help finish it. Let me guess, kill the Military by buying this crap from big corporation you kill the country, and this idea would for sure kill the Military. Our Military might as well start working for big corporation. The next thing you know, we will be wearing their(corporation) patch on our uniforms, One word, merc’s. Stalin said something we should never forget, “All we(the USSR) have to do is corrupt one generation of the US and the rest will fall”. And the right wing have been currupted. The USSR may be no more but their work is done, and Democracies work must never stop.

And this from the Gates leadership that continue to perpetrate the myth of the “last manned fighter”. Has it occurred to anyone that the same jamming/hacking threats to the GPS satellite system, are also a problem for communications satellites controlling drone operations?

Not necessarily. China is developing its own system and could also use GLONASS (Russia’s system) in a multi-frequency receiver. I think they still would jam locally to throw confusion into the mix.

The right wing has been corrupted? Aren’t you thinking of the left?

How about this record all posible GPS location/ designator, where our guided missile will go in the firewalled server, by the time the GPS lost or stop working, we (US) still have the location where it will be hitting.

Currently there are thousands of pieces of space debris in orbit around earth, most of them travelling at several kilometers per second. A single screw travelling att 2000m/s can easily destroy a satellite, which in turn will generate many more pieces of debris, which can go to hit further satellites resulting in a cascade effect whereby the earth is surrounded by a sea of setellite destroying projectiles.

If an anti-satellite weapon is ever detonated in space the resulting explosion will generate so much debris that almost every satellite network on earth will be affected, as satellites are either destroyed or forced out of their planned orbit in order to avoid a collision.

Oh and fun fact: Once the GPS system goes down, the stock market will crash, because the banking system is synchronised via GPS.

That can be dangerous and scary. Our scientist whould find an alternative solutions if GPS stop working.

The problem with not liking to deal with a potentially crippling countermeasure to a technology giving an overwhelming advantage is that when it becomes a high value target, we tend to bury our heads in the sand and not deal with it until too late.
It would appear obvious that the current crop of gps Sats must be augmented by another array hardened with armor, armed with point defense weapons, and possessing both enough power to “Burn through” jamming when needed and deliver a coded time shifted signal that must be decoded on the ground. Expensive-most definitely. Technically challenging –without a doubt. Worth it — Dam strait.
GPS gives us an almost unfair advantage when it comes to making the most out of precision munitions, situational awareness, and navigation. If developed and deployed now, then placed in deeper orbits and not activated until the original array is attacked in some future conflict, this would insure victory and that the conflict not need be escalated into a tragedy for mankind.

What’s old is new!

Back in the “day” (1980’s) Link 16 was originally developed as a Comm, NAV, and ID system. It did it’s navigating by straightforward time of arrival of signals from other participants and use of a (master) nav controller (general a fixed ground station or flagship. With the advent GPS, net participants just used their GPS position.

Specific to JDAM; if it loses the GPS, it reverts to a ring-laser gyro INS backup system.

In response to the WarScientist blog, the collision of the irridium and the inactive satellite body some time ago did not precipitate any dominoe effect. LEO sats, GEO sats, POLAR sats are different orbits altogether. GPS being much higher altitude than any ASAT weapon can reach, except perhaps lasers. The only change to normal ops on the part of Irridium was to do more monitoring of orbit paths and perhaps some minor manuvers to be well away from any debris cloud.

GPS is a very valuable tool and should certainly not be discarded. However General Norton is correct when stating the vulnerably such networks have. We must be able to operate effectively in an environment where we don’t have the benefit of our GPS systems.

The GPS system is not “degrading”. It has on-orbit spares.

And to those who say “shut down the system” because travelers allegedly don’t know where they are without it? I guess you’d like higher food and goods prices, because the GPS signals are used to track all kinds of assets.

And, did you say “shut down LORAN-C”? Did you say “shut down VOR”? Did you say “shut down directional beacons”? Come on, stop the Luddite stuff. Electronic navigation has been around for over 60 years. GPS is just the latest refinement.

I say this as an electronics engineer with over 12 years experience designing and improving GPS-enabled electronic systems.


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