GPS/GLONASS Dispute: CEO Clarifies Misunderstandings

May 23, 2014  - By
Javad Ashjaee

Javad Ashjaee

“Use any opportunity to create friendship and peace,” urged Javad Ashjaee, president and CEO of JAVAD GNSS, in a May 23 conversation with journalists. He decried the recent controversy about monitoring stations on both U.S. and Russian soil, saying it was based in misinformation and misinterpretations, inflated by a political crisis in a completely different area. “This [GNSS] is a good thing, that for 25 years kept us together. And if you see, there are lots of high-level meetings between U.S. and Russian officials, they are all very friendly meetings.”

A transcription of his remarks appears here, below the following main points and clarifications that he wished to make:

• Earlier this year, Russia sought GLONASS monitoring stations in the United States, not for uploading any data, but for monitoring GLONASS satellites to provide more accurate orbit and clock information, for the free and open benefit of all users.

• The Russian general who threatened to close down monitoring stations on Russian soil that contribute data to the International GNSS Service was immediately and roundly criticized by Russian scientists and surveyors.  The general subsequently retracted his remarks.

• The 11-hour GLONASS outage on April 1 was not due to a wait for all satellites to pass over ground control stations on Russian soil to receive a fresh upload of data.  GLONASS has the capability (as does GPS) to make such updates via inter-satellite communication. The delay was caused by the time it took to find the bug in the erroneous software that had been uploaded, and to correct it.

• Ashjaee also noted that “No military activity requires millimeter accuracy. It is only scientific applications for humanitarian tasks that require millimeter accuracy.  Needing more monitoring stations, such as the IGS stations, is only for that purpose.”

The Background

Javad Ashjaee, founder and CEO of JAVAD GNSS, contacted GPS World on May 20 with a message: “I had a discussion today with the head of the GLONASS program in RosKosmos regarding the tracking sites that they wanted to establish in the United States, and the subsequent events. What has been published in most U.S. media is far from the truth. It is time that we contribute to defusing problems rather than putting more fuel on the fire. The world has enough problems already.”

The Full Statement

This is the story of GPS/GLONASS. It also gives some insight as to how things get out of control, and much, much bigger issues like war and things like Ukraine  get created. It is just a tiny, simple example.

When I first heard the issue of GLONASS about 25 years ago and was invited by RosKosmos to Moscow, I didn’t think of Communism or anything political, I thought “30 satellites free, that they’re willing to give to the world, free of charge.” That’s how I got excited. Recently, GPS World published a wonderful history of the growing development of GLONASS and GPS.

What bothers me now is some negative reactions that I see towards GLONASS. It seems that when they see something negative about GLONASS, they enjoy it. In the reports, read between the lines. When there is a problem with GLONASS, you sense some sort of happiness. There is something of “them versus us.”

There was the question, “Why do they need things in our country? Don’t they have them in their country?”

When people don’t know each other, they fear and they create fear.

One thing we should look at: GLONASS is good for all of us. As President Reagan offered GPS free of charge to the world, and everybody applauded him — the Russians have done the same thing. In Oklahoma, California, everywhere, farmers and surveyors are using GLONASS free of charge, the same as GPS.  And GLONASS has been better, and I emphasize, it has been better because they didn’t encrypt their code so that we had to go behind and decipher and decrypt and all the trouble that we went to during the past 20 years, because GPS didn’t think that we need carrier phase.

GLONASS is good for America, for the world, as is GPS. If there is a problem with GLONASS, we must be unhappy, as we are unhappy when there is a problem with GPS. And if we can help GLONASS, we must help GLONASS. There is nothing to fear about war, nobody needs [millimeter-level] accuracy of GPS or GLONASS if there is a war between super-powers.

We should all want GLONASS to give precise information. We care about centimeter-level accuracy, the military doesn’t. Five-meter accuracy is good enough for them. To improve the precise-orbit information of GLONASS is the concern of surveyors and those that need precision GPS.

Now, what’s the issue? GLONASS needs 50 reference stations all around the world to monitor the orbits of its satellites, to make the precise-orbit information [furnished to users] better. Not to upload information to the satellites. For this, one station is enough, for both GPS and GLONASS, because both have inter-satellite connections that can do this.

There was speculation in early April that it took GLONASS 11 hours to correct a software bug because it took that long for all the satellites to pass over a control station on Russian soil. This was not the case, I have learned from conversations with their engineers and with the head person responsible for all of this. One engineer made a mistake and uploaded the wrong software. Until they could find it and debug it — and it took them 11 hours to do so — they could not upload correct software to the satellites.

What they are asking for from the United States is not an upload station. They need as many [globally-distributed] monitoring stations as possible; 50 is good.

The International GNSS Service (IGS) has 300. To have a good orbit determination for scientific work, to get to the depth of centimeter- or millimeter-level accuracy, the objectives of IGS reports is to have 200 or 300 monitoring stations.  For military work, three or four is enough.

Russia already has more than 50 monitoring stations. They use IGS stations. They didn’t need to ask for anything. Even [data from] the units we have in our San Jose office is available to everybody.

So I asked the GLONASS people, “Why did you ask? You have [access to more than] 200 monitoring stations!”

This was the issue: it was only political. When RosKosmos made internal presentations in Russia to their [government and military] decision-makers, they were asked, “OK, these stations are controlled by who?” By the IGS, they answered. They were told “You must have stations under Russian control.”

I explained to them that IGS stations, for them, are more convenient and more secure. If President Obama told the IGS, told Stanford University and 200 other universities, to turn off their IGS stations, there would be a lot of disagreement!  President Obama could turn off Russian stations on U.S. soil.  I told them, IGS stations are more convenient and more secure for you than your own stations, and they understood.  They are not pushing for it, they said those officials on the top, they know nothing. They were asking that we must have five stations under our control.

If you understand this: that the issue was [Russian internal] political, that they don’t need anything.  They already get the precise orbit data from IGS stations.

Now, the second part or episode of this problem: when a Russian general heard that the United States said “No” to the request for Russian-controlled monitoring stations on U.S. soil, he said “Oh, now they don’t let us do this? We will turn off their stations in Russia.” All surveyors and all scientists in Russia jumped at that general, and he retracted what he had said.

But people who didn’t understand this [that IGS-participating stations in Russia have nothing to do with controlling GPS satellites or supplying GPS data to users], they put their own statements in the press, they added fuel to the fire.

The Q&A

When asked how surveyors in Oklahoma could help GLONASS, as he had urged, Ashjaee replied “They can write to their senators and ask, why didn’t you let monitoring stations be in the heart of Oklahoma too?”


Once the first version of this online story was posted, Javad Ashjaee sent in this further comment:

“Part of my admiration for the GLONASS team is that they managed to pull this project off amidst their worst economical, social, and political times. Compare their situation with GPS that had a huge budget (and still ran way over budget) and with Galileo that took several rich countries to put the budgets and technology together. GLONASS also offered this free and unrestricted service to the world without making any political gestures. No encryption of codes and no selective availability either.

“There is an abundance of opportunities to create hostility, and there are enough people to promote it. Situations like this are rare that we can grasp the opportunity to promote friendship.”


About the Author: Alan Cameron

Alan Cameron is the former editor-at-large of GPS World magazine.

2 Comments on "GPS/GLONASS Dispute: CEO Clarifies Misunderstandings"

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  1. Amando E. Quinto says:

    Mr. Veatch,

    I like your article. I am also a paleo Surveyor from the Philippines and is awed by the advance of survey instruments. I tried dragging a 100-m chain in surveying mining tenements across mountains here in PH.

  2. shan says:

    how GPS gives millimeter level accuracy in measurement. telllthe theory and practical way please.