GNSS Vulnerable: What to Do?

February 18, 2014  - By
Brad Parkinson

Brad Parkinson

Too Much Sensitivity, Not Enough Robustness, Says Parkinson

Brad Parkinson, the founding architect of GPS, told a UK conference that the system needs to be made more robust to ensure worldwide availability of services to users. His concerns over GPS availability relate to threats such as the loss of authorized frequency spectrum (implicitly creating licensed jammers), space weather due to hyperactive ionospheric conditions, and deliberate or inadvertent jamming of GPS signals.

He warned that GPS is more vulnerable to sabotage or disruption than ever before, and charged that politicians and security chiefs are ignoring the risk. Western governments are “in their infancy in recognizing the problem,” he remarked further in an interview with London’s Financial Times. “[In the United States] I don’t know anyone that is really in charge of it. The Department of Homeland Security should be [but] … they don’t have any people that understand it very well. They’ve got one person without any budget to speak of.”

He also warned that Europe’s €5 billion Galileo system is equally at risk.

Parkinson proposed a three-stage program to:

  • Protect (legally) the signal and physically eliminate jamming sources;
  • Toughen the GPS/Galileo receiver’s resistance to interference;
  • Augment the GPS signals with other satellites or with ground-based transmitters such as eLoran.

To support his proposal, Parkinson stated, “The number one need for all GPS or Galileo users is availability. Over the years, manufacturers of signal receiver technologies have focused too much on sensitivity and not enough on resilience or robustness. The maritime industry is a particular concern where users have taken GPS for granted. They must increase preparedness and backups as they do in aviation or other GNSS using industries.

“Even today, most ships have only GPS and the vision of their crew to guide them when approaching harbours. As you can see from today’s conference there are a wealth of solutions to toughen and backup GPS, many of which are not technologically difficult nor expensive, but still their adoption in sectors such as global shipping is certainly not adequate.”

As part of his protection program, Parkinson urged that penalties for jamming GPS networks be coordinated worldwide. “In Australia, if you cause interference likely to cause prejudice to the safe conduct of a vessel, it’s five years in the jug [jail] and $850,000.” Contrasting this with a U.S. case that may simply impose a forfeiture of the culprit’s jamming device, Parkinson added, “I’m calling for the community of nations to move to the Aussie-type penalties.”

In the toughening regard, Parkinson alluded to integration of GPS data with information derived from an inertial positioning system. “If you combine all of these things, a good set should be able to fly within 1 kilometer of a jammer with a 10-kilometer range,” said Parkinson. “That’s what I call toughening.”

Parkinson made his remarks as the keynote speech at GNSS Vulnerabilities and Resilient PNT 2014, hosted by the Royal Institute of Navigation. He will also deliver the keynote address, “Assured PNT: Assured World Economic Benefits,” for the European Navigation Conference on April 15 in the Netherlands.