North Korea spoofing aircraft and ships

June 3, 2024  - By
Aircraft operating near Seoul, South Korea spoofed to points in the ocean 28 to 30 May 2024. (Image: SkAI Data Services)

Aircraft operating near Seoul, South Korea spoofed to points in the ocean 28 to 30 May 2024. (Image: SkAI Data Services)

On the morning of May 30, 2024, Benoit Figuet posted on X that 40 aircraft operating into and out of South Korea had been spoofed over the previous 18 hours.

According to a press release by South Korea’s Ministry of Science and Information and Communication Technology (MSIT), by May 31 at 17:00 (KST), 201 airplanes and 731 ships had experienced GPS problems.

Professor Jiwon Seo at South Korea’s Yonsei University reports that the interference has, as of June 3, entered its fifth consecutive day.

Benoit Figuet is the co-founder of SkAI Data Services in Zurich, Switzerland. In collaboration with the Zurich University of Applied Sciences, SkAI created the world’s first public Live GPS Spoofing Tracker website. The site uses ADS-B data to detect and display in near-real time, aircraft being spoofed around the world.

South Korean military authorities have identified North Korea as the source of interference.

While the spoofing exhibits many of the same traits as interference in the Black Sea and elsewhere, Figuet has noted some differences. “We even see aircraft impacted at low altitudes,” he said. “We have observed this happening below 5,000 feet and even affecting an aircraft taxiing on the ground at the airport. The source must be at a reasonably high elevation or fairly close by.”

North Korea has a history of engaging in hybrid, non-kinetic warfare by interfering with GPS in the South, though this is the first large-scale event since one lasting from March 31 through April 5, 2016.

During the 2016 event, five different locations along the border of South Korea were identified as sources of interference. One is at an elevation of approximately 740 m and only 30 km from Inchon International Airport.

Another unique feature of the ongoing interference, according to Figuet, is the dynamic nature of the spoofed location. Unlike previously observed “circle spoofing,” the reported locations generally appear as tracing a figure eight pattern in the ocean near a point where the territorial seas of both countries meet.

Some of the spoofed locations have also been observed drifting over the North Korean border.

Local media have reported that the interference seems to be in conjunction with maritime maneuvers being conducted by the South Korean Navy and police vessels. The North has complained about intrusions into its territorial sea during these operations, a claim disputed by South Korea.

To help counter the effects of the North’s interference, South Korea has added to and upgraded its eLoran system. It has also included the eLoran upgrade in a comprehensive resilient PNT architecture that includes television signals and plans for a regional positioning, navigation and timing (PNT) satellite system.

According to Pyo-Woong Son, Ph.D., “South Korea is set to enhance its navigation and service reliability with the fully operational and established eLoran system. This system is expected to ensure that ships can navigate safely even during large-scale GPS signal disruptions, like those the country has recently experienced.” Son is a Senior Researcher at the Korea Research Institute of Ships and Ocean Engineering.

“In addition to maritime applications, eLoran will significantly contribute to the reliable operation of autonomous vehicles, such as urban air mobility (UAM), which are rapidly gaining popularity as future modes of transportation.”

“Furthermore, eLoran will play a crucial role in enhancing the reliability of public and private sector services, including broadcasting, telecommunications, and finance, where precise timing synchronization is essential,” according to Son.

Loran-C was used in many aircraft for decades before the advent of GPS. While eLoran signals are available across most of the Far East, receivers are not included in the navigation suites of commercial aircraft.

Aircraft operating into and out of Incheon International Airport have, so far, been able to use local terrestrial aviation-specific navigation aids to safely approach, land and depart.

Mr. Dana A. Goward is President of the Resilient Navigation and Timing Foundation and is a frequent contributor to GPS World.

This article is tagged with , and posted in Defense, Featured Stories, Latest News, UAV/UGV

About the Author: Dana Goward

Dana Goward is president of the Resilient Navigation and Timing Foundation. He is the proprietor at Maritime Governance LLC. In August 2013, he retired from the federal Senior Executive Service, having served as the maritime navigation authority for the United States. As director of Marine Transportation Systems for the U.S. Coast Guard, he led 12 different navigation-related business lines budgeted at more than $1.3 billion per year. He has represented the U.S. at IMO, IALA, the UN anti-piracy working group and other international forums. A licensed helicopter and fixed-wing pilot, he has also served as a navigator at sea and is a retired Coast Guard Captain.