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Russia’s attack raises vulnerability concerns

April 28, 2022  - By

Matteo Luccio

Russia’s brutal aggression on Ukraine changed the world in a few days. Devastation and displacement in Europe already are on a scale unseen since World War II, and the risk of a catastrophe greater by orders of magnitude has not been as high since the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, the year I was born. Given the long production timeline of a monthly magazine, I will not venture a guess as to what the headlines will be on the day you read this.

The Russian assault has sharply raised concerns about GNSS vulnerabilities. In a March 17 bulletin, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) warned of a GNSS outage leading to the degradation of navigation and surveillance. Reports analyzed by EASA indicate that since Feb. 24, GNSS spoofing and jamming has intensified in the Baltic Sea, neighboring states, Eastern Finland, the Black Sea and the Eastern Mediterranean. “The effects of GNSS jamming and/or possible spoofing,” the bulletin stated, “were observed by aircraft in various phases of their flights, in certain cases leading to re-routing or even to change the destination due to the inability to perform a safe landing procedure.”

Russia already has aided in the proliferation of handheld GPS jammers, the deployment of road-mobile jammers, and even development and testing of space-based jammers. Now, it could turn its substantial cyberspace hacking capability against the ground-control segments of GPS and Galileo.

When Russia tested an anti-satellite weapon on Nov. 15, 2021, the Kremlin claimed on state television that this capability “means that if NATO crosses our red line, it risks losing all 32 of its GPS satellites at once.” This threat was particularly dangerous because GPS satellites carry, as a secondary payload, the U.S. nuclear detonation detection system.

At a panel discussion about resilient GPS that I moderated at the International Wireless Communications Expo in Las Vegas on March 24, Diana Furchtgott-Roth, an adjunct professor at George Washington University and former deputy assistant secretary for Research and Technology at the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), titled her presentation “Russia Proves America Needs Backup GPS.” She cited the National Defense Authorization Act of 2017, the National Defense Authorization Act of 2018, and the National Timing Resilience and Security Act of 2018, which instructed DOT to provide a complement and backup for civilian GPS. The legislation required the Secretary of Transportation to put in place a backup system for GPS by the end of 2020, subject to congressional appropriations. However, she pointed out, these funds have not yet materialized.

Multiple technologies can and should be used to complement GPS. Several of them are mature and commercially available, including signals from low Earth orbit satellites and terrestrial broadcast stations.

Meanwhile, the United States should accelerate the launch schedule for GPS III satellites already produced. They provide better accuracy, anti-jamming capabilities, and opportunities for civilian connectivity that could offer critical assistance to its European allies.

Matteo Luccio | Editor-in-Chief
mluccio@northcoastmedia.net

About the Author:


Matteo Luccio possesses 20 years of experience as a writer and editor for GNSS and geospatial technology magazines. He began his career in the industry in 2000, serving as managing editor of GPS World and Galileo’s World, then as editor of Earth Observation Magazine and GIS Monitor. His technical articles have been published in more than 20 professional magazines, including Professional Surveyor Magazine, Apogeo Spatial and xyHt. Luccio holds a master’s degree in political science from MIT. He can be reached at mluccio@gpsworld.com or 541-543-0525.

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