U.S. Air Force jamming GPS in Southwest sky this week and next

February 5, 2018  - By

The U.S. Air Force is intermittently jamming its own GPS signals over southern Nevada and Utah this week and next as part of a massive air-to-air combat training exercise, Red Flag 18-1, based out of Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada. The jamming aims to challenge aircrews and their weaponry under realistic fighting conditions. The Air Force has warned that navigation systems including those found in commercial flights may be disrupted or jammed completely across the southwest U.S. during that time, ending February 16. So far no major commercial airline disruptions, flight delays or re-routings have been reported.

The U.S. military, heavily and perhaps overly reliant on GPS, is developing a range of position, navigation, and timing (PNT) technologies being to help overcome the loss of GPS during combat, an increasingly likely scenario now and in years to come. Some have speculated that this year’s exercise specifically has in mind a possible conflict on the Korean Penisula. GPS jamming has regularly emanated from North Korea over the past several years.

“We’re trying a few new and different things with Red Flag 18-1,” said Col Michael Mathes, 414th Combat Training Squadron commander. “This primarily is a strike package focused training venue that we integrate at a command and control level in support of joint task force operations. It’s a lot of words to say that we integrate every capability we can into strike operations that are flown out of Nellis Air Force Base.”

The exercise, which the Air Force conducts annually, typically involves a variety of attack, fighter and bomber aircraft with added participation from the U.S. Navy, U.S. Army, Marine Corps, Royal Australian Air Force and Royal Air Force. This year’s Red Flag is the largest in the exercise’s 42 year history.

Nellis Air Force Base in southern Nevada. (Image: USAF)

Nellis Air Force Base in southern Nevada. (Image: USAF)

Affected Areas. “Arrivals and departures from airports within the Las Vegas area may be issued non-Rnav re-routes with the possibility of increased traffic disruption near LAS requiring airborne re-routes to the south and east of the affected area,” stated an Air Force bulletin. “Aircraft operating in Los Angeles (ZLA) center airspace may experience navigational disruption, including suspension of Descend-via and Climb-via procedures. Non-Rnav SIDs and STARs may be issued within ZLA airspace in the event of increased navigational disruption. Crews should expect the possibility of airborne mile-in-trail and departure mile-in-trail traffic management initiatives.”

Alternate Capabilities. Many Air Force planes have onboard inertial navigation systems, using accelerometers, gyroscopes, and magnetic sensors to continuously calculate position without GPS signal data, as well as at a higher hertz rate. When available, GPS signals can be used to correct inertial calculations, which tend to drift over time. Fighter planes can also use AESA-scanned array radars teamed with an inertial system for navigation over short ranges. Aircraft electro-optical and infrared sensors can also read terrain over short distances to provide additional navigation.

If strike aircraft have reliable communications or datalinks, other aircraft such as E-8 JSTARS, flying outside the GPS-disrupted zone, may be able to relay position and targeting information. Some missiles carried by strike aircraft have laser-guiding instead of or in addition to GPS-guiding.


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