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Local Industry Offers a Solution to Defence’s GPS “Time Bomb”

Friday, 15 February 2013

One of the most ubiquitous technologies, GPS, that emerged last century threatens military and civilian operations due to a fatal vulnerability, that is only now getting attention.

John Hilvert, Australian Defence Magazine, February 2013

A space-based satellite navigation system, GPS provides location and time information in all weather conditions, anywhere on or near the Earth where there is an unobstructed line of sight to four or more GPS satellites. It provides critical capabilities to military, civil and commercial users around the world.

Developed back in 1973 to overcome the limitations of previous navigation systems, GPS became fully operational in 1994. Significantly for Australia, it is maintained by the United States government and is freely accessible to anyone with a GPS receiver. But reliance on GPS is subject to major vulnerabilities recent official studies have shown.

Issued in 2011, the Royal Academy of Engineering report found jamming of GPS based vehicle tracking devices was easy and cheap. They were often deployed hide a car driver’s movements or avoiding road user charging.

Moreover rebroadcasting (‘meaconing’) a GPS signal maliciously, accidentally or to improve reception could cause misreporting of a position. This effectively allowed for spoofing GPS to create a controllable misreporting of position, for example to deceive tracking devices.

In 2009, the UK Ministry of Defence conducted trials of GPS jamming against the THV Galatea, a buoy tender, in an area of sea near South Shields in the north of England. The jamming caused the ship’s systems, which were reliant on GPS, to malfunction alarmingly. During the trial the ship gradually lost position, and the autopilot told the ship to move off course, moreover, there was no indication on the ship that there had been a navigation failure.

GPS – A global single point of failure

This single point of failure can affect both navigational and communications instruments…

In Australia, Defence accepts vulnerabilities of GPS, informing ADM, it is “focused on ensuring that the Australian Defence Force is able to conduct operations mindful of GPS degradation or denial”. But Defence declined to elaborate on any specific strategies or capabilities it was pursuing as these were classified.


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