Home News Law & Policy Pentagon wants to boost navigation satellite signals, but only for the military

Pentagon wants to boost navigation satellite signals, but only for the military

The Pentagon wants to turn up the power on its network of satellites used to guide U.S. troops and the bombs they fire.

The dlrs 200 million proposal is one of the military’s first to fulfill Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld’s plans to protect the United States from a “space Pearl Harbor.”

The money would pay to upgrade the newest Global Positioning System satellites, which have yet to be launched. That would allow the transmission to military receivers of signals that are eight times more powerful those sent by the current generation of satellites.

These boosted signals would be powerful enough to burn through electronic jamming put up by an adversary. American troops would not get lost and satellite-guided smart bombs would still find their targets.

The ever-more-popular GPS devices used by civilians would not be affected or receive the boosted signal, defence officials said. By 2006, enough new satellites would be in orbit so that troops with GPS receivers should be able to receive a boosted signal anywhere on the Earth’s surface, according to the plan. The Bush administration is seeking about dlrs 50 million for the program in its proposed 2003 budget.

A GPS receiver works by comparing the radio signals it receives from several satellites. Each signal can be computed to learn the receiver’s distance from each satellite. The distances can be compared, and, like a surveyor triangulating his location, the receiver can figure out where it is.

The military uses the system for navigation and targeting. During the Gulf War, U.S. tanks relied on GPS directions to find their way around the desert in Iraq and Saudi Arabia. But the increased power would only be transmitted on channels used exclusively by the military. Over-the-counter GPS locators used by many militaries, merchant ships and expensive cars would continue to receive the low-power transmissions, leaving them more vulnerable to jamming.

Just one boosted signal would make it easier for receivers to find other, low-power satellites, even in an environment full of electronic noise thrown up to drown out the GPS signal, military officials said.

The plan would allow the U.S. military to jam an adversary’s over-the-counter GPS equipment on a battlefield, but still use its own. Jamming GPS signals is relatively easy, according to a Transportation Department report last year on threats to the system. But it is unclear if anyone, except perhaps the United States, has used this technology on the battlefield.

Some experts, who note the U.S. commercial sector has become reliant on GPS for everything from navigation to setting clocks used to time financial transactions, suggest the boosted signals also be made available to civilians.

Boosting the military GPS signal is part of Rumsfeld’s push to protect the U.S. advantages that arise from its supremacy in space, said Air Force Col. Roger Robb, a GPS program official, in a written response to questions.