Global Positioning System Is an Asset Requiring Protection

By Stanton, John | National Defense, December 1997 | Go to article overview

Global Positioning System Is an Asset Requiring Protection


Stanton, John, National Defense


Experts predict a $30 billion commercial market for GPS within next eight years

Every 12 hours, 24 Boeing Company NAVSTAR satellites travel the circumference of the earth relaying critical positioning, targeting and navigation data to military users ranging from combat vehicles in Europe to nuclear submarines patrolling the Atlantic Ocean.

Best known for their military performance in the rescue of Air Force Capt. Scott O'Grady in Bosnia in 1995 and the Persian Gulf campaign, this constellation of space vehicles makes up the non-terrestrial portion of the global positioning system (GPS) network that has dramatically changed the face and pace of military planning and execution.

With humble beginnings dating back to the Navy's transit system used to guide Polaris submarines in the 1960's, the Defense Department's GPS system has revolutionized much more than just military operations.

According to a National Academy of Sciences report, the commercial market for GPS services will approach $30 billion by 2005 making the military user base one of many customers for the system's services.

Essential Element

And so dependent has the U.S. economy become on the GPS network that Carl Andren of the Institute of Navigation predicts that "GPS will be the next utility, in many respects like an electric company. It is becoming an essential part of our economy and we rely on it in more ways than one might think."

Not as well known to the public, according to Andren, are the many civilian applications of GPS affecting agriculture, trucking, shipping, air travel, and construction where GPS is used to direct the blades of bulldozers, making grading accurate to within a few inches.

SAIC's Fred Koorey, director of GPS program, space and defense systems, describes GPS as "significant as the invention and application of the wheel. It is an enabling technology which is already having a profound impact on our daily lives and will ultimately be integrated into almost every aspect of the economy and the global military and economic structure."

Given the importance of GPS to commercial interests and military operations-and a simmering controversy over bandwidth allocation and signal availability-it is no surprise that in March, 1997, President Clinton adopted a national policy which declared that GPS will be used to "promote and guide economic competitiveness and productivity while protecting national security and foreign policy interests."

Equally unsurprising, as advanced as the GPS network is, it, as all advanced information networks, has ostensibly become a likely target for adversaries. As a result, navigation warfare or NAVWAR, once a little-known program, has risen through the programmatic ranks to achieve multibillion dollar importance as information protection, exchange and dominance on the battlefield and in the marketplace have become central concerns of U.S. national security policy.

Cross-Service Effort

Maj. Joe Lortie, USAF, chief of the navigation warfare integrated product team of NAVSTAR GPS's joint program office, said, "The NAVWAR program is a cross-service effort to define the warfighting aspects of GPS in a challenged electronic warfare environment that is envisioned in the 21st century battlespace. While the Defense Department is striving to optimize the inherent military utility of the system, it is equally working to ensure that U.S. government commitments to the civil and commercial communities, worldwide, are maintained.

"In short, the NAVWAR effort is focusing on increasing the robustness of its inherent capability while preventing adversarial use against U.S., allied and coalition partners within a theater of operations." The NAWAR effort is focused on improving the electronic warfare aspects of GPS, in particular, an anti-jamming capability"

There are two key elements of NAVWAR," said Koorey, "protection and prevention.

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