Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Will GPS be there when you need it?

 

Global Positioning System (GPS) navigation is ubiquitous today.  Almost every smartphone can access a map system (e.g. Google Maps) that uses it;  almost every military vehicle (and many individual soldiers) have access to it through issue or personal devices;  and many companies couldn't function without it.  (For a start, imagine all the online commerce deliveries that could not be made in time if the drivers of the delivery vans had to rely on paper maps instead of GPS!)

Trouble is, GPS is also used by "the bad guys", whether nation-state enemies or guerrilla organizations.  It's commonly used by terrorist unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV's or "drones") to navigate to their targets.  Individuals use it to avoid known security installations.  Some enemies will deliberately jam it, to confuse navigation and other systems and cause accidents.  Therefore, a new generation of inertial navigation systems is under development, to supplement and even replace GPS if necessary.  They're complex and expensive at present, and largely restricted to military applications, but I'm sure they'll penetrate the civilian market in due course.

Strategy Page reports:


The new INS tech can now be used to more effectively monitor GPS and alert the operator that their GPS has either developed a problem or is being jammed ... Another urgent chore for INS is to more effectively deal with the growing use of GPS spoofing (misdirecting). This involves EW (electronic Warfare) equipment that can mislead rather than jam without alerting the victim that their navigation system might not be reliable ... That has led to smaller, cheaper and more accurate INS systems. Aside from airlines and commercial shipping, there is not much of a mass market for these new INS systems because for most users, GPS is reliable enough to keep the INS gear out of the more cost-sensitive markets. But the demand from the airlines, shipping companies and the military is huge. INS tech is becoming a popular feature for high-end smartphones and other consumer items, because some smartphone and smartwatch manufacturers seek to use INS to automatically fill in if the user temporarily loses the GPS signal.

. . .

Despite the secrecy about GPS disruption, since 2017 there has been growing evidence that Russia has been frequently jamming or spoofing GPS signals, mainly to hide the exact location equipment that allows GPS tracking. Developing equipment like this is easily within Russian capabilities. In early 2019 a report made the news revealing that there had recently been nearly 10,000 instances where someone, apparently Russia, had been jamming or spoofing satellite navigation signals. Not just the American GPS, but also signals from non-American satellite navigation systems (Chinese Beidou, EU’s Galileo, Japan’s QZAA and even the Russian GLONASS). Much of this activity was not outright jamming but the harder to detect spoofing.

. . .

GPS spoofing equipment has also found a market among criminal gangs. This was first encountered during 2018 in Shanghai, China where local gangsters were found to be using technology for spoofing GPS signals. Shanghai was just the beginning because this spoofing tech was subsequently encountered in twenty other Chinese coastal cities where gangsters ran profitable smuggling operations ... The Chinese government denied responsibility for this GPS spoofing and blamed it on smugglers who apparently use the spoofing device to avoid being caught by the police while a smuggler ship was carrying illegal cargo ... GPS spoofing declined during 2020 but China revealed no details about what happened ... One thing that was noted about the “Shanghai Spoofer” was that the spoofing often took place around oil terminals where ships smuggling oil for Iran or to North Korea often operated. The governments of Iran and North Korea also noticed this and could have received useful information on how the Shanghai spoofing gear worked.


There's more at the link.

This is likely to be widely useful to civilians, as well as military personnel.  I've always believed in the time-honored concept of "belt and braces":  in fact, I've often told people to take that further, and use belt, braces and a piece of string.  I'm a firm believer in Murphy's Law:  "If anything can go wrong, it will".  For that reason, I'm enthusiastic about a technology that can back up - and, if necessary, take over from - GPS.  Can you imagine the chaos on our roads if all the drivers who currently rely on GPS were suddenly "blacked out", and had to complete their journeys without it?  I'm old-fashioned enough to keep a map book in my vehicle for use on long journeys, but how many people do that today?  How many even bother to look up the route for a road trip?  They just switch on their GPS navigation and follow its directions.  They no longer know how to get where they're going.  If you asked them to name the towns between their departure point and their destination, they might not know them at all, because they don't use navigational waypoints.  They just drive, and let the talking box tell them where to go next.

I'm therefore grateful for the prospect of a better INS to back up GPS.  If only I could be sure that the battery powering either or both devices wouldn't run flat . . .



Peter


19 comments:

DTG said...

There's also something called, "RPE," or Random Programmable Error, taking GPS accuracy from 3 feet (best case) to 300 meters upon a mouse click. So, a hacker could conceivably break in and cause a bit of havoc.

Kinda why I stay current with Land Nav.... :-)

riverrider said...

.mil allows us to use gps now but maintains the ability to encrypt the signal with the flip of a switch. the .mil has also been using spoofing tech to defend large things like aircraft carriers. bottom line, don't be dependent on anything tech especially if it comes from the govt. btw, all those trucks, ships, planes...with a few keystrokes i could see them, their intended route, what was on them and redirect it if it was needed. i could look into Walmart n every other retailer/distributor inventory too. i could see every friendly vehicle anywhere in the world and listen in on their conversation and see thru their cameras if they had any. that was ten years ago, imagine what they have now.

Magson said...

My bro-in-law used to be in charge of the GPS division at Cheyenne Mountain and had a fun story about knowing about the Fukushima earthquake literally in real-time, despite being half a world away due to the shifting of the GPS reference beacons by a little more than 10 feet when it happened.

He always spoke in vague generalities about just how accurate GPS is, so for him to "slip up" and tell us that the Air Force knew to the millimeter just how far the beacon had moved was a surprise.

Eric Wilner said...

Hmmm... some enterprising loosely-organized group might start mapping areas where GPS is less accurate than expected. This could be very interesting.
Kind of like spotting "something with a cloaking device", or an SEP, or otherwise Something That Doesn't Want To Be Seen.

Rick in NY said...

To answer your question, Peter, my motorcycle buddy and I were planning a trip to Alaska in June of 2020. Rona kinda killed that idea... but we were going to make a 10,000 mile round trip with nothing but paper maps... because we could. Yes, we're odd... and we like it that way.

Tirno said...

You know... all those LEO satellites that Elon Musk is putting in orbit to provide wireless internet?

It wouldn't take much to make them government-independent navigation systems. Even better, make them a navigation system whether Elon Musk wants them to be or not. All you need is an atomic-clock precise time hack and a position for a satellite, then a couple more, and you have a locating system. A little math along the lines of "if I can see this satellite and this satellite and this satellite zooming overhead, and the timestamps on the packets they're transmitting are this, this and this... then I know where I am within a certain precision."

libertyman said...

If you want to confuse your enemy, have them use Apple Maps, as that application has taken me on a wild goose chase before. I think they have improved it, but I still would not trust it.

Greg said...

From flight training in the 1970's, I still have my E6B and know how to use it. I love maps and always will. I'll always have map and compass backup for any electronic navigation, on land, sea, or air.
I recall talking to pilots in the mid 70's who told of their INS systems that would fly a mission, come back, and it would tell them which parking slip on the ramp that they had left from. So what is this "next generation INS" supposed to do so much better?
When I had my plane, its GPS CDI (course deviation indicator) read out in hundredths of a nautical mile--about 60 feet accuracy, updating five times a second. In a wide open sky, that's an insane degree of precision.

Old NFO said...

It will be the FIRST thing that goes away...

Rob said...

If war starts the GPS satellites will be the first thing to disappear and if they want spoofing is already part of the system.

Jesse said...

Something to be said for a map and a compass. Regarding paper maps above. Every motorcycle long distance trip I have done was with a paper map. The best was my honeymoon with my sweetheart in 1988 with a small (and I mean small - Montana was maybe an 2 inches wide) map booklet. 13k miles in just over two weeks, two up, fully loaded. Awesome, but some real long days. A running joke in our marriage has been, "hey we've only got another inch to go before we stop for the day"... LOL. js

Jimmy the Saint said...

"Can you imagine the chaos on our roads if all the drivers who currently rely on GPS were suddenly "blacked out", and had to complete their journeys without it?"

Add in to that chaos on the waterways as all manner of boats and ships can suddenly no longer navigate....

BadFrog said...

Maps and pencils don't run out of charge or signal.

Will said...

One of the side effects of having those map/GPS programs in cell phones is the increase in traffic on side streets and back roads. Most commuters before this just drove the major roads, and didn't bother to look at a map, or drive around and explore on their own time.
Now, they input their work or home destination, and they get a guided tour down roads they never would have driven. Traffic past the house gets really heavy during commute hours now. In addition, they now use the bigger road to get to shopping and dining, so evening traffic is heavier, and some of them now show up to play with their cars late at night. I like hotrods, but not at 2am.

Unknown said...

I've got a topographic Atlas book of the region in each car. We also have mapped out the best alternate routes to our normal routes, and take them occasionally to build landmark memory.

The biggest issues I've had with sudden need for alternate routes, when the advice from the GPS was unhelpful: Area-wide flooding, and a derailment of a really long train blocking several miles of suburban level crossings.

I'll note however that current higher end phones are already using GLONASS, Galileo, (and QZSS, should one be in Japan) and summing whatever's available in their position detection along with 'Assisted' GPS.
They also are using a sort of triangulation based upon cell-tower signal strength, and on top of that they're mapping location of bluetooth and wifi networks, so one's phone can often get reasonably close position info without using the signals from satellites, assuming that there's not an area-wide power-failure

Jonathan H said...

I use technology, like GPS, but also use my senses to supplant it... I've had times in the past where it was substantially off in location and place. One time my phone told me I was flying across Northern Quebec at 300 MPH when I was on a highway in the mid West... As the saying goes, Trust But Verify!

The big thing about these new generation of INS units is MUCH smaller size, lower cost, and more modern technology requiring less maintenance. The goal of one program is to have a pocket sized unit for every soldier.

Last summer I did an 800 mile trip with paper maps to make sure I still knew how. I highly recommend doing this occasionally, and picking up free state maps of the areas you are in for backup (and further information).

pyotr said...

Look at how many people have died because GPS took them on a route that nobody in their right mind would take. "But the GPS said go this way!" - in the mountains, on a logging or forest service road, which they had to move a barricade at some point to continue.

Or off a dirt road to a trail last used by miners in Death Valley ... yada, yada.

Nothing like having the GPS tell you to head north, get on the interstate, head south past where you started (but five miles east of where you were), get off the interstate, take the over pass, and then get back on headed north. "Wait, let e look at that map, yep - 'take the left turn at Albuquerque' and get on the Interstate at the same exchange with out that twenty mile detour."

Aesop said...

If your personal go-to last-ditch GPS doesn't say "AAA", "Hammond", "Michelin", "Ordnance Survey", or "USGS", you're already doing it wrong.

My maps never ran out of batteries, not once in the last 50 years, and there are only a couple of short dead-end streets erroneously added at cul-de-sacs to copyrighted gazeteers and street atlases, in order to catch copyright thieves.

Technology is great, until it isn't, as US fighter pilots with only missiles learned about 1966.

There's no school like the old school.

Marach said...

Old movie with Rutger Hauer movie from 1985, Wanted: Dead or Alive. He had an INS in his care. It was a real thing back then, I looked into getting one. A bit too costly for me then