Find More Backups for GPS: AF Chief

Editor's note: After speaking with an Air Force official, I've changed the headline on this story to better reflect Gen. Schwartz's focus on finding alternatives to GPS to be used when operating in denied environments.

Editor’s note: After speaking with an Air Force official, I’ve changed the headline on this story to better reflect Gen. Schwartz’s focus on finding alternatives to GPS to be used when operating in denied environments.

In the face of threats from jamming and attacks on satellites the United States must lessen its dependence on the Global Positioning System when faced with denied environments and develop alternatives to GPS, the top Air Force general said today.

Gen. Norton Schwartz, Air Force Chief of Staff, told a conference organized by Tuft University’s Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis that GPS signals are particularly vulnerable in time of war since enemies know of the reliance U.S. forces place on its highly accurate signal. Everyone has read about the amazing accuracy of smart bombs and cruise missiles but few remember that those weapons depend on receiving a signal from a constellation of satellites orbiting the earth.

Schwartz’s call is driven by serious threats to GPS, according to officials familiar with the issue who would not discuss current threats in detail but confirmed that GPS has been jammed or interfered with recently.

The fact that the U.S., which invented GPS and most of what depends on it (ATMs, gas pumps, trucking companies and lost spouses), would consider stepping away from the system marks a cultural and technological milestone

Among the tools that could be used to lessen the dependence of troops on GPS are highly accurate digital maps which can be distributed electronically or even rely on that quaint old technology known as printing. In more developed environments cell phone tower networks can be used as does Apple’s iPhone. Of course, the US would have to control the cell phone network for that to work.

Schwartz’s comments come as the Space Posture Review, scheduled for release with the QDR but now delayed for as long as a year, has tentatively recommended that the U.S. scrap building five more GPS satellites and engage European allies on sharing their proposed Galileo global navigation satellite system.