back to article US military tests massive GPS jamming weapon over California

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is warning aircraft to stay a few hundred miles away from the Naval Air Weapons Station at China Lake, California, because the military is testing a new gizmo that disrupts GPS – and may also mess with flight control systems. gps jamming map Like Bob Marley, the US military is …

  1. Gray
    Black Helicopters

    Military aggression

    Just as navigation got convenient! It's time to get out my sextant and dust it off, get a current copy of the nautical almanac, and practice a few sights. The military owned and controlled the entire system until it became essential for civilian use. Now they're asserting their control again. Fuckers.

    1. Ian Michael Gumby
      WTF?

      @Gray ... Re: Military aggression

      You do realize that the GPS sat system was put in place by the US Government for military purposes. That the civilian clock signal is intentionally less accurate. Right? They have always had control.

      At the same time... you don't want your own GPS system to be used against you.

      Imagine a very cheap slow drone packed with explosives... Essentially a V 1 Buzz bomb that was really accurate... well accurate enough to hit major targets.

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Re: @Gray ... Military aggression

        They can do that anyway with inertial guidance (which is impossible to jam), and if the target is big enough, drift isn't a concern, as it just needs to get close enough.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: @Gray ... Military aggression

          An inertial system is more expensive, heavier, and requires careful startup positioning and alignment to work.

          Anyway suicide terrorists may not need a GPS much - you can still drive a car full of explosive to your target without. While some terrorists may like to hit specific targets, killing a lot of people in easy accessible places still works - see Paris and Bruxelles.

          Because alternative positioning systems not under US control exist (Glonass, Galileo, don't remember the Chinese one name), US military needs to be able to jam those systems as well, and try to ensure its weapons still works if its one is jammed.

          While plane can still fly in and out the area even if GPS is not working (VOR/NAV based navigation I believe should be not affected), as long as their systems are still reliable, I wonder if it will impact other GPS based applications.

          1. tony2heads

            Re: @Gray ... Military aggression

            Chinese one is BeiDou, but its coverage is only useful around Asia/Australasia

            1. Alan Brown Silver badge

              Re: @Gray ... Military aggression

              Beidou/compas coverage has been expanded. The old system was regional. The newer one is global and they're still rolling it out.

              This change of policy is a direct result of China being booted from the Gallileo project due to USA pressure.

          2. agurney

            Re: @Gray ... Military aggression

            "...I wonder if it will impact other GPS based applications."

            not much fun if you rely on a GPS NTP server

        2. Ian Michael Gumby

          @Charles Re: @Gray ... Military aggression

          So.... just curious.. what's the cost of an accurate inertial guidance system?

          Now what's the cost of a COTS part that uses GPS?

          I could have sworn someone has some kit that connects to a Raspberry Pi?

      2. J__M__M

        Re: @Gray ... Military aggression

        They have always had control.... everything but the OFF button, anyway.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: @Gray ... Military aggression

        I always imagine a very small drone with a single snake venom payload guided by the ability to distinguish the DNA in sweat, homing in on a particular target.

        Which target?

        If I told you that, I'd have to...

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: @Gray ... Military aggression

        Imagine a very cheap slow drone packed with explosives... Essentially a V 1 Buzz bomb that was really accurate... well accurate enough to hit major targets.

        To be fair, the "because terrorists" argument can be used to justify anything. Now think of the children!

        1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

          Re: @Gray ... Military aggression

          So what makes you think it cannot be programmed to use the classic cruise missile guidance methods such as TerCon? Laser distance to ground measurement can be done using 20$ parts from ebay nodays and jamming it is nearly impossible.

          1. LDS Silver badge

            Re: @Gray ... Military aggression

            You still need the ground data with enough resolution and you'll have to program the correct path. And the system needs to sample an area large enough to avoid misleading data. Maybe doable in a cheap enough system today, but still requires fairly advanced skills.

            There's a reason even the military prefer GPS over other navigation systems whenever they can. Setting some GPS waypoints is far easier and quicker.

          2. Ian Michael Gumby

            @Voland ...Re: @Gray ... Military aggression

            Remind me how much it would cost for TerCon?

            Lidar senors aren't that cheap but they aren't that expensive. There's more to a ground following system than just the sensor...

  2. redpawn

    Ground Bound?

    I think line of sight from the ground is suggested by the range figures. If you can see the transmitter or ground which can see the transmitter it will affect you, so if you are at higher altitude, you will be affected at greater range. Might also affect satellite operations which may use info from the GPS system.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Ground Bound?

      Yes, I'm pretty sure you're correct; the shape of the affected volume of air-space indicates a ground-based system.

      GPS operates on several frequencies between 1.17645 - 1.57542 GHz and requires line-of-sight to receive a signal so any jamming system would need to operate in the same frequency range, give or take a few harmonics, and will also be essentially line-of -sight. As a consequence, if you move away from a ground-based transmitter/jammer, it will fall below the horizon and out of line-of-sight. This effectively raises the floor-elevation of the signal as distance from the transmitter/jammer increases, which is what the map and numbers show.

      However, an even worse faux-pas, than getting the basics of the system wrong, in this article is the pathetic attempt at sensationalism by making the ridiculous claim that the FAA are grounding all civil/commercial aircraft in the region concerned, for six of the busiest hours of the day, when the tests are running...

      Quote: "The US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) is warning aircraft to stay a few hundred miles away from the Naval Air Weapons Station at China Lake"

      Yes, it's clarified in the next paragraph... Quote: "The FAA has issued a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) warning [PDF] that on June 7, GPS readouts will be unreliable or nonexistent for..."

      But that's not the same as saying that aircraft shouldn't fly in the region, which is what the first quote above says.

      Whilst I can forgive the journalist's ignorance regarding the nature of the system being tested, the pathetic attempt at sensationalism is simply insulting in what is supposed to be a tech/science journal; just because your readers enjoy the informal and light-hearted 'tabloid' format it doesn't mean they're stupid.

    2. I am the liquor

      Re: Ground Bound?

      The radii of the circles are too big to be line of sight to a ground-based transmitter. At FL250 your horizon is about 170NM, but the radius of the FL250 circle is 432NM.

      The numbers seem to roughly correspond to line-of-sight to something at an altitude of around 60,000 feet.

  3. Mark 85 Silver badge

    Could they have picked a more crowded bit airspace for this? I'm in southern Oregon right under the major north/south air corridor between Portland/Seattle and the major southern California airports. While outside much of the day, I noticed I wasn't seeing the normal air traffic. But then.... we don't always get contrails over head here.

    Here's hoping there won't be any major or even minor air incidents. If there are, I'm sure the authorities here will blame.. "ya' know.. terrorists".

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      That was my thought too. Too bad they don't have a "secret" base in the middle of nowhere in Nevada, where there is only one major city within the distances they're talking about here. If only they did, they could have tested there.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        what makes you think they haven't? Highly directional testing and so on .. now they need to test wide area effectiveness ...

    2. hplasm
      Big Brother

      I'm sure the authorities here will blame.. "ya' know.. terrorists".

      And they would be right- If they owned up...

  4. Jerry H. Appel

    Airborne jammer - GPS/Flight Control wrecker

    Why China Lake? Simple, it is near major civilian and military test facilities, so the effectiveness of the test can be felt in the real world. The idea that this is an airborne system is suggested by the shape of the affected area, spherical. The fact that this is affecting flight control systems as well speaks to the frequencies and energy invested. We depend on GPS for so many conveniences, but the military aviation community does not; for them GPS is an alternate system. I sure hope the Airbus community is ready for this because their aircraft are so much more dependent on such systems.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Airborne jammer - GPS/Flight Control wrecker

      Airbus' aircraft are no more (or less) dependant on GPS than are Boeing's, say. If you're going to have a pop then at least first make the effort to understand the difference between a navigation and a flight control system.

  5. PT

    Not a TOTAL surprise

    The scale of this may be new, but they've been playing with it for years. I was out exploring back roads in the Panamints when suddenly my GPS told me I was 300 feet below sea level just east of the Bahamas. I was concerned for a while until I remembered that China Lake was just over the mountains to the west. At least they gave out a warning this time.

    1. itzman
      Black Helicopters

      Re: Not a TOTAL surprise

      "300 feet below sea level just east of the Bahamas"

      Bermuda Triangle?

      1. TRT Silver badge

        Re: Not a TOTAL surprise

        Not fifty miles inside Chinese territorial waters?

    2. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

      Re: Not a TOTAL surprise

      Yep. During the NATO campaign in Ex-Yugoslavia you could tell when the USAF were flying sorties - GPS would go a bitt wobbly. If you were in, say, Munich, your GPS would tell you you were moving if you were in fact stationary, and your position would be off by 50-100 m, even while receiving 6 or 7 satellites.

  6. J__M__M

    uh, whut?

    "The lack of ground jamming indicates that the device is airborne and the increasing size of the jamming cone at higher altitudes suggests a very powerful device indeed"

    I'm no rocket surgeon, but wouldn't this indicate it's pointing up (and not much else)?

    1. JosephEngels

      Re: uh, whut?

      Exactly that, the "lack of ground jamming" indicates that there is no line of site to the transmitter from stuff on the ground, so I expect it is in a hole/basin/surrounded by mountains in the desert somewhere and only "visible" from elevations more than a few degrees above the horizon.

  7. Chozo
    Black Helicopters

    There goes any hope of sneaking an autonomous GPS guided drone in over Area-51 :(

  8. NomNomNom

    can confirm jamming of gps works. I covered my wife's windscreen in jam and she didn't even get off the drive.

    1. Afernie

      There are some men from the department responsible for designing field-expedient jamming measures here to see you. They'd like to offer you a job. And possibly a scone. With cream.

  9. emmanuel goldstein

    DOH!

    I'm waiting for the story about the person who strays into the zone because, er, their GPS doesn't seem to be working properly.

  10. Richard Cranium

    As the cone of effective jamming expands with altitude, could this be useful for protecting such as airfields from idiots flying cheap quadcopter type drones while not affecting ground-level (automobile) navigation by disrupting their GPS?

    1. phuzz Silver badge
      Facepalm

      That's a great idea! I assume you've already thought of a way to stop it from affecting all of the legitimate aircraft flying in and out of the airfield?

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    > testing could interfere with flight stability controls

    > one of the world's most popular executive jet aircraft

    Soooo... They're trying to take out Larry Ellison? Can I pay 'em extra to make sure?

    1. LDS Silver badge

      Unluckily, AFAIK it has a Gulfstream V. Although his ego would need an A380.

  12. CAPS LOCK

    What kind of aircraft relies on GPS alone?

    Fly the old fashioned way boys....

    1. TRT Silver badge

      Re: What kind of aircraft relies on GPS alone?

      Treat your aircraft like your woman. Get inside her five times a day and take her to heaven and back. Woof!

  13. ruscook

    I wonder how much of the kit they use is made by a company getting Foxconn to build it? :-)

  14. ukgnome

    Testing over California

    Seems a bit LAX

  15. Rol

    Watch the birdie

    So, GPS is now useless in a major conflict scenario, as whatever mobile piece of kit you send along to enhance your signal, will be trumped by the enemies static terrawatt transmitter.

    Perhaps the time has come to dust off the killer pigeon suicide squad and I kid you not, they were successfully tested many years ago as a guidance system for anti ship missiles.

    The pigeons were conditioned to peck a piece of glass at the spot where it could see a ship, and thus get a seed as a reward. Once placed in the nose of a missile, the pecking deflected the glass which in turn adjusted the flight of the missile straight to the target.

    Although I can see the lure of promising 72 virgins, as promises are far cheaper than bird seed.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Watch the birdie

      "So, GPS is now useless in a major conflict scenario, as whatever mobile piece of kit you send along to enhance your signal, will be trumped by the enemies static terrawatt transmitter."

      And said status terawatt tramsnitter becomes a sitting duck for a HARM missile. The real worry is multistatic non-continuous jamming still capable of effectively blocking (they can't redirect the military GPS signal as it's encrypted) GPS signals for hundreds of miles (within that range, users can get close enough and then switch to alternative targeting).

  16. Jayml

    galileo

    Anti-Euro haters said Galileo was a waste of money but you can't outsource critical national infrastructure to another sovereign power. It's why Russias got Glonass and China's building BeiDou. And Galielo was built in the UK

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: galileo

      Quite right, we'd never do that kind of thing in the UK.

    2. JosephEngels

      Re: galileo

      and .. what *exactly* makes you think that come the Big Day ... they will either a) be targeting this capability at their own GPS systems, and not the other side, and b) be turning "selective availability" on again on their own systems .. don't forget, most systems, the uS GPS system included feature at least two key channels, and the low-res public channel can be either dithered (as the GPS system was until a few years ago) or turned off at will ... without affecting the secure/private channels. There is no need to jam your own systems .. so you can bet this tech is going to be targeted at something else other than the US GPS system when used in anger ...

    3. Baldy50

      Re: galileo

      Nimrod Airborne Early Warning system!

  17. Crazy Operations Guy

    Why California?

    Wouldn't it have made a lot more sense to do something like this over an area that isn't populated by ~120 Million humans? The US DoD still own Wake Island, or they could park a carrier out in the middle of the South pacific and test from there.

    What if it turns out that the test also screws up the radios on ambulances and fire trucks? Or aircraft avoidance systems? Wouldn't it be better to test where there is a lot smaller chance of accidentally killing a bunch of civilians?

  18. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

    "In addition, the FAA is warning pilots flying the Embraer Phenom 300, one of the world's most popular executive jet aircraft, that the testing could interfere with flight stability controls and has said extra care should be taken in the area."

    Just out of idle curiosity - what does the Embraer Phenom 300 have (or hasn't got) that singles it out?

    1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

      That was my first thought, as I'm pretty sure you can't get a plane certified for commercial flight that relies upon GPS at all times. Do they have particularly poor EMC performance in other areas?

    2. harmjschoonhoven
      Unhappy

      The Embraer Phenom 300

      and other planes use avionics based on the Garmin G3000 system. That seems to be 100% GPS-based. The manual mentions GPS eighty times.

      1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

        Re: The Embraer Phenom 300

        Thanks for the link!

        But I'm still a bit confused. From my point of view, any navigational device is something that tells me where I am. So I know in which direction I must turn in order to get where I want to go. And that's it. It doesn't seem a good idea to make that navigational device a part of the systems I need to keep the vehicle I'm in dirigible, or airborne, or afloat or whatever.

      2. Paul Crawford Silver badge
        Devil

        Re: The Embraer Phenom 300

        666 pages. A coincidence?

  19. Seajay#

    Selective Availability

    This can't be a test of a GPS jamming system because the US military already has a far better option, turn GPS off for everyone else but leave it on for themselves via encryption. So two options, either:

    It's a test of a GLONASS / IRNSS / BeiDou / Galileo jammer which also happens to take out GPS.

    It's a test of a GPS anti-jamming tech of some sort.

    1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

      Re: Selective Availability

      Not necessarily. A jammer can be deployed for a smaller area of interest, and for denial times determined by the local ground force for a specific operation (instead of going all the way through the GPS command system, getting approval along the way).

      I suspect though it is all-systems jamming as you say, and they want to check their own kit is still usable.

  20. We're all in it together

    Are they testing it in Birmingham?

    Two different android phones on different days and the TomTom app resets on the westbound carriageway of the M6 about three miles west of the Dunlop building. Must be a secret government building nearby.

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