Tag Archives: GPS signal jamming

Everything Moving in Space Is a Weapon? Yes.

Kosmos 2542, a Russian satellite that was launched in November 2019, was “like Russian nesting dolls”. Eleven days after its launch it disgorged another satellite, labelled Kosmos 2543. Then, on July 15th, Kosmos 2543 itself spat out another object, which sped off into the void.  Merely a “small space vehicle” to inspect other satellites, said the Russians. Nonsense, said the Americans; it was a projectile. The intentl.. was to signal Russia’s ability to destroy other nations’ satellites….In January 2020, America complained that Kosmos 2542 and 2543 had tailed a spy satellite in an “unusual and disturbing” way (American satellites have also sidled up to others in the past). 

Anti-satellite weapons are not new. During the cold war, America and the Soviet Union developed several ways to blow up, ram, dazzle and even nuke each other’s satellites. The countries conducted two-dozen anti-satellite tests between them. Ten were “kinetic”, involving a projectile physically striking a target. But new competitors, and new technologies, mean anti-satellite warfare is a hot topic once again. China has conducted ten tests over the past 15 years, including a kinetic one in 2007 that created a great deal of space debris. India conducted its first kinetic test in 2019. America, Russia and China have all manoeuvred their satellites close to others, sometimes provocatively so. New methods of attack are being tested, including lasers and cyber-attacks.

Some satellites, such as America’s GPS constellation, blur the distinction between military and civilian assets. Over the past decade, America’s armed forces have put payloads on three commercial satellites, and plan to pay Japan to host others on its own navigation satellites….Then there is the question of what counts as an attack. Michael Schmitt, a law scholar, and Kieran Tinkler, a professor at the us Naval War College, say it is unclear whether jamming a civilian satellite would violate the general prohibition on attacking civilian objects. Blowing up a military one, meanwhile, might or might not constitute an indiscriminate (and hence illegal) attack, depending on whether it could have been disabled by other means and how much debris was produced.

Perhaps the biggest difference between space war and terrestrial war is how long the consequences can last. Much of the debris from China’s 2007 test, for instance, will still be in space at the turn of the next century. The more debris, the greater the likelihood of accidental collisions with other satellites, which generates more debris in turn. Enough debris could lead to a chain reaction known as Kessler syndrome, which could render entire swathes of near-Earth space unusable for decades…

Space Junk

The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 requires states to consult each other on actions that “would cause potentially harmful interference”, though the rule has rarely been heeded. Most countries accept that, in wartime, a body of existing laws known as international humanitarian law would apply, as on Earth—something America confirmed in its “Spacepower” doctrine, published on August 10, 2020. International humanitarian law is based on principles such as distinction (between combatants and civilians) and proportionality (between civilian harm and military advantage). But how to apply such ideas in a place with few humans is not always obvious.

The Manual on International Law Applicable to Military Uses of Outer Space (MILAMOS) is being spearheaded by McGill University, in Montreal, and a separate Woomera Manual by the University of Adelaide. Both hope to publish their documents 2020…

Russia and China would like a formal treaty banning all weapons in space. Both are keen to prevent America from deploying space-based anti-missile systems which might threaten their own nuclear forces. America and its allies resist this. They argue that it is impossible to define a space weapon—anything that manoeuvres in orbit could serve as one—and that it would be easy to cheat. The European Union has instead proposed a voluntary code of conduct. Many non-Western countries would prefer a binding treaty…. Though most are not space powers, many are likely to become so in the future, so their buy-in is important.

Excerpts from Satellite warfare: An arms race is brewing in orbit, Economist, Aug. 15, 2020

Poker and Blackjack: How to Make War in Space

In March 2018, India became only the fourth country in the world—after Russia, the US, and China—to successfully destroy a satellite in orbit. Mission Shakti, as it was called, was a demonstration of a direct-ascent anti-satellite weapon (ASAT)—or in plain English, a missile launched from the ground. Typically this type of ASAT has a “kill vehicle,” essentially a chunk of metal with its own guidance system, mounted on top of a ballistic missile. Shortly after the missile leaves the atmosphere, the kill vehicle detaches from it and makes small course corrections as it approaches the target. No explosives are needed; at orbital speeds, kinetic energy does the damage…. China’s own first successful ASAT test was in 2007….

But going to war in space… doesn’t necessarily mean blowing up satellites. Less aggressive methods typically involve cyberattacks to interfere with the data flows between satellites and the ground stations.  Satellites are, after all, computers that happen to be in space, so they are vulnerable to attacks that disable or hijack them, just like their terrestrial peers.

For example, in 2008, a cyberattack on a ground station in Norway let someone cause 12 minutes of interference with NASA’s Landsat satellites. Later that year, hackers gained access to NASA’s Terra Earth observation satellite and did everything but issue commands. It’s not clear if they could have done so but chose not to. Nor is it clear who was behind the attack, although some commentators at the time pointed the finger at China. Experts warn that hackers could shut off a satellite’s communications, rendering it useless. Or they could permanently damage it by burning off all its propellant or pointing its imaging sensor at the sun to burn it out.

Another common mode of attack is to jam or spoof satellite signals. There is nothing fancy about this: it’s easier than hacking, and all the gear required is commercially available.  Jammers, often mounted on the back of trucks, operate at the same frequency as GPS or other satellite communication systems to block their signals. …There are strong suspicions that Russia has been jamming GPS signals during NATO exercises in Norway and Finland, and using similar tactics in other conflicts. “Russia is absolutely attacking space systems using jammers throughout the Ukraine,” says Weeden. Jamming is hard to distinguish from unintentional interference, making attribution difficult (the US military regularly jams its own communications satellites by accident). A recent report from the US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) claims that China is now developing jammers that can target a wide range of frequencies, including military communication bands. North Korea is believed to have bought jammers from Russia, and insurgent groups in Iraq and Afghanistan have been known to use them too.

Spoofing, meanwhile, puts out a fake signal that tricks GPS or other satellite receivers on the ground…. Russia also seems to use spoofing as a way of protecting critical infrastructure,,,.As well as being hard to pin on anyone, jamming and spoofing can sow doubt in an enemy’s mind about whether they can trust their own equipment when needed. The processes can also be switched off at any time, which makes attribution even harder.

The 2019 Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) report suggests that China will have a ground-based laser that can destroy a satellite’s optical sensors in low Earth orbit as early as next year (and that will, by the mid-2020s, be capable of damaging the structure of the satellite). Generally, the intention with lasers is not to blast a satellite out of the sky but to overwhelm its image sensor so it can’t photograph sensitive locations. The damage can be temporary, unless the laser is powerful enough to make it permanent…In 2006, US officials claimed that China was aiming lasers at US imaging satellites passing over Chinese territory.

“It’s happening all the time at this low level,” says Harrison. “It’s more gray-zone aggression. Countries are pushing the limits of accepted behavior and challenging norms. They’re staying below the threshold of conflict.”..

The suspicion is that China is practicing for something known as a co-orbital attack, in which an object is sent into orbit near a target satellite, maneuvers itself into position, and then waits for an order. Such exercises could have less aggressive purposes—inspecting other satellites or repairing or disposing of them, perhaps. But co-orbiting might also be used to jam or snoop on enemy satellites’ data, or even to attack them physically….Russia, too, has been playing about in geostationary orbit. One of its satellites, Olymp-K, began moving about regularly, at one point getting in between two Intelsat commercial satellites. Another time, it got so close to a French-Italian military satellite that the French government called it an act of “espionage.” The US, similarly, has tested a number of small satellites that can maneuver around in space.

As the dominant player in space for decades, the US now has the most to lose. The DIA report points out that both China and Russia reorganized their militaries to give space warfare a far more central role. In response, the US military is starting to make satellites tougher to find and attack. For instance, the NTS-3, a new experimental GPS satellite scheduled for launch in 2022, will have programmable, steerable antennas that can broadcast at higher power to counter jamming. It’s designed to remain accurate even if it loses its connection with ground controllers, and to detect efforts to jam its signal.

Another solution is not just to make single satellites more resilient, but to use constellations in which any one satellite is not that important. That’s the thinking behind Blackjack, a new DARPA program to create a cheap network of military communications satellites in low Earth orbit.

Excerpts from Niall Firth How to fight a war in space (and get away with it), MIT Technology Review, June 26, 2019

Unhackable GPS

South Korea has revived a project to build a backup ship navigation system that would be difficult to hack after a recent wave of GPS signal jamming attacks it blamed on North Korea disrupted fishing vessel operations, officials say.Global Positioning System (GPS) and other electronic navigation aids are vulnerable to signal loss from solar weather effects, radio and satellite interference and deliberate jamming.

South Korea, which says it has faced repeated attempts by the rival North to interfere with satellite signals, will award a 15 billion won ($13 million) contract this month to secure technology required to build an alternative land-based radio system called eLoran (enhanced LOng-RAnge Navigation), which it hopes will provide reliable alternative position and timing signals for navigation….

GPS vulnerability poses security and commercial risks, especially for ships whose crews are not familiar with traditional navigation techniques or using paper charts.The General Lighthouse Authorities of the UK and Ireland, which tried to pioneer an eLoran system in Europe, conducted simulated communications attacks on ships at sea and said the results “demonstrated the devastating effects of jamming on the ships’ electronic bridge systems”.The United States, Russia and India are all looking into deploying versions of eLoran, which sends a much stronger signal and is harder to jam, as backup.

Installing an eLoran receiver and antenna on a ship would cost thousands of dollars, although cheaper options could include incorporating eLoran systems into satnav devices, according to technical specialists.

Excerpts from South Korea Revives GPS Backup After Cyber Attack  , euters, May 1, 2016

A New GPS for the Military

Teaming up with Northrop Grumman as its primary contractor, DARPA is working today to integrate micro-electro-mechanical systems, called MEMS, and atomic inertial guidance technologies, forming a new “single inertial measurement unit” in a project designated the “Chip-Scale Combinatorial Atomic Navigator” — C-SCAN.

Translated into plain English, what C-SCAN aims to accomplish is to create a chip that performs the functions today served by orbiting GPS satellites. The chip would constantly “know” where it is in space-time, and would have this knowledge without having to ping a satellite (and maintain line-of-sight communication with a satellite) to do it… Elimination of the need to rely on satellites to determine one’s location would similarly enable the use of “GPS-like” technology for getting directions within buildings and underground — for example, in subway systems…

One of the primary vulnerabilities in today’s hi-tech, ultra-accurate weapons systems, you see, is their dependence upon GPS signals to guide them to their destinations. American “smart bombs” and guided missiles all depend greatly on GPS to know where they are, and to get where they’re going. American dominance in drone technology, similarly, depends on GPS.  Problem is, while we know this is a problem, the “bad guys” know it, too — and can sometimes hack GPS signals so as to confuse, and even hijack, American weapons systems. Case in point: in 2011, Iran boasted that it had commandeered and captured a Lockheed Martin RQ-170 Sentinel — one of our most advanced “stealth” surveillance drones — in flight over Iranian territory. The Iranians didn’t have to shoot the drone down, either. Instead, they forced it to land in Iran, and captured it intact. According to Iranian engineers, this was accomplished by first jamming communications with the Sentinel’s remote controllers, then “spoofing” GPS signals, tricking the drone into landing at what it thought was its home base in Afghanistan — but what was actually an Iranian airfield.

Drones equipped with a future C-SCAN technology would be less likely to fall victim to such a trap. While their communications might be cut off, forcing them to default to autopilot and return to base, they’d at least return to the right base, because an internal chip would tell them how to get there.

Current weapons systems often include internal gyroscopes, granted, that perform some of the functions that C-SCAN aims to perfect. But as DARPA observes, present-day gyroscopes are “bulky” equipment, “expensive,” and don’t perform with the kind of accuracy that DARPA wants to see.  The objective, therefore, is to explore cutting edge technologies to put gyroscope-like functionality on a chip, resulting in “small size, low power consumption, high resolution of motion detection and a fast start up time” — all loaded onto one small microchip….

Microchip-based guidance could be the solution the military is seeking to an oft-discussed problem with the nation’s newest generation of Mach 7 railguns, whose great range, speed, power — and cheapness — make them an attractive weapons system… if we can only figure a way to guide their projectiles accurately

Rich Smith, Why Is the U.S. Government Working Frantically to Get Rid of GPS?, Motley Fool, June 15, 2015

GPS Jammers and Spoofers

GPS jammers are cheap: a driver can buy a dashboard model for about £50 ($78). They are a growing menace. The bubbles of electromagnetic noise they create interfere with legitimate GPS users. They can disrupt civil aviation and kill mobile-phone signals, too. In America their sale and use is banned. In Britain they are illegal for civilians to use deliberately, but not, yet, to buy: Ofcom, a regulator, is mulling a ban. In recent years Australian officials have destroyed hundreds of jammers.

In the right (or wrong) hands, they are potential weapons. Britain’s armed services test the devices in the Brecon Beacons in Wales, a military training area. North Korea uses big lorry-mounted versions to block GPS signals in South Korea. Starting with a four-day burst in August 2010, the attacks, which come from three positions inside the North, have lengthened. In early 2012 they ran for 16 days, causing 1,016 aircraft and 254 ships to report disruption…Criminals or terrorists could knock out GPS for an entire city or shipping lane anywhere in a flash. Even without North Korean-sized contraptions, the jamming can be substantial. Suitcase-sized devices on sale on the internet claim a range of 300-1,000 metres.

Malfunctioning satellites and natural interference from solar activity have hit GPS signals and sent ships off course. David Last, a navigation expert, says an accidental power cut, perhaps caused by a jammer taken on board a car ferry, could cause a shipwreck. Generating a false signal—spoofing—is another threat. In December 2011 Iran said it had spoofed an American drone before capturing it (most experts dismiss the claim). So far effective spoofing seems confined to laboratories, but Mr Last says some governments are already taking countermeasures.

One solution is a different means of navigation. In April South Korea announced plans for a network of 43 eLoran (enhanced long-range navigation) ground-based radio towers, based on technology first used in the second world war. It uses a far stronger signal than GPS, and should give pilots and ships’ captains a safer alternative by 2016. With Chinese and Russian help, South Korea hopes to expand coverage across the region.  Britain’s General Lighthouse Authorities (GLA) are following suit with seven new eLoran stations. Martin Bransby, an engineer with the GLA, says this will replace visual navigation as the main backup for GPS. It will be working by mid-2014, and cost less than £700,000; receivers cost £2,000 per vessel. By 2019 coverage should reach all big British ports.

America’s military-research agency DARPA has an experimental “single-chip timing and inertial measurement unit” (TIMU). When finished, according to the project’s boss, Andrei Shkel, it will use tiny gyroscopes and accelerometers to track its position without using satellites or radio towers. America’s White Sands missile range in New Mexico is installing a “Non-GPS Based Positioning System”, using ground-based antennae to provide centimetre-level positioning over 2,500 square miles. In May the Canadian government said it would splash out on anti-jam upgrades for military aircraft.

A new version of the US air force’s bunker-busting bomb, designed in part to destroy Iranian nuclear facilities, includes technology to prevent defenders from blocking its satellite-based guidance systems. MBDA, a European missile firm, is working on similar lines.

But for many users, GPS and other space-based navigation systems—which include Russia’s GLONASS, China’s partly complete Beidou, and an as-yet unfinished project by the European Union—remain indispensable and ubiquitous. They are also vulnerable. For those whose lives or livelihoods depend on knowing where they are, more resilient substitutes cannot come fast enough.

GPS jamming: Out of sight, Economist, July 27, 2013, at 51

Beyond GPS: All Source Positioning and Navigation

DARPA’s All Source Positioning and Navigation (ASPN) program seeks to enable low cost, robust, and seamless navigation solutions for military users on any operational platform and in any environment, with or without GPS. In particular, ASPN will develop the architectures,  abstraction methods, and navigation filtering algorithms needed for rapid integration and reconfiguration of any combination of sensors. This will enable rapid adaptation to evolving missions as well as reduction of the system integration costs and time-to-market for navigation solutions in general.

The goal of Phase 2 of ASPEN is to address the issues of optimization and real-time operation, showing capabilities beyond basic plug-and-play flexibility. Solutions must be capable of adapting to a diverse set of sensor and IMU inputs and selectively choosing the subset of measurements that produces the best possible solution, ideally mirroring the result from a tuned filter solution for that same scenario….Phase 2 solutions will need to demonstrate real-time operation in representative field (non-laboratory) environments. Although adaptability is the main goal of the ASPN program, the possibility of ASPN accuracy being substantially better than current state of art should be considered, given accommodation by ASPN of larger and more diverse sensor suites, ease of optimizing ASPN to immediate applications, and potential synergistic benefits of an open architecture.