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Now, US military imagines war without GPS

Thomas Watkins -

With GPS-guided bombs, armed drones beaming footage via satellite and spy cameras scooping up intel from the heavens, America’s military machine is growing ever more reliant on space-based technology.

But what would happen if an enemy were to target the military’s satellites, or somehow jam their signals?

The disastrous scenario is one the Pentagon knows all too well could happen, and for which it is actively preparing.

“Our force structure today is built around the assumption that we have GPS and we have satellite communications. We are very lethal when we have those things,” said Colonel Richard Zellmann, commander of the 1st Space Brigade based in Colorado.

“But when you start taking away those combat multipliers, we need to go back then to the days of the industrial-age army where you have to have three times as many people as the adversary does.”

About 70 per cent of the Army’s major combat systems depend on signals being beamed from space, Zellmann said, a fact that has not slipped the attention of other countries.

Russia and China are both developing satellites capable of manoeuvring through space, potentially allowing them to smash into another orbiting object. America, too, has acquired satellites that can move in orbit and inspect or monitor other space objects.

But Zellmann noted it is far cheaper and simpler for an enemy to disrupt or damage US military satellites than to develop their own orbital platforms.

For instance, low-cost jammers placed at the right location can wreak havoc with incoming GPS signals, which are often quite weak.

Already, the Army has brought back training to keep soldiers current on how to read paper maps, and the Navy is teaching sailors how to navigate by the stars with the help of sextants, first used in the 18th century. The old-school, analog technologies are also being augmented by new science designed to replicate satellites, only from Earth.

The military’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which develops new technologies for the Pentagon, has stated it wants a new generation of precise navigation and timing tools that can work without GPS. One such system uses “pseudolites” — ground-based devices that beam GPS-like signals.

Lieutenant General John Thompson, commander of the Space and Missile Systems Center based in Los Angeles, said space has become crowded, and the military is all too aware that the days of having superiority in orbit are over. — AFP

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