The military Global Positioning System (GPS) is just one technology heavily relied upon for a variety of critical US military operations.
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Military GPS Illustrates Military Technology Dependency

What would happen if the technology our modern military depends upon were to suddenly be compromised?

The military Global Positioning System (GPS) is just one technology heavily relied upon for a variety of critical US military operations. Military GPS systems are responsible for increasing weapons accuracy, and therefore decreasing the number of warheads and military personnel required to take down a target or complete a mission.

The GPS system was first introduced in the 1970s for military usage exclusively. GPS has since expanded into the commercial market - just about every new vehicle is introduced with a built in GPS, and standalone GPS systems can be added to older model vehicles easily - which makes constant innovation possible, but also lowers the high standards often demanded for the testing of military technology.

Today, military GPS technology is so prevalent that John Pike of claimed it is absolutely vital to American military functions; every military moving vehicle uses GPS. At least 100 U.S. military defense systems rely on GPS: aircrafts, ships, armored vehicles, bombs and artillery shells. In addition to GPS guided weapons systems, the Army also uses GPS units as patrol and location tracking tools for military service members in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Although GPS development has been seen in a positive light, there is an underlying warning implicit in building a technology-dependent military: what if that technology fails? What if critical military technology is rendered useless during combat? In either case, the vital functioning and operation of the US military may be highly vulnerable.


In 2010, a glitch in military GPS systems that rendered as many as 10,000 U.S. military GPS receivers useless for days, was seen as a warning to step up protections for our technology dependent military.

The glitch, which was associated with incompatible software and incomplete testing procedures, highlighted the military's reliance on the Global Positioning System and the necessary urgency of protecting the GPS technology that has become essential for protecting soldiers, tracking vehicles and targeting weapons.

According to the Air Force, the glitch was associated with a new software installation in the ground control systems for military GPS satellites. Officials said between 8,000 and 10,000 receivers were potentially affected, of the more than 800,000 receivers in use across the military.

Although initially blamed on an individual contractor for installing defective software in the military receivers, the glitch was traced to an overall system compatibility disconnect. The issue was not originally detected because the new systems had not been tested first before being put in place.

The Air Force traced the problem to the Trimble receivers' software, the company that manufactured the affected pieces. Trimble had no problems tested the receivers themselves, using Air Force regulations.


Luckily there were no major problems or interruptions in military service due to the GPS failure of 2009. One program still in development, the Navy's X-47B, a jet-powered, carrier-based drone, was interrupted, but no weapon systems already in use were grounded as a result of the problem, and no interruptions in dispatched missions or program delays resulted, the Air Force noted.


At first it seemed shocking that military GPS receivers weren't tested; however, withdrawing of direct testing is common, according to defense industry consultant James Hasik.

Relying on technology also takes controls out of human hands, a potentially dangerous situation should communications problems arise. Recalling the terrifying scenario of the popular book and later movie Fail Safe, in which a nuclear missile is inadvertently launched from the United States to Russia due to malfunctioning technology, is not unthinkable today. In 2001, life imitated art somewhat when a GPS-guided bomb dropped by a Navy mission missed its target and instead landed in a residential neighborhood of Kabul. The origin of the misfired target was wrong coordinates entered into the GPS targeting system.


Space and Missile Systems Center spokesman Joe Davidson assured military service members that there has never been a breach of military GPS by hackers or enemies since the systems' inception. The Air Force is also developing new encrypted military receivers for stronger protection against hackers.
Although glitches call into question military reliance on GPS, the GPS system itself is highly protected. The military GPS control system highly automated, limiting the potential for human error and human ability to breach the system. GPS satellites orbit about 12,000 miles above Earth, making them safe from space warfare.


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