Tag Archives: GPS

The Search for Smart War

[T] he Global Positioning System (GPS) of orbiting satellites on which they rely was originally—and, indeed, remains—a military technology. The system is, for instance, relied upon by the JDAM (joint direct-attack munition) kits that America’s air force attaches to its free-fall bombs to turn them into smart weapons that can be guided with precision to their targets.

But JDAM and similar systems work only when they can receive signals from GPS satellites. And such signals are weak—approximately as powerful as a standard television transmission would be if the transmitter were five times as far away as the Moon is. They are thus easily jammed. For obvious reasons, details of the capabilities of jammers are hard to come by, but a Russian system called Pole-21, for instance, may be able to suppress GPS signals as much as 80km (50 miles) away.

One way to get around this—and to guide weapons automatically to their targets without relying on satellites—is to give weapons a map…. Israel is in the forefront, with a system which it calls Spice. Like JDAM, Spice is an add-on kit that turns unguided bombs into smart ones. It is designed and built by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, an Israeli weapons company, and comes into service this month.

Spice contains an “electro-optical scene matching system” … [I]ts memory is loaded with pictures of the target area, taken beforehand by aircraft (piloted or unpiloted) or by satellite. …Spice can operate in darkness, and can penetrate smoke and fog. Moreover..Spice stores enough data to cover the entire route to a target.

Spice’s claimed performance is impressive. Rafael says it can guide a bomb released 100km from a target to a strike point within two metres of that target. The firm says, too, that its device is not confused by minor changes in the scenery around a target, which it can find even if some nearby areas have been obscured—say, by camouflage. Spice also has the advantage over GPS-guided weapons of working when a target’s exact position is unknown, or if the co-ordinates have been misreported. All you need is a picture of what is to be hit, and an approximate location, for Spice to find and hit it.

Other countries, in particular America, are following Israel’s lead. In January of this year, America’s air force signed a contract with Scientific Systems, a firm in Woburn, Massachusetts, to develop what that company calls its Image-Based Navigation and Precision Targeting (ImageNav) system….The initial plan is to fit ImageNav to the air force’s Small Diameter Bomb, a free-fall weapon at present guided by GPS. If this is successful, deployment on cruise missiles and drones will follow.

Meanwhile Lockheed Martin, the world’s biggest aerospace firm, is working on an optical-navigation system called Northstar.

Fitting bombs and missiles with vision in this way thus looks like the future. That does not mean GPS will not be used as well—a belt-and-braces approach is often wise in war. But bombs that can see their targets, rather than blindly following their noses to a set of co-ordinates, are always likely to have the edge.

Excerpts Bombs that can recognise their targets are back in fashion, Economist, Dec. 3, 2016

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We GeoProfile You-where are you?

Population density with key. image from wikipedia

Guerrillas and terrorists are not fools. They are aware they may be under surveillance, and take what they hope are appropriate counter-measures. They are unlikely, for example, to make calls from inside a safe house in which they are living. Instead, they typically make calls from roughly spaced out nearby locations, taking care not to call too often from the same spot. They hope, thereby, that if their activity is being monitored, it will appear random and therefore meaningless.

Spacing things out like this is, in mathematical fact, anything but random: that, in itself, is suspicious. But true randomness would also be odd. As Ian Laverty, the boss of ECRI, a geoprofiling-software firm in Vancouver, observes, innocent phone calls have geographical patterns, because people have routines. Those who take steps to elude the authorities thus often end up unwittingly creating a profile of where their home base is—a profile that a piece of ECRI’s software called Rigel Analyst can spot. This software is used by more than 90 intelligence agencies around the world. Its applications include searching for Taliban rocket caches in Afghanistan.

Geoprofiling is thus already an important counter-insurgency tool…according to a geoprofiler in Denmark’s intelligence apparatus who prefers to remain anonymous. This operative uses geoprofiling software called ArcGIS that analyses Global Positioning System (GPS) data provided unwittingly by insurgents’ growing use of smartphones and other gadgets that are equipped, by default, with GPS kit. For example, simply right-clicking on propaganda images posted online often obtains a GPS “geocode” that reveals where the picture was taken.

Excerpts from Counter-Terrorism, Shrinking the Haystack, Jan. 16, 2016, at 86

Space Weapons and Space Law

moon

“Policy, law and understanding of the threat to space is lagging behind the reality of what is out there,” warned Mark Roberts, a former Ministry of Defence official who was in charge of government space policy and the UK’s “offensive cyber portfolio”.….

The disabling of satellites would have a disastrous impact on society, knocking out GPS navigation systems and time signals. Banks, telecommunications, power and many infrastructures could fail, Roberts told the conference….Agreements such as the 1967 Outer Space treaty and the 1979 Moon treaty are supposed to control the arms race in space. Some states have signed but not ratified them, said Maria Pozza, research fellow at the Lauterpacht Centre for International Law at Cambridge University.  Existing treaties do not specify where air space ends and outer space begins – although 100km (62 miles) above the Earth is becoming the accepted limit.

The Navstar constellation of satellites was used to provide surveillance of Iraq during the Gulf war in 1991. Was that, asked Pozza, an aggressive use of space, a “force-multiplier”? Satellites may have also been used to photograph and locate al-Qaida bases, Osama bin Laden or even assess future strikes against Syria.

The Chinese government has recently moved to support a 2012 EU code of conduct for space development, which, Pozza said, was a softer law. The draft Prevention of the Placement of Weapons in Outer Space treaty has not yet been agreed. “Are we dismissing the possibility of a hard law or giving it a good chance?” Pozza asked.

The Chinese tested an anti-satellite weapon in 2007 that destroyed a defunct orbiting vehicle and showered debris across near Earth orbits. Other satellites have been jammed by strong radio signals. BBC transmissions to Iran were disrupted during this year’s elections through ground signals ostensibly sent from Syria.

In 2011, hackers gained control of the Terra Eos and Landsat satellites, Roberts said. The orbiting stations were not damaged. “The threat can now be from a laptop in someone’s bedroom,” he added.

Professor Richard Crowther, chief engineer at the UK Space Agency, said scientists were now exploring the possibility of robotic systems that grapple with and bring down disused satellites or laser weapons to clear away debris in orbit.  Both technologies, he pointed out, had a potential dual use as military weapons. 3D printing technologies would, furthermore, allow satellite operators to develop new hardware remotely in space.

The UK is formulating its space security policy, group captain Martin Johnson, deputy head of space policy at the MoD, said. Fylingdales, the Yorkshire monitoring station, has been cooperating for 50 years with the USA to enhance “space awareness” and early warning systems. The UK, Johnson said, was now working with the EU to develop a complementary space monitoring system.

Excerpt, Owen Bowcott, legal affairs correspondent, The Guardian, Sept. 11, 2013

GPS Jammers and Spoofers

attaching GPS kit to bomb. Image from wikipedia

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: DARPA All Source Positioning and Navigation Program

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.

Regulating Satellite Technology Exports; the military and the industry

Satellite export controls should be relaxed by Congress so that U.S. companies can better compete globally for sales of communications and remote-sensing equipment, a report by the Pentagon and State Department found (pdf).  “Limited national security benefits” are provided by a 1998 law (Section 1248 of the National Defense Authorization Act of Fiscal Year 2010 (Public Law 111-84)that applies more stringent controls on satellites than on other equipment that may have both civilian and military uses, the departments said in the report requested by Congress and released today to lawmakers.

The report is “a key step toward relieving U.S. commercial satellite system, component, and part manufacturers of unnecessary controls,” said John Ordway, an export-licensing attorney with Berliner, Corcoran & Rowe LLP in Washington.  Among companies that may benefit are Northrop Grumman Corp. (NOC), Boeing Co. (BA), Loral Space & Communications Inc. (LORL), Honeywell International Inc. (HON), L-3 Communications Holdings Inc. (LLL), Alliant Techsystems Inc. (ATK), Orbital Sciences Corp. (ORB), Moog Inc. (MOG/A) and America Pacific Corp.,….

The report specifies items that should remain on the State Department’s more restrictive munitions licensing lists and those than can be moved to the less restrictive oversight of the Commerce Department’s “Commerce Control List.”The equipment that can be shifted encompasses “hundreds of thousands of items we think U.S. industry should be able to compete” on, Gregory Schulte, deputy assistant secretary of defense for space policy, told reporters on a conference call.

The 1998 law “places the U.S. space industrial base at a distinct competitive disadvantage when bidding against companies from other advanced satellite-exporting countries that have less stringent export control practices and policies,” the report found….

The 1998 law was passed after a congressionally mandated commission headed by Representative Christopher Cox, a California Republican, concluded some U.S. companies gave China access to U.S. technology that may have aided the communist nation’s military missile programs….Industry groups such as the Aerospace Industries Association say the law has stifled U.S. exports. The report today backs that assertion, concluding, ‘‘Over the last 15 years, a substantial number of commercial satellite systems, subsystems and related technologies have become less critical to national security.’’  ‘‘At a time when the budget request for national security space is already slated for a 22 percent reduction, Congress needs to act to ensure the U.S. space industrial base remains viable,’’ AIA President and Chief Executive Officer Marion C. Blakey said.  ‘‘These companies can only sustain our technological edge if they aren’t regulated out of legitimate commercial markets,’’ she said in an e-mailed statement. U.S. manufacturers lost $21 billion in satellite revenue from 1999 to 2009, costing about 9,000 jobs because of the controls, according to her group.

The report emphasizes that the State and Defense departments aren’t advocating a wholesale abandonment of the 1998 law, saying the U.S. ‘‘should maintain strict controls on transfers of ‘‘non-critical’’ items ‘‘that are likely to be used against the U.S. national interest.’’  China’s continuing efforts to acquire U.S. military and dual-use technologies require vigilance, according to the report. That nation’s civilian and military space industry ‘‘are fused together such that reasonable regulators must consider the high likelihood that space-related items and technology will be diverted from a civil use and applied to military programs.”  China recently attempted to acquire a “fully functional, European imaging satellite constellation” that was blocked because it contained U.S. technology, the report found.

Excerpts, Tony Capaccio, Satellite Export Controls Should Be Eased, U.S Says, Bloomberg, Apr 18, 2012

Saving the Species; Molibe Marine Protected Areas

Some of the world’s most endangered marine life could be saved from extinction by establishing mobile nature reserves that would protect vulnerable species as they moved around the oceans, scientists say.  The initiative could provide safe havens for endangered loggerhead and leatherback turtles, albatrosses, sharks and other travelling species, and sea life that is abandoning its historic territories in response to climate change.  Under the proposals, trawlers would agree to avoid certain stretches of the sea at set times of the year when endangered species are mating, spawning or passing through. Those ocean regions might move with the seasons, ocean currents and long-term environmental events like El Niño, the researchers said.

Mobile marine reserves could bolster existing protected areas that draw an invisible cordon around fixed regions of the oceans, such as coral reefs and sea mounts, where ecological diversity is linked to geographical featuresInstead of restricting areas by their location, mobile reserves would identify particular conditions that attract marine life “The stationary reserves do little to protect highly mobile animals, like most of the fish, turtles, sharks and seabirds,” said Larry Crowder, science director at the Centre for Ocean Solutions at Stanford University. “We think of protected areas as places that are locked down on a map. But places in oceans are not locked down, they move.”

The idea was proposed at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Vancouver.One potential mobile marine reserve could protect the north Pacific convergence zone, a region where two giant currents meet head-on, bringing plankton, small fish, turtles and major predators together. The zone is always teeming with life, but it moves from season to season.

Hopes of creating mobile marine reserves have been around for more than a decade, but Crowder said that only in recent years has the concept become plausible because of improvements in satellite imaging and GPS tagging of species. With these technologies, marine biologists have learned in great detail the movements of different sea creatures….

The new reserves could work in favour of fisheries by opening areas of the ocean that might otherwise be restricted. Modern trawlers are fitted with GPS equipment and could have maps updated each year or season to make clear which areas were off limits to protect vulnerable species.  The initiative would not prevent unlawful fishing, but would help trawlers that were trying to work the oceans without pushing species to the brink of extinction.

Ian Sample, ‘Mobile nature reserves’ could save marine species from extinction,Guardian, Feb. 18, 2012