American Military’s Greatest Vulnerability: No GPS in a War
Editor’s Note: The below item is re-posted from “The National Interest.” It is disappointing to see that, in all the discussions in academia, think tanks, and even by Defense Department officials, no mention is made of eLoran – the system the Deputy Secretary of Defense told Congress the nation needed. Loran-D was a deployable version of Loran technology developed and used by the US Air Force in the 1970’s. eLoran would be more easily deployable, more accurate, and could be coded so they are usable by only friendly forces. While exploration of new, bleeding edge technologies that may or may not come to pass is great and should be pursued, the US military has a clear and present danger. Why aren’t they picking up a relatively inexpensive, here and now solution?
The American Military’s Greatest Vulnerability: No GPS in a War
Raytheon’s new GPS Operational Control System (OCX) might just be the most troubled program the Pentagon is running. This June, OCX incurred a dreaded Nunn-McCurdy breach, when its projected costs were judged to have increased by 25 percent. The problems, as Dee Ann Divis explained for Inside GNSS, “included inadequate systems engineering at program inception, Block 0 software with high defect rates, and Block 1 designs requiring significant rework.” Multiple cybersecurity requirements caused multiple delays too. All the same, Under Secretary Frank Kendall has just certified the program as meriting completion—the only thing worse than having to spend that kind of money on GPS is not having GPS to spend it on. But just how the Pentagon slowly marched itself into this problem is worth some consideration.
For illumination, consider comments last week by Doug Loverro, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for space policy. As he argued before a breakfast meeting last week at the Mitchell Institute, the US needs to rely on defense over the threat of offense in deterring a war in space. That’s not universally considered the George Patton American Way, so some explanation is in order. The US is more invested in space assets than are its potential enemies, so it has more to lose from a shooting war in orbit. Indeed, he reminded everyone,
“If we lost GPS worldwide, most of our warfighters—in fact, all of our warfighters—would lose the ability to navigate and tell time and drop the precision munitions and do everything we do with GPS. If we lose GPS tomorrow, none of our warfighters can fight, but your iPhone can still tell you where you are and get you down the street.”
Amidst the Defense Department’s abounding enthusiasm for all things consumer-electronic, this DASD mentions an uncomfortable truth. My little iPhone tracks not just GPS, but also signals from Russian GLONASS satellites, local wifi transmitters, and cellphone towers. It’s an inexpensive capability, Loverro continued, so the Pentagon is now “studying options for tapping alternative PNT systems,” as Courtney Albon reported for Inside Defense.