U.S. Department of Defense—Protecting America’s Global Positioning System

Spotlight | U.S. Department of Defense


Jun 26, 2020

Report excerpts:

GPS At Risk

The Defense Department opposes a license the Federal Communications Commission has granted to a private company, Ligado, to deploy a low-power nationwide mobile broadband network. Here’s why:

  • GPS disruptions caused by Ligado interference could have global ramifications to U.S. national security, commercial and civil sectors, the economy, and those who rely on this service in their everyday lives.
  • There are too many unknowns, and the risks are too great, to allow the proposed Ligado system to proceed. We risk lives and the security of the nation if GPS is interrupted for any amount of time.
  • There is no need to put GPS at risk. Mid-band spectrum for 5G exists, and DOD is working with industry on a dynamic spectrum sharing framework. Ligado’s proposal is unnecessary.
  • Ligado’s proposed network lacks the bandwidth, power or global ecosystem to deliver robust 5G services. The only beneficiaries are Ligado shareholders.

Military Uses of GPS

Over the last 25 years, GPS has become an integral part of technology that has improved military operations worldwide.

At home, the North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S Northern Command are responsible for DOD defense of the homeland missions. GPS provides NORAD and Northcom precise location accuracy and the critical timing for secure and uninterrupted communications for command and control of assets, ground radars/missile systems, and air defense helicopters and fighters that respond and provide homeland defense forces for official events, such as the U.N. General Assembly meetings in New York, G-7 conferences, and large sporting events such as the Super Bowl and Olympic Games.

Defense Support to Civil Authorities is a Northcom mission that most recently deployed the USNS Mercy and USNS Comfort to the east and west coasts, and soldiers, aailors, airmen and Marines to support hospitals throughout the nation. We saw similar large-scale DOD DSCA deployments in 2005 for Hurricane Katrina and recently in responding to California wildfires. Ships, aviation and ground assets in these cases are all dependent on GPS to pinpoint their location and coordinate for mission accomplishment anywhere in the U.S.

At home and abroad, GPS and the airmen who operate the system are foundational to our nation’s ability to deter aggression and provide global effects, from humanitarian and disaster relief to major combat.

GPS military capabilities were first engaged in war during 1990 and 1991 for Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Allied troops relied heavily on GPS to navigate the featureless deserts in Kuwait and Iraq.

During Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, GPS contributions to warfighting increased significantly. The GPS satellite constellation enabled accurate delivery of GPS-aided Joint Direct Attack Munitions with pinpoint precision and minimal collateral damage.

For the Joint Force, GPS supports navigation, “Blue Force” tracking, and ultimately making sure bombs are on target. Instead of sending dozens of bombers dropping hundreds of bombs over an entire city, such as was done during World War II air raids, we can now send one bomber to drop one munition precisely on the enemy and reduce the possibility of collateral damage. GPS coordinates also enable casualty evacuation and navigating out of dangerous situations in combat. In addition, Airmen conduct resupply missions with battlefield precision airdrops to combat forces with GPS-guided parachute-delivered equipment pallets, known as “Smart Pallets.”

Today, The GPS Master Control Station, operated by the Air Force’s 50th Space Wing’s 2nd Space Operations Squadron at Schriever Air Force Base is responsible for monitoring and controlling the GPS satellite constellation. The Global Positioning System is a constellation of orbiting satellites that provides navigation data to military and civilian users all over the world.