The Economist: Why is Russia not blocking GPS in Ukraine? (Spoiler: because it can't)

The Economist: Why is Russia not blocking GPS in Ukraine? (Spoiler: because it can't)

According to The Economist, the use of HIMARS multiple launch rocket systems by the Ukrainian Armed Forces has demonstrated the high efficiency of high-precision American weapons that use the GPS satellite positioning system to target the target – strikes on the Antonovsky bridge in Kherson and the composition of the occupying forces turned out to be extremely accurate. However, the use of GPS-guided weapons has its own peculiarities.


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GPS-guided munitions have almost completely replaced unguided bombs in the US arsenal. Many other weapons, from rockets to artillery shells, also support GPS. The technology is expensive, but almost guaranteed to hit the target if it is stationary and its location is known. Unfortunately, most of the old Soviet-made Ukrainian weapons are not so advanced.

GPS is a powerful tool of war, but it can often be rendered useless by the enemy. What could Russia have done to prevent new strikes of this kind? In fact, the GPS system is quite vulnerable to external influences. GPS satellites are not equipped with very powerful transmitters, their weak signals can be jammed by radio transmitters operating at the same wavelengths. Although some of them may be harder to drown out than others. For example, military GPS receivers may use an M-code, a military-only signal. Some receivers have electronic filters to separate signals from noise and have antennas directed to receive satellite signals. American weapons, such as the HIMARS missiles, also have a back-up inertial guidance system that measures acceleration and uses it to extrapolate distance and heading. It works

However, Dana Howard (president of the human rights organization Resilient Navigation and Timing Foundation and a member of the US government advisory council on GPS) believes that, in theory, Russia could do more to prevent targeted attacks by Ukrainian troops on the occupied territory. However, the aggressor country does not do this for a number of reasons.


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First, Russia is likely to refrain from jamming the signal in order to avoid a direct conflict with NATO. Secondly, a powerful silencer is the radio equivalent of a beacon, which makes it a very visible and vulnerable target. At the same time, Russian troops most often rely on the GPS system themselves instead of their own GLONASS, which is not very effective. British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said some Russian pilots are attaching commercial GPS receivers to aircraft cockpits for navigation purposes. It is possible that Russian troops do not use GPS jamming to avoid interfering with their forces, since they themselves depend on Western technology. In addition, in theory, Russia could render GPS satellites completely useless with a cyber attack or physical attack using anti-satellite weapons. However, in this case, she will face painful consequences. In fact, such an attack by the Russian Federation on GPS will be an attack on the United States and this will mean a transition to a direct confrontation with NATO. After all, to counter the threat of GPS blocking, the US has long been developing satellite navigation alternatives. Therefore, disabling or jamming the GPS system is unlikely to significantly reduce the effectiveness of American weapons. Summing up the above, we can conclude that Russia does not block the work of GPS in Ukraine, because in fact it cannot do anything about it.

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Source: economist

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