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UK ends traditional ship navigation despite Russian GPS jamming

Even as the UK government considers alternatives to the flimsy GPS systems that power everything from smartphones to warships, the UK’s ocean mapping authority is poised to dispense with traditional paper charts, pushing ship navigators from around the world to digital. leading naval expert called it myopic.

Navigation charts, the extremely precise plotting of the seabed and above-surface navigational hazards and landmarks with which sailors have kept their ships safe and on course for generations, must be phased out of years ago, the British government office responsible for producing them announced. Yet the push to digital, which the UK Hydrographic Office’s (UKHO) announcement on the matter makes clear as a cost-cutting exercise, comes as satellite-based replacements for traditional navigation are proving dramatically profound fragile by Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) systems work through a receiver on the ground that triangulates its own position by receiving signals from passing satellites that contain atomic clocks. Yet this service relies on the receiver’s ability to get this information clearly from the satellites, and since the data is transmitted by radio, it is relatively simple to jam the frequency and blind the device.

More alarmingly, a sophisticated attack can even mimic satellites and spoof a location, tricking the device into believing it is somewhere else.

This is not mere speculation. Even before Russia’s rise to power in Ukraine, GPS spoofing was the technical skill of the most determined type of university student and modern digital navigational equipment for ships transiting the Black Sea that mysteriously operated in the past suggested that the Russians had been testing an anti-GPS weapon for a few years.

Now that the war in Ukraine is back on, Russia – and most likely Ukraine – is jamming GPS and other navigational signals to deprive their enemy of navigation and weapon targeting.

With disabling computerized navigation systems clearly an emerging element of modern warfare, Royal Navy Rear Admiral (Retired) Chris Parry told Breitbart London that now seems a bad time to withdraw traditional back-up means. of keeping a ship in a war zone. Classes.

“We all know what happens in combat. The first thing that happens is that the technology you rely on in peacetime no longer wants to play, either because of a glitch or because of enemy action,” Cam said. Parry, adding that “recent examples and developments in cyber and electronic attacks have accentuated and reinforced this risk.”

The retired naval officer, who fought in the Falklands War, told Breitbart, “Manual reversion and retention of skills in the event of technology failure is essential in combat and damage situations.”

Besides the fragility of GPS, Cam. Parry said there were other reasons for keeping paper charts: “Admiralty charts are world standards and works of art in their own right. We must not forget the fragility of digital products and documents as archival artifacts. »

Ultimately, Parry suggested retaining the skills to navigate by low-tech means even when high-tech options are available – but cannot be guaranteed to military personnel in wartime, or even civilians in the aftermath. of an attack on critical infrastructure supporting such systems – should always be mandatory learning for flight officers responsible for navigation.

The UKHO’s decision to phase out paper maps by 2026, enabling this by creating “a pathway that enables a transition to digital mapping products”, runs counter to the UK government’s own concern about robustness of digital navigation in times of conflict.

As The temperature reported in May, the Minister for Defense Procurement has sounded the alarm over GPS jamming as the US and UK seek alternative back-up systems.

A harder-to-block alternative to satellite navigation is ground-based transmitters, which can be broadcast at much higher power, and more powerful systems can be more difficult, if not impossible, to jam or spoof.

An older ground-based system that was once on the verge of being phased out is LORAN-C, which predates GPS by 20 years.

The importance of having backups on GPS has been recognized in the United States, and Senator Ted Cruz sponsored a National Timing Resilience and Security Act in 2017. The law, if made law, would have required “the establishment, maintenance and operation of a ground-based, resilient and reliable alternative timing system to Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites…for military and civilian users if GPS timing signals are corrupted or otherwise unavailable”.

As the The telegraph of the day note, the UKHO paper charts which are now about to be phased out are used by “90% of ships trading internationally” and many digital navigation devices used at sea explicitly do not replace paper charts, but are additional navigation aids. According to the UKHO’s own account, it is the “lead mapping agency for 63 coastal states and territories” – so these changes will have far-reaching impacts around the world.

Russia operates its own GPS equivalent, GLONASS.

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