The scrambled or lured GPS is almost as old as the Global Positioning System. But the report “Above us only stars” – just released by the American organization C4ADS – presents for the first time a synthesis of nearly ten thousand cases of GPS decoy in Russia and Syria between February 2016 and November 2018 This is an opportunity to remember that following the reset of the countdown of GPS weeks, April 6, 2019, it is necessary to check this point when switching on its GPS receiver.
The US organization C4ADS specializes in data analysis on transnational security and security issues, global conflicts and organized crime. Wink more likely nationalist to the stars and banner with the original name “Navstar GPS” than poetic-pacifist to the Imagine of John Lennon, the report “Above us only stars” which has just been published by this structure focuses Russia, including its military actions in Crimea and Syria. But not only.
I hasten to point out that Russia is obviously not the only state to scramble or deceive the GPS signal. The composition of the board of directors and the C4ADS team show a number of US Army alumni who undoubtedly know what Americans are capable of in the field of satellite war where no army worthy of it name is also lagging behind. I spoke recently about the launch of the first GPS III satellite, which is expected to be better shielded from these threats, which is also what Galileo wants.
That said, while C4ADS – the new name of the Center for Advanced Defense Studies, which is a non-profit organization – is anything but an independent association of US strategic interests, the document it publishes is not not uninteresting. It lists events that are most often heard without having data on the facts reported.
This report is availabe here and downloadable in its entirety. It refers to, among other things, 9,883 cases of luring affecting the position of 1,311 civilian ships between February 2016 and November 2018 in Russian national waters or those occupied by the Russian Navy. At this scale, no public document had previously documented as many concrete examples. For the anecdote – though? -, the report also points out that the scrambling and decoying of the GPS tracks the movements of some Russian VIPs, thus protected by their services.
More serious than the gps jammer that is within reach of almost anyone, locally, spoofing can lead to totally fanciful positions, not only to fool a missile guidance but also to deceive a variety of military and civilian applications using GPS or any other satellite positioning system of the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS). I mentioned it in 2017 about the Black Sea but the Eastern Mediterranean is potentially subject to the same risks.
In the same article, I also talked about how Todd Humphreys demonstrated that he could take control of an autopilot yacht in GPS mode. The professor of aerospace engineering at the University of Texas, Austin, is credited with warm thanks to the C4ADS report for his major contribution to it. The knowledge of electronic warfare is definitely appealing to a broad spectrum of skills.
Finally – and the only link to the above is the reliability of UTC time and GPS positioning – it is necessary to say a word of what just happened on April 6th. The GPS system is based on a time reference that counts the weeks and seconds of the week in a 10-bit encoding. GPS zero time was set for January 6, 1980 at 00:00 UTC. The system is reset every 1024 weeks, a little over nineteen and a half years.
The first reset took place on the night of August 21 to 22, 1999. The next reset occurred on April 6, 2019. On some older models of GPS receivers, it is necessary to manually enter the year 2019 as a calendar reference under worth an hour and a wrong position. If you have not completed your first winter outing, do not forget this setting