Maritime security experts have been warning for years of the dangers that simple GPS interference methods could pose for merchant shipping. According to American defense officials, the Russian military uses an armed form of gps jammer that effectively blocks some US drone flight operations over Syria – and even affects drones that are equipped with anti-jamming technology. As more and more operators are considering the use of autonomous ships and aircraft in the maritime space, the vulnerability of highly specific military hardware to GPS jamming can be a warning.
So far, the attacks have only affected small surveillance drones, four officials told NBC News, not the U.S. Air Force’s armed Predator and Reaper models. They did not want to discuss whether one of the small planes was clogged due to interference. In addition to their GPS receivers, high-end drones such as the Global Hawk, Predator and Reaper are equipped with inertial navigation systems that do not rely on external signals for location.
According to the U.S. Army’s Asymmetric Warfare Group, the Russian military has invested heavily in electronic warfare equipment in recent years, and its units “layer these systems to turn off FM, SATCOM, cellular, GPS, and other signals.” Following the Ukraine crisis in 2014, Russian forces launched a UN surveillance drone fleet during operations in eastern Ukraine using GPS jamming, and Ukrainian forces reported widespread communications cuts. Last year, the U.S. Maritime Administration reported a GPS spoofing attack From the Russian Black Sea port of Novorossiysk, which caused the GPS jamming drone displays on several merchant ships to show incorrect positions. The incident was not definitely associated with the Russian armed forces, but reportedly affected at least 20 ships.
The jaming incidents over Syria have been going on for several weeks, according to NBC News. The time span and location of the disturbance overlap with the latest series of suspected chemical weapons attacks on civilians in rebels in eastern Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus, and U.S. officials told NBC that they believed Russian troops were blocking the disturbance from the air would monitor after the incidents. The US is currently considering retaliation for the use of chemical weapons by a civilian population; Russia, which supports the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad, has denied that the attacks have taken place.
Five years ago, Ghouta was the scene of another massive chemical weapon attack: on August 21, Syrian troops used sarin-filled missiles to kill between 280 and 1700 people in the region, including civilians. In order to prevent military intervention by the West, the Syrian government has entered into a diplomatic agreement with the United States on the disposal of all of its chemical weapons with Russia as the guarantor of the program. The United States claims that Russia has not fulfilled this role. “The fact that Russia claims that the Assad regime has disposed of its chemical stocks is simply absurd. Your continued denial of the Assad regime’s guilt in chemical weapons use is simply incredible,” said US Ambassador for Disarmament Robert Wood in February.