Can’t teach an old GPS new tricks

 

 

 

Politico
Joseph Gedeon
May 28, 2024

 

ELECTRONIC WARFARE
The decades-old tech that powers pretty much every electronic map, aircraft navigation system and cellular and internet data networks is facing an existential crisis in its old age, and could possibly provide a blueprint for adversaries looking to exploit holes in critical infrastructure.

The backdrop:
Some of the high-tech, American-made munitions sent to aid Ukraine’s fight have encountered a big problem on the battlefield: Russian jammers are knocking them off course and the setback prompted Ukrainian forces to stop using the weapons, according to Ukrainian military officials and confidential Ukrainian military reports obtained by The Washington Post.

But it’s not just weapon systems: Starlink satellites have also been affected by Russian jammings, as well as disruptions to electrical power grids and communication networks.

“GPS jamming could not be a bigger issue right now,” said Steve Poizner, the CEO of oneNav, a global navigation satellite system technology developer. “It’s very difficult to use any receiver now in Europe
because of the extent of Russian jamming.”

Where else?
According to data from GPSJam.org, there are high levels of GPS interference currently in Estonia, Latvia, eastern Finland and southern Ukraine near the Black Sea. The Middle East has also been swarmed with interference, the focal point being the majority of Israel and its borders on all sides, including the Mediterranean Sea.

The most visible perpetrator has been Russia — using low-cost GPS jamming devices to disrupt aviation, interfere with military operations and even target civilian infrastructure.

Israel is also using similar technology extensively in the Middle East, including recently preemptively shifting the locations for Tel Aviv residents over a hundred miles due north to Beirut in anticipation of potential retaliatory drone strikes from Iran in April.

The tactics:
Targeting the L1 signal that all GPS devices require to initially lock onto satellite signals. L1 is the civilian-use primary frequency for GPS, making it an enticing target for attackers and heavily used by critical infrastructure providers. While there are other more modern and secure signals like the L5 frequency, the entire system is in peril if L1 is disrupted.

“Take L1 out and everything stops operating,” said Poizner, who previously worked as a White House fellow in an anti-cyberterrorism role. “Every receiver today must acquire L1 first, so if you disrupt that signal, the whole system grinds to a halt.”

Time to retire:
The outdated GPS technology in the U.S. is itself a major component of the problem. Satellites in the late 1990s were launched with limited security in mind and lack the anti-jamming defense baked into other nations’ newer satellite navigation systems, such as China’s BeiDou system which reached full global coverage in 2020 and is being pitched to foreign countries for civilian usage.

And U.S. satellites launched in both the 90s and mid-to-late 2000s designed to have a 7.5 year life span are still operational to this day. GPS experts like Steve warn that even a limited jamming strike on an American city could trigger cascading problems across critical infrastructure domains — and that’s why it’s past time to fully upgrade to L5 signals.

“Jamming is happening extensively — it’s a huge vulnerability,” Poizner said. “And what’s happening in Ukraine can happen in the United States.”

 

Read the interview in Politico

 

About oneNav

oneNav is enabling AI-powered next generation GNSS silicon. Based in California, oneNav is developing L5-direct™ GNSS receiver technology for smartphones, wearables, drones, tracking devices, and more and has built a large L5-band patent portfolio. oneNav’s team comprises top GNSS experts from Qualcomm, Apple, Intel, SnapTrack, SiRF, Trimble and eRide. With extensive experience in GNSS system architecture, multipath mitigation, signal processing, ASIC design and AI/machine learning, oneNav engineers have designed and built billions of GNSS receivers on the market today and have collectively filed over 300 career GNSS patents. World-class VC investors include Google Ventures, Norwest Venture Partners, and IQT.

Media Contact

Ellen Kirk
l5-direct@onenav.ai