UK stops traditional ship navigation despite Russian GPS failure

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Even as the British government considers alternatives to the fragile GPS systems that power everything from smartphones to warships, the British authority responsible for mapping the oceans plans to forgo traditional paper maps and instead pushing ship navigators worldwide to digital – a move a leading naval expert has called shortsighted.

Navigation charts, the high-precision plotting of the seabed and above-ground navigation hazards and landmarks that have used mariners to keep their ships safe and on course for generations, should be phased out within a few years. announced. But the push for digital, which the UK Hydrographic Office’s (UKHO) announcement on the matter makes clear is a cost-cutting exercise, comes as the satellite-based replacements for traditional navigation are dramatically revealed as highly vulnerable to Russia’s war in Ukraine.

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Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) systems work by a ground-based receiver that triangulates its own position by receiving signals from passing satellites that contain atomic clocks. However, this service relies on the receiver being able to get this information clearly from the satellites and since the data is sent over the radio it is relatively easy to block the frequency and blind the device.

Even more disturbingly, an advanced attack can even impersonate the satellites and spoof a location, leading the device to think it’s somewhere else.

This is not mere speculation. Even before Russia’s advance into Ukraine, GPS spoofing was the technical competence of the more determined college student kind, and the modern, digital navigation equipment of ships sailing through the Black Sea, which had mysteriously malfunctioned in the past, suggested that the Russians an anti-GPS weapon for several years.

With the war in Ukraine back, Russia — and possibly Ukraine — is jamming GPS and other navigation signals to deprive their enemy of navigation and weapon targeting.

With the disabling of computer-based navigation systems clearly an emerging element of modern warfare, Royal Navy Admiral (Retd) Chris Parry told Breitbart London that now seems like a bad time to withdraw traditional backup means to keep a ship in a war zone. to hold on Course.

“We all know what happens in a fight. The first thing that happens is that the technology you rely on in peacetime suddenly doesn’t want to play anymore, either due to a glitch or enemy intervention,” said RAdm. Parry, adding that “recent examples and developments in cyber and electronic attacks have accentuated and magnified this risk”.

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

In addition to the vulnerability of GPS, RAdm. Parry said there were other reasons for keeping paper charts: “The Admiralty charts are world standard and works of art in their own right. We must not forget the vulnerability of digital products and documents as artifacts.”

Ultimately, Parry suggested retaining the skills to navigate low-tech means even when high-tech options are available – but this cannot be guaranteed to the military in wartime, or even to civilians in the aftermath of an attack on critical infrastructure attached to such systems — should still be training for seafaring officers responsible for navigation.

UKHO’s move to withdraw paper cards by 2026, making this possible by “creating a path to enable a transition to digital card products”, is at odds with the UK government’s own concerns about robustness of digital navigation in a time of conflict.

As The times reported in May, the Defense Procurement Secretary sounded the alarm over GPS outages, with both the United States and the United Kingdom seeking alternative backup systems.

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

An old ground-based system that was once about to be phased out is LORAN-C, which is 20 years older than GPS.

The importance of backups to GPS was recognized in the US and Senator Ted Cruz sponsored a National Timing Resilience and Security Act in 2017. The law, had it become law, would allow the “establishment, maintenance and operation of a land-based, resilient and reliable alternative timing system for GPS (Global Positioning System) satellites… for military and civilian users if GPS timing signals are damaged or otherwise unavailable”.

as the Daily Telegram Notes that UKHO’s paper charts, which are now being phased out, are used by “90 percent of ships trading internationally” and many digital navigation equipment used at sea are expressly not replacements for paper charts, but complement the navigation aid. According to the UKHO’s own statement, they are the “primary mapping agency for 63 coastal states and territories” – so these changes will have significant global impact.

Russia has its own GPS equivalent, GLONASS.

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