U.S. military equipment relies heavily on satellites for GPS, but the Army is working on backup plans in case a space attack disables GPS service.
Army Col. Rick Zellmann, commander of the 1st Space Brigade, told Defense One that the Pentagon is not only working to reintroduce paper maps, but it is also preparing for an impact that moves far beyond interrupted navigation.
For example, Zellman noted that disrupted GPS and satellite communications would threaten the operation of drones and munitions such as the Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM), which is in part guided by satellite.
“Our force structure today is built around the assumption that we have GPS and we have satellite communications,” Zellmann said. “And we are very lethal when we have those things. But when you start taking away those combat multipliers, we need to go then back to the industrial-age Army, where you have to have three times as many people as the adversary does.”
The Army is considering whether high-altitude platforms can substitute for satellites and function as pseudo-satellites.
“We’re looking at things like: can we use airships that are flying in the near-space realm — you’re talking 60- to 80,000 feet up,” Zellmann said. “Can they provide some of the same capabilities that a satellite does today but at a cheaper cost?”
Right now, the Army is also testing a ground-based satellite system called Pseudolite.
The threat of space attacks targeting GPS satellites is a definite possibility and something the Pentagon is deeply concerned about, despite the fact that these satellites are 12,500 miles high. As such, the Air Force and Navy are also asking the defense industry to provide GPS alternatives. In September, the Air Force handed defense contractor Lockheed Martin a $45.5 million contract to develop GPS that isn’t as susceptible to jamming and spoofing technology.
But nothing definitive has emerged as a solution to anti-satellite weapons and GPS spoofing or jamming, and so for Zellmann, the search for a solution is absolutely “imperative.”
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