The inventor of GPS is calling for a more robust system as evidence is released of new, more powerful jamming devices being used by criminal gangs.
Professor Brad Parkinson, the chief architect of GPS, will today tell a conference at the UK’s National Physical Laboratory in Teddington that the satellite based navigation now ubiquitous in industries as varied as aviation and maritime navigation, banking, and mobile phone operations needs to be made more resilient.
His call follows news from the SENTINEL project, funded by The Technology Strategy Board and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, of the first recorded seizures of second generation signal jammers from crime scenes in the UK that are considerably more powerful than any previously recorded, with ranges extending several miles.
The devices are capable of disrupting not only the GPS service, but also various other positioning, navigation and timing (PNT) signal frequencies simultaneously, including all those provided by Europe's GPS alternative Galileo.
Professor Charles Curry, founder of Chronos Technology and a leader of the project, said: "Our research suggests that whilst the typical ‘white-van man’, commercial vehicle driver are using the smaller, more traditional low cost unit, it is more sophisticated organised criminal networks that are deploying these more powerful devices for use in car and lorry hijackings.
“As well as aiding these crimes, these new jammers are a concern because they are far more powerful than even the criminals may realise. The products we have seen for sale online generally claim around 15m radius of disruption; however our tests showed their jamming signal was still detectable up to a few miles away.
“My concern is we are not far away from 'black swan event' where one of these devices used in a crime is left switched on after being dumped and causes major disruption to critical national infrastructure."
Parkinson will tell the GNSS Vulnerabilities and Resilient PNT 2014 conference that alongside the threat of deliberate or inadvertent jamming of signals, the creation of licensed jammers due to loss of authorised frequency spectrum and space weather could also compromise vital satellite navigation systems.
He said: "The number one need for all GPS or Galileo users is availability. Over the years manufacturers of signal receiver technologies have focused too much on sensitivity and not enough on resilience or robustness.
“The maritime industry is a particular concern where users have taken GPS for granted. They must increase preparedness and backups as they do in aviation or other global navigation satellite system (GNSS) using industries.
“Even today, most ships have only GPS and the vision of their crew to guide them when approaching harbours. As you can see from today’s conference there are a wealth of solutions to toughen and backup GPS, many of which are not technologically difficult nor expensive, but still their adoption in sectors such as global shipping is certainly not adequate."
To address the threats Parkinson proposes a three stage program: to legally protect the signal and physically eliminate jamming sources; toughen the GPS and Galileo receiver’s resistance to interference; and augment the GPS signals with other satellites or with ground based transmitters such as eLoran.
Bob Cockshott, director of PNT at the ICT Knowledge Transfer Network and organiser of the conference, said: "The UK's pioneering research into the risks and origin of GNSS disruption are telling us this problem is not going anyway and in fact there is an increasing use of ever more powerful devices.
“It's clear that we cannot rely on our space infrastructure alone for all our positioning and timing needs going forward. Fortunately in the UK we have an extremely healthy and innovative group of academics and businesses exploring and developing a wealth of back-up options.
“These range from eLoran systems being rolled out today around the world, to longer term project utilising the immense power of quantum sensors in the decades to come. This growing community in the UK is leading the world in developing and complementing satellite systems, as well as growing a potentially very prosperous commercial sector for our economy going forward."