By Alan Cameron
Dear Senator _______________,
and Representative _____________,
I write to you as my elected voice in government, regarding a current budget matter of critical importance to both U.S. national security and the U.S. economy. It may not be high on your list — yet — as its importance in both defense and infrastructure is not well understood. But I assure you that it is key to the future of this country, and in many ways to global stability and the global economy as well.
I am talking about GPS. It works well now. It works fantastically well. But it is extremely vulnerable to sabotage, jamming, and spoofing (the intentional falsification of GPS signals). Remedies for and defenses against these weaknesses of the Global Positioning System have been proposed and will work if implemented — but they require some measure of funding support. That’s where you come in.
Under the stewardship of the U.S. Air Force and its GPS Directorate, the constellation of now 31 orbiting satellites is undergoing a progressive modernization, upgrading, and adding new signals for even better service. The third generation of GPS, known as GPS III, is scheduled to begin coming online in 2014. That date has moved significantly to the right since it was first set, and may continue to get postponed, due to budget cuts made by your colleagues in the U.S. Congress.
I believe such cuts, and the corresponding delays, are shortsighted.
GPS III will be more robust than the current GPS II generation, for the benefit of our defense forces worldwide and the many segments of critical national infrastructure (telecommunications, finance, air safety, agriculture, freight, automobiles, and more) that depend on ultra-precise positioning, navigation, and timing provided by GPS to keep this country running.
But even the planned improvements in GPS signals are not enough to forestall intentional harm to the system and to the many critical services it provides.
If you are not already familiar with the downing of aircraft caused by spoofing the GPS signal, see this article. For expert testimony before Congress stemming from this incident and citing recommended measures, see “Taking It to the House.”
For a very realistic possibility of future shock, see “Live Free or Die Hard,” a portrait of the nation under cyber attack.
As I mentioned, there are strong countermeasures proposed to combat these threats to national security and the economy. But they do require money to implement. Not that much money, compared to many other items in the national budget. And very little money — almost none — compared to the damage that a prudent outlay would prevent.
I would be glad to inform you further, provide technical underpinning to these assertions, and put you in contact with government officials who are of the same opinion as I am.
A political act of will is needed to combat future disaster. I hope GPS can count on your support in the budget debates.