Russian GPS Jammers Pose Little Threat In Iraq
By Mike Wendling
CNSNews.com London Bureau Chief
March 31, 2003
London (CNSNews.com) - U.S. commanders have little to fear from Russian-made global positioning system jamming equipment that Iraq reportedly has used to try to confuse cruise missile guidance systems, experts said.
The GPS jammers have been at the heart of a dispute between the U.S. and Russia over arms sales to Iraq.
Last week, U.S. officials lodged a complaint with Russia over Moscow's refusal to crack down on arms companies. The White House said it has "credible evidence" that sales to Iraq took place.
Russia denied the claims, which involve anti-tank missiles and night-vision goggles in addition to anti-GPS devices.
One Russian company that manufactures the jammers, Aviaconversiya Ltd., has brushed aside allegations that it not only shipped equipment to Russia but also provided Saddam Hussein with technicians to train Iraqi soldiers about how to use the devices.
"They won't find any of our technicians in Iraq," Aviaconversiya director Oleg Antonov told French news agency AFP.
However, the news agency reported that the company's promotional literature specifically mentions tensions between the United States and Iraq as one situation in which the jammers could help a country overcome a militarily superior force.
"There are several regions of the world where international tension exists between rival countries which are not equivalent from the military point of view. For example: the United Arab Emirates against Iran, Iraq against the USA," the leaflet said.
But experts said U.S. forces have already taken into account the possibility of interference with GPS when designing so-called "smart weapons."
"These devices don't cause problems, primarily because of the anti-jamming capability that the U.S. military has," said Richard Langley, professor of geodesy and precision navigation at the University of New Brunswick.
Cruise missiles have guidance systems that operate independently of GPS, Langley said. These include computers that match up structures on the ground with pre-programmed pictures of a missile's target and internal navigation systems.
"The accuracy of missiles is only slightly less if GPS guidance is jammed, knocked out or somehow fails," he said.
In addition, Langley said, future generations of GPS satellites will give off stronger signals, making them harder to jam or reducing the range of jamming equipment.
On Tuesday, U.S. officials said forces destroyed six GPS jamming devices inside Iraq. Langley said the strikes illustrated another of the inherent weaknesses of jamming systems: the radio signals given off by the equipment reveal the jammer's location.
"If the Iraqis are relying on these systems, they're misguided," he said.
This view was backed up by Alex Mendelsohn, Senior Technology Editor at ChipCenter.com. But Mendelsohn, who has written on GPS issues, said that the relatively low power of GPS systems "could cause trouble."
"It doesn't take much (jamming) power to wreak havoc," he said, citing an incident in California where interference knocked out GPS access for about a month.
Mendelsohn has found plans for jammers on the internet along with pictures of prototypes, including one created by an engineering student. But he also acknowledged that the U.S. military has significant anti-jamming capabilities.
Mendelsohn said the Aviaconversiya devices cost about $40,000 and are capable of jamming GPS for hundreds of miles.
"Since 1999, Aviaconversiya has been showing this device at military shows, and these things would be sold to anyone who wanted to pay for it," he said.
Meanwhile, Maj. Gen. Victor Renuart told reporters in Qatar last week that the jammers had no effect on the coalition's bombing ability.
"In fact, we destroyed one of the GPS jammers with a GPS weapon," he said.