MoD Halts GPS Jamming After Safety Complaints

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A huge naval exercise has been banned from using GPS jamming technology after safety complaints

A major naval exercise off the coast of Scotland has been ordered to stop using GPS jamming technology after complaints it is endangering the lives of fishermen and is disrupting mobile phones.

The Nato exercise, dubbed ‘Joint Warrior’, involves the military forces from 14 countries and is taking place off the west coast of Scotland.

As part of the operation, Global Positioning System (GPS) services were jammed in a radius of 20 miles around the various warships.

GPS Jamming

Apparently, the Royal Navy had issued warnings last month and in early October that GPS in parts of Scotland would be disrupted during the naval exercise.

But according to the BBC, Western Isles fishermen said the first they knew was when their equipment went offline last Friday.

And it seems that the military’s GPS jamming also impacted mobile phones, Internet connectivity as well as satellite TV.

Following the fisherman’s complaints, the jamming of GPS has been suspended, and the Royal Navy said the military would seek to address safety concerns.

Yet it seems that the military could be right in feeling a tad aggrieved about the complaints, as the Joint Warrior is held twice a year, and its jamming of GPS back in April drew no complaints.

The Royal Navy reportedly said that it had followed all the appropriate actions to warn of the possible disruption and even issued a guide about the matter on 7 September. The guide gives the locations and timings for the jamming of GPS.

Safety Complaints

But the BBC quoted Austen Campbell, the skipper of the Stornoway-based fishing boat Ocean Spirit, who reportedly said crews knew nothing of the jamming until their system failed last Friday.

“We weren’t notified about it at all,” he reportedly said. “We thought it was a problem with our boat but everyone else started complaining about it. The coastguards were giving out warnings today but it still shouldn’t be happening.”

“We are losing earnings over it until the exercise finishes,” Campbell said. “It is putting boats at risk.”

Meanwhile the BBC report also said that Westerns Isles local authority, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, had reported that the jamming was being blamed for problems with Internet connectivity, mobile phones and satellite TV.

“Whilst the total effect of the jamming is unclear it is totally unacceptable if the MoD’s exercises are causing disruption to island communications networks,” Comhairle leader Angus Campbell reportedly said. “I will be writing to the MoD to seek clarity on exactly what has gone on here and to seek assurances over future exercises.”

Drivers and walkers affected

There have been even reportedly been complaints about the impact on walkers in certain affected area, since many now use GPS devices both for navigation, position finding and for reporting the location of accidents. And of course GPS signals are nowadays relied on by motorists for their satnavs.

GPS is also built into many of today’s smartphones, and have been casuing privacy issues. In April, for example, Apple ran into controversy over a tracking feature in Apple’s iOS 4. GPS mobile applications have also been targeted by cyber criminals, using a Trojan that enables third parties to secretly track the location of the user.

In March, a report by the Royal Academy of Engineering warned that people in the UK have become overly reliant on satellite navigation systems such as GPS, making the technology a prime target for criminals intent on disrupting the country’s infrastructure.

GPS jammers are widely available on the internet, and commercial jammers can be purchased for less than £20.


Author: Tom Jowitt
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