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DOD Closes 
Off GPS Segment

BY DANIEL VERTON
AND BOB BREWIN

 

The U.S. Space Command this month shut down a portion of the Global Positioning System signals available to civilian users, citing security reasons. The move comes on the heels of U.S. bombing operations in Kosovo and raises questions about how the military plans to share GPS access in the future.

According to Richard Langley, a professor of geodesy and precision navigation at the University of New Brunswick, Canada, on March 5 Spacecom stopped releasing so-called two-line orbital element sets for GPS satellites to civil users because the data is now considered too "sensitive" for public issue. According to Langely, the element sets have a number of different uses, including tracking the satellites' locations, determining when the signals from a particular satellite will be available at a particular location and planning observations.

"The information on the GPS satellites has always been freely available via NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, [at least] until a few weeks ago," Langley said. "The withdrawal of these two-line elements means that these users will have to find alternate [methods] of checking on the satellites," he said.

The Defense Department already degrades the accuracy of civil GPS signals as a means to deny terrorists and other U.S. adversaries' precision targeting capabilities. Known as selective availability, the process seeks to maintain GPS support for DOD's navigation warfare needs while denying this capability to others. However, pressure has been growing throughout the civil and commercial sectors to terminate selective availability.

Testifying last week before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Gen. Richard B. Myers, commander in chief of Spacecom, said DOD plans to discontinue Selective Availability at least by 2006. But Myers also said the Clinton Administration will revisit the issue each year beginning next year, making its decision based on recommendations from the Transportation Department and the CIA.

"We must...continue to intelligently balance the needs of DOD with the needs of the civil GPS user community," said Myers. However, "as we attempt to balance the needs of all sectors for this emerging global commodity, we [also] must ensure our military forces retain a warfighting advantage,"

Myers said.
MARCH 29, 1999
BY DANIEL VERTON
AND BOB BREWIN