Home » Space » Could Compass put the US (and Europe) in a jam?

Could Compass put the US (and Europe) in a jam?

In yesterdays article I referenced the peculiar number of Compass satellites registered with the ITU. Naturally, such registrations also include the frequencies to be used. Things get very interesting when you compare Compass registrations to the GPS and Galileo allocations
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It is already well known that GPS and Galileo share some of the same frequencies. The rationale behind the frequency-sharing is simple the systems have the potential to be interoperable. To a civilian end-user, Galileo is merely an extension of the GPS constellation, providing better coverage and higher resolution. Yet each system retains some non-overlapping frequencies, such as GPSs military M-Code and Galileos Public Regulated Service. That way, the US military doesnt have to worry about Galileo interfering with its GPS signal.
Many of you may remember that before this arrangement was agreed on, the DoD was afraid that they would not be able to jam Galileo without jamming its own GPS M-Code. This would have left the U.S. military planners in a difficult position to prevent the enemys use of satellite navigation (using civilian Galileo receivers) they would also have to deny it to themselves. Despite DARPAs efforts in recent years to build true precision-guided weapons independent of GPS, the military still remains heavily dependent on GPS.
Six years of trans-Atlantic diplomacy finally resulted in the Binary Offset Carrier 1.1 standard, which was agreed upon in June 2004 by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and EU Transport Commissioner Loyola de Palacio. Neither GPS nor Galileo is vulnerable to jamming targeting the other and the U.S. military retains the right, and the technical capability, to use ground jammers to knock out Galileo signals in war zones.
Both GPS and Galileo are now experiencing deja vu, though, thanks to Compass. Without going into all the numbers, virtually all GPS and Galileo frequencies are overlain by Compass. Not only that, but Compass retains additional frequencies that are not touched by either of the U.S. or European systems (a caveat: satellites rarely use all the frequencies included in their ITU registrations, so this needs to be taken with a grain of salt). GPSs civilian and military channels, Galileos open, commercial, and Public Regulated channels are all within those ranges. Only the frequencies used onboard GPS satellites for missile warnings were avoided at least China was wise enough not to mess with that.
Compass could jam GPS or Galileo even if Compass is only a regional system for Asia with a limited number of satellites. In a military flare-up regarding Taiwan, China could certainly benefit from a complete denial of positioning services to the U.S. and its allies. All it would take would be for the Chinese to program Compass to drown out the other systems with a stronger signal to start causing problems (there is debate as to whether or not such drowning can be overcome).
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More deceptively, Compass could masquerade as GPS and Galileo and transmit deceptive signals. Obviously, the specter of a Chinese finger on a big, red jamming button is giving the shivers to the U.S. military.
However, frequency allocations do not indicate nefarious intent. These same allocations could allow Compass to work in harmony with GPS and Galileo. Overlapping frequencies are essential for making the American and European systems interoperabile the same would hold for Compass. There is precedent; both Japan and India have well-developed plans to augment the GPS network to suit their needs (in Japans case, high-latitude urban reception; in Indias an expanding aviation market). A global, multinational satellite navigation network comprising over 75 satellites would certainly provide remarkable coverage and high precision to all users during the vast majority of the time when there is not a military incursion.
And, if worst comes to worst, everybody would have their own independent networks to fall back on assuming you dont get jammed first.
Ryan Caron

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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Kaltes August 4, 2006 at 11:51 pm

You article is a powerful argument for why we need to develop ASAT weapons. Of course I am well aware that any attempt to develop ASAT weapons provokes incessant whining from defense doves that work for think tanks going on about “the weaponization of space”. Fact is, countries like China will develop ASAT weapons and use them if it is within their capability to do so, regardless of whether the US also possesses them.
As you said, the US military is so reliant on GPS that crippling it would be the best deterrent any nation could employ short of nuclear weapons.
This is why I have so little respoct for the opinions of the think tank types, including the ones who post here, because they do their best to undermine the US technological advantage over our enemies and strategic competitors by hamstringing development efforts that would ensure that the US retains its advantages.
These programs included the osprey, missile defense, ASAT weapons, and various others. The only people I trust to cut programs are people like Cheney and Rumsfeld, because I know they have US interests at heart. The think tank types, on the other hand, DO NOT.

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Kaltes August 5, 2006 at 12:09 am

Also, it would be ignorant to believe that other nations developing GPS systems of their own are nonetheless friendly in their intentions. GPS is already open to everyone, even our enemies. The only times it is not open to everyone is when the US military is fighting. Therefore the only reason to develop your own system is if you want to ensure that a GPS-like system is available to you should you end up in a war against the United States. The european system came about because Europe saw its interests diverging from the US and wanted to take a position as a strategic competitor. This is especially true with France and Germany.
China would only develop such a system out of overtly hostile intentions. The cost of “compass” would be enormous, and the benefit would be nonexistant but for China’s initiation of a war of aggression.
Given your previous article, I think it is likely that China is merely bluffing, and is not capable of putting the system together. It is well known that China often embarks on ridiculously ambitious plans only to abandon them later when the great time and expense sinks in. China wants a GPS, China wants to undermine GPS, but there is simply no way China will spend the money this program would require.
China would rather continue to buy Russian technology, build up its fleet, missile forces, air force, and generally push for continued modernization of its military. China’s major threat is the US carrier task force, and to a lesser extent US submarines. China will continue to focus on these threats alongside its modernization aimed at achieving sufficient military superiority over Taiwan to conquer it.

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Charles August 6, 2006 at 1:32 pm

China will need a much more viable space program than it already has before it can embark on such things.
I’d be more likely to suspect Russia of building a GPS rival than China. Bearing in mind that in the distant past they have fought one another, it’s not likely that the Russians will be forking over everything they know so soon, so China will have to do much of the design work alone.
Buying atomic clocks is one thing but other technical hurdles will remain. It’s probably a bluff, China playing it’s part in posturing against the United States. Since China can’t do “surge” exercises with multiple carrier battlegroups, it makes do with Compass.

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Kaltes August 6, 2006 at 7:09 pm

China and Russia have a very close relationship now, China has been spending billions buying Russian military equipment and technology, and Russia is more than happy to sell.
The two countries see themselves as teaming up to combat and roll back American influence and power regionally. Both Russia and China view America as a strategic threat. China for obvious reasons, and Russia because Putin has a very exaggerated view of what efforts the US has undertaken to undermine him. Every time one of his corrupt dictator allies suffers a setback, he sees an American plot. Putin’s world view is so warped, he actually thinks Dan Rather was fired from CBS on Bush’s orders.
I don’t think Russia could afford a GPS system given all the financial problems they already have trying to maintain their nuclear arsenal, and trying to keep their military intact.

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Cranky Observer August 7, 2006 at 12:53 pm

> I’d be more likely to suspect Russia of
> building a GPS rival than China
I believe the then Soviet Union launched their first GLONASS satellite around 1980 and the total system has been fully operational for quite a while; it uses the Molinya orbit and among other things it is optimized for navigation in the far upper latitudes. Sadly due to lack of money the total system is falling apart and may not last much longer.
Cranky

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