Thursday, February 15, 2018

A World Without GPS

In the past decade, we've become dependent on GPS, the global positioning satellites that ring the globe.  Much of the military uses it constantly.  But what happens if it suddenly "goes away"?
The U.S. military is worryingly dependent on GPS. Our global positioning satellites tell planes where they are, provide targeting info for smart weapons, and support communication and navigation systems. But in a war with a tech-advanced adversary—think China, Russia, or Iran—GPS could become a big liability because it could be jammed, spoofed, or outright destroyed.
 So how does the U.S. Air Force train for such a scenario? Simple—just turn it off.
I learned to navigate long before GPS was a thing.  Map and compass, declination angles, back azimuths and terrain association.  In tanks, compasses were useless.  Sixty tons of steel plays havoc with a compass.A buddy of mine flew B-52s during the Vietnam war..  He could pick Polaris and Rigel our of the night sky in an instant. 

GPS is cool, but when the balloon goes up, there is no guarantee that it will survive the opening shots.  Soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines had best learn to get out the map and do stubby-pencil navigation.  It might be the difference between life and death.


leaperman said...

The army is no longer teaching officers navigation or grenade handling...or is that for everyone in the army.

Army "Be all we say you can be."

Pawpaw said...

I'm pretty sure that the Army is still teaching land navigation, at every level. For a maneuver force, Land Nav is pretty basic. The GPS is a good back-up, but nothing takes the place of the map.

Old Grafton said...

I still own 3 liquid filled compasses and haven't forgotten how to read a topo map. Hell, it's only been 55 years....

Jester said...

I was out in 2010 but the reliability of the compass training was.. less than great. Jokes aside about young officers or privates doing it, I remember being on a somewhat disused/new training site to shoot for specific points, punch your card with the hole punch on a can found if you got there... Shall we say I was damn good at finding where we needed to be. Problem being based off the instructions given and coordinates we had... Eh things did not match up. Question one's sanity for a bit, crash though the course then go back. Get the failing mark and request for the same azimuths being reshot manually and with the GPS. Turns out this course had failed.. quite a lot of soldiers and it was set up wrong. I think while going to electronic means makes war a lot quicker and possibly more precise I also am concerned about the fact there is no back ups. Things fail. The M68 Red Dot sites are amazingly reliable. but they still fail. (Armorer here) Then what? Lots of troops can't shoot worth a damn with either site. Or go with a GPS system or manual compass.

John in Philly said...

I had mentioned to my Army coworkers that I didn't really know how to read a topo map.
When the laughing died down I explained why.
I simply told them that the oceans are flat, and if there are high points the Navy tries to avoid going there with ships.

Peripatetic Engineer said...

Before GPS was LORAN. There used to be a warning posted in the cockpit of the oilfield helicopters that I flew in: "Navigation shall not be predicated on LORAN"

Bill B. said...

I was an armor officer from 86 through 89. We navigated like everyone had for hundreds of years, with a map. Compasses were useless on the tanks, so you had to orienteer. I did carry a small, crappy compass around my neck on a shoe string. I called it my "oh shit" compass. If I was so turned around or lost that I did not know where I was, I said "oh shit", jumped off my tank, and ran 100 yards away to get away from 68 tons of metal and determined which direction north was. If anyone ever says they never got disoriented (not lost), they are lying. When you are moving at 15 or 20 mph and you can't use a compass but only orienteer, you can get off track very quickly. The only way to get good at it is to train over and over again.

One time I got completely disoriented in the desert in California, at the NTC in a sandstorm at night. I jumped off the tank and found north. I convinced myself my oh shit compass had stopped working and was wrong. I decided to move in the opposite direction. Luckily I saw headlights. Once it got through my thick head that no military vehicles move at night with their headlights on I knew something was wrong. I was looking at the highway to Las Vagas, that was off the post. I turned around and got right. I almost led a full scale tank attack on an American city, which would have brought me undying fame and legendary status, in a bad way.

The most pressure I have ever felt in my life was being the lead tank on a night attack (training) with the whole battalion or even brigade following me. I would sit for hours staring at the map before the movement trying to memorize terrain features that might help me. If you screwed up, everyone knew it. No one would get in sleep that night as you tried to unf--k your mistake. Your radio net would light up with everyone from the company commander to the battalion commander screaming at you. Your whole worth to the unit when you were a junior officer was if you could navigate or not. I took great pride in it, and generally led the battalion because I was considered reliable when navigating.

My son is now a cavalry scout platoon leader. I tell him this and he rolls his eyes and calls me a dinosaur. I tell him to brush up on his map reading and compass work but he laughs and says that they have three redundant systems that always work. I hope he is right for his sake.