by Nicholas West
GPS tracking and positioning technology was brought to us by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), commonly known as the “mad science” element of military development. Apparently, DARPA has done such a good job thoroughly embedding GPS into military applications, as well as permitting it to trickle down to “civilian devices,” that it has become a potential threat to national security.
As stated by Arati Prabhakar, head of DARPA, “sometimes a capability is so powerful that our reliance on it, in itself, becomes a vulnerability.”
Now DAPRA is looking to correct the gaping security holes of GPS by introducing the next generation of navigation and tracking technology, which purportedly includes an “autonomous chip.”
The ubiquitous nature of GPS allegedly has been exploited by North Korea for several years. In 2011 it was reported that North Korea scrambled the coordinates of a U.S. spy plane attempting to make an emergency landing in South Korea. The story was heavily disputed, but evidently anyone can scramble the satellite signals of the world’s most powerful military with a $30 GPS jammer device bought on eBay.
Patrick Winn of Global Post highlights other possible, even more lethal, military blunders:
Bluster aside, North Korea’s jammers have so far proved merely aggravating to U.S. and South Korean forces. Scrambling GPS signals won’t cause planes to drop from the sky. Planes can still establish their position with radar.
A more-worrisome scenario could occur during all-out warfare. Bombs commonly used by the U.S. Air Force — called Joint Direct Attack Munitions — rely in part on GPS for precision targeting. According to the Defense Department, jamming a bomb’s signal could cause it to miss its target by nearly 100 feet.
South Korea’s “weapons and navigations systems” have suffered multiple North Korean jamming efforts, according to Seoul-based newspaper Chosun Ilbo, forcing the military to hastily switch to radar tracking.
And the GPS threat is not limited only to military scenarios or blunders; it can be offensive in nature against a civilian population:
Experts warn that a few dozen jammers, strapped to remote control planes and launched over a major city, could sow plenty of panic: disrupting ATM withdrawals, air traffic controllers, ambulance routes and cell phones.
In fact, the world has become so dependent on GPS, that mega defense contractor, Raytheon, offers the following infographic – “Imagine The World Without GPS” – to illustrate the vulnerabilities:
GPS technology has already been through several generations of development to the tune of many billions of dollars, including GPS III which is set to launch the first of 32 new satellites in 2014 and has a timeline extending until at least 2025. Companies like Raytheon and Lockheed-Martin have been among the predictable winners of contracts to increase the reach and security of the GPS network.
However, it seems that the original source of what has now become a problem is offering the solution, or at least part of it. DARPA seeks to augment or perhaps eliminate the reliance on satellites altogether by establishing a new system that relies on microchips:
The tiny chip holds three gyroscopes, three accelerometers and an atomic clock, which, together, work as an autonomous navigation system.
DARPA envisages using this technology to replace GPS in some contexts, especially in small-caliber ammunition or for monitoring people. (emphasis added)
Who could imagine that the inventor of the Internet would not be concerned with monitoring people, knowing what we do in today’s world of progressive surveillance of the Web? And, just like the Internet, we can expect that whatever is developed for the military will slowly but surely ease its way into those “civilian devices” that will be sold to the ever-ravenous consumer. “Some contexts” have a routine way of becoming all contexts. But this time, they might not even need people to buy in:
Prabhakar emphasized there “will not be a monolithic new solution, it will be a series of technologies to track and fix time and position from external sources.” (emphasis added)
One is left to imagine what those sources will be.
One Chip to Rule Them All?
The official DARPA press release entitled, “Extreme Miniaturization: Seven Devices, One Chip to Navigate Without GPS” is worth reading in its entirety as it is a perfect example of why we should never feel safe looking to the military-industrial complex for safety. Using our tax dollars, they all but admit that the GPS technology with which they have marked the world is severely compromised. And, naturally, it is that waste of money that requires us to throw more money into the solution, since these mad scientists could not envision the threat from the beginning.
(Something about Einstein, insanity, and doing the same thing over and over again comes to mind.)
April 10th, 2013
The U.S. Military relies on the space-based Global Positioning System (GPS) to aid air, land and sea navigation. Like the GPS units in many automobiles today, a simple receiver and some processing power is all that is needed for accurate navigation. But, what if the GPS satellites suddenly became unavailable due to malfunction, enemy action or simple interference, such as driving into a tunnel? Unavailability of GPS would be inconvenient for drivers on the road, but could be disastrous for military missions. DARPA is working to protect against such a scenario, and an emerging solution is much smaller than the navigation instruments in today’s defense systems.
DARPA researchers at the University of Michigan have made significant progress with a timing & inertial measurement unit (TIMU) that contains everything needed to aid navigation when GPS is temporarily unavailable. The single chip TIMU prototype contains a six axis IMU (three gyroscopes and three accelerometers) and integrates a highly-accurate master clock into a single miniature system, smaller than the size of a penny. This chip integrates breakthrough devices (clocks, gyroscopes and accelerometers), materials and designs from DARPA’s Micro-Technology for Positioning, Navigation and Timing (Micro-PNT) program.
Three pieces of information are needed to navigate between known points ‘A’ and ‘B’ with precision: orientation, acceleration and time. This new chip integrates state-of-the-art devices that can measure all three simultaneously. This elegant design is accomplished through new fabrication processes in high-quality materials for multi-layered, packaged inertial sensors and a timing unit, all in a tiny 10 cubic millimeter package. Each of the six microfabricated layers of the TIMU is only 50 microns thick, approximately the thickness of a human hair. Each layer has a different function, akin to floors in a building.
“Both the structural layer of the sensors and the integrated package are made of silica,” said Andrei Shkel, DARPA program manager. “The hardness and the high-performance material properties of silica make it the material of choice for integrating all of these devices into a miniature package. The resulting TIMU is small enough and should be robust enough for applications (when GPS is unavailable or limited for a short period of time) such as personnel tracking, handheld navigation, small diameter munitions and small airborne platforms.”
The goal of the Micro-Technology for Positioning, Navigation and Timing (Micro-PNT) program is to develop technology for self-contained, chip-scale inertial navigation and precision guidance. Other recent breakthroughs from Micro-PNT include new microfabrication methods and materials for inertial sensors. (Source)
This project might be a massive boondoggle, since it is slightly strange that the call to augment or replace GPS was publicized one year ago by DARPA, and is being openly developed. If the scenarios for creating mass havoc with a $30 device are to be believed, this would not be a smart announcement to make. Or this could be a truly nefarious attempt to track us even further via microchip link-up. After all, the federal government is continuing its battle to assert that the collection and use of geolocation data does not violate the privacy guarantees of the 4th Amendment. Regardless, it is almost certain that we will be subjected to the fear machine in full overdrive to convince us that every “bad actor” from North Korea to Anonymous to any common low-rent terrorist is set to eradicate our current freedom to be tracked, traced, and databased . . . thus requiring new methods to do just the same, and more.