GPS interference and jamming

11Jun07

Since GPS signals at terrestrial receivers tend to be relatively weak, it is easy for other sources of electromagnetic radiation to desensitize the receiver, making acquiring and tracking the satellite signals difficult or impossible.

Solar flares are one such naturally occurring emission with the potential to degrade GPS reception, and their impact can affect reception over the half of the Earth facing the sun. GPS signals can also be interfered with by naturally occurring geomagnetic storms, predominantly found near the poles of the Earth’s magnetic field.

Man-made interference can also disrupt, or jam, GPS signals. In one well documented case, an entire harbor was unable to receive GPS signals due to unintentional jamming caused by a malfunctioning TV antenna preamplifier. Intentional jamming is also possible. Generally, stronger signals can interfere with GPS receivers when they are within radio range, or line of sight. In 2002, a detailed description of how to build a short range GPS L1 C/A jammer was published in the online magazine Phrack.

The U.S. government believes that such jammers were used occasionally during the 2001 war in Afghanistan and the U.S. military claimed to destroy a GPS jammer with a GPS-guided bomb during the Iraq War. Such a jammer is relatively easy to detect and locate, making it an attractive target for anti-radiation missiles.

Due to the potential for both natural and man-made noise, numerous techniques continue to be developed to deal with the interference. The first is to not rely on GPS as a sole source. According to John Ruley, “IFR pilots should have a fallback plan in case of a GPS malfunction”. Receiver Autonomous Integrity Monitoring (RAIM) is a feature now included in some receivers, which is designed to provide a warning to the user if jamming or another problem is detected. The U.S. military has also deployed their Selective Availability / Anti-Spoofing Module (SAASM) in the Defense Advanced GPS Receiver (DAGR). In demonstration videos, the DAGR is able to detect jamming and maintain its lock on the encrypted GPS signals during interference which causes civilian receivers to lose lock.

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