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Authors talk GPS with Team Pete

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – Eric Frazier, co-author of “GPS Declassified: From Smart Bombs to Smartphones,” made a presentation July 21, 2016 at Air Force Space Command Headquarters at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., with co-author Richard Easton as part of the National Security Space Institution’s speaker series. The program brings writers of books on the organization’s space-centric reading list to Peterson to interact with students and personnel. (U.S. Air Force photo by Dave Smith)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – Eric Frazier, co-author of “GPS Declassified: From Smart Bombs to Smartphones,” made a presentation July 21, 2016 at Air Force Space Command Headquarters at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., with co-author Richard Easton as part of the National Security Space Institution’s speaker series. The program brings writers of books on the organization’s space-centric reading list to Peterson to interact with students and personnel. (U.S. Air Force photo by Dave Smith)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – Gen. John Hyten, Air Force Space Command commander, introduces Eric Frazier, left, and Richard Easton, authors of “GPS Declassified: From Smart Bombs to Smartphones.” The book was part of the National Security Space Institution’s reading list and the authors made a presentation to members of Team Pete on July 21, 2016 as part of the NSSI speaker series. (U.S. Air Force photo by Dave Smith)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – Gen. John Hyten, Air Force Space Command commander, introduces Eric Frazier, left, and Richard Easton, authors of “GPS Declassified: From Smart Bombs to Smartphones.” The book was part of the National Security Space Institution’s reading list and the authors made a presentation to members of Team Pete on July 21, 2016 as part of the NSSI speaker series. (U.S. Air Force photo by Dave Smith)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Driving to the family reunion, finding the local farmer’s market or connecting with friends at a restaurant, it is likely the Global Positioning System came into play. What began as military technology, GPS, a global navigation satellite system, is now one of the most relied upon public services in the world.

Richard Easton and Eric Frazier, authors of “GPS Declassified: From Smart Bombs to Smartphones,” gave a presentation Thursday, July 21 as part of the National Security Space Institute’s speaker series. The series features authors of books included on the NSSI reading list.
The presentation focused on how GPS ended up becoming a public utility that affects nearly everyone.

“GPS is one of our favorite topics,” said Gen. John Hyten, Air Force Space Command commander. “Everyone understands GPS.”

People may understand GPS, but businesses and citizens alike often forget what has become integrated deeply into daily routine is a free service provided by the Air Force. Because it is maintained by the Air Force and is readily available, both Easton and Frazier are concerned about the overreliance society has on GPS.

“The public will be surprised if the government moves on (from GPS),” Frazier said. “The public is not having those discussions about overreliance.”

In the public sector, thoughts should look at what to do with GPS-based communication as a whole, if the military develops a new system. A disruption in GPS services could cost more than $90 billion, they said. Annually the U.S. receives between about $40 billion and $122 billion economic benefit from GPS.

If the entire system were put in the hands of the commercial sector, it would also have to cover the approximately $1 billion annual upkeep to maintain GPS services, as well as provide constellation-wide security.
“Public understanding of GPS and what it provides, and how it works, is important,” Frazier said. “Especially for Congress,” when continued funding is an issue.

“Our enemies are looking at how to nullify our GPS advantage,” said Easton.

There were nearly 4 billion global navigation devices in use in 2014, Frazier said. Almost half of them rely solely on GPS. From the beginning, dual use was built into the GPS plan. In the early 1980s it was used first for land surveying, utilizing six satellites and at a cost of about $250,000 per unit. The Macrometer V-1000 used the same technology that tracked the NASA moon rover and could record data four hours per day.

GPS was opened to commercial aviation in September of 1983, following the downing of Korean Air Lines flight 007 by Soviet fighter jets. It made its military debut a few years later during the Persian Gulf War. GPS-guided missiles proved their worth in the war, but the biggest difference made by the system was on the ground.

Frazier said GPS helped avoid fratricide, assisted search and rescue efforts and made atomic clocks accessible for coordinating helicopter attacks. It worked so well that the final Defense Department report to Congress on the Persian Gulf War stated that GPS was used more extensively than originally planned.

And GPS only became more fashionable from there, for both military and commercial use. By 2012, there were almost 1 billion mobile phones with GPS capability and by 2013 there were 188 million smartphone users in the U.S. alone. Its usefulness, and the miniaturization of consumer electronics combined to push the use of GPS into a vast range of commercial uses.

“Buy in is not the problem,” said Frazier. “Overdependence on GPS is a problem. There is a big risk for exploitation.”

That exploitation is one of the biggest challenges for GPS going forward, the authors said.

For now, GPS is more secure than the Internet, which is outpacing cybersecurity. But that didn’t stop Frazier from wondering about what if recent headlines were about GPS being hacked, instead of Internet sites.

“Security has to come first,” he said.

Easton suggested that interoperability with the GNSS’s of potential adversaries might provide a level of security for GPS as it continues to evolve.

“There is no incentive if they end up taking out their own stuff,” Easton said. “If you remove the incentive, there is no provocation.”

Keeping the GPS system under military control is the best plan, they said. Not only can the Air Force better protect the system, but it’s delivery of the service is cost effective. Total lifetime spending on GPS up to 2015 was about $40 billion, which when compared to the economic impact of the industry it is built upon, is a significant return on investment.

“The annual economic benefit is almost equal to, or exceeds, the total cost of GPS since its inception,” Frazier said. “And that’s at the low end.”

Both men said the Air Force should take extra measures to make the general GPS-using public aware of exactly what they are getting from the military.

“Industry is getting a lot of free benefit from the U.S. Government and the Air Force,” Easton said.

People need to know GPS is provided by the Air Force, Frazier said. He is worried that the public will assume GPS is easy to run, just as if it is on cruise control.

“The public needs to know how hands-on GPS is,” Frazier said. “The Air Force should tout it all of the time.”

GPS allows objects on Earth to be tracked, Alzheimer’s patients to be followed, earthquakes to be monitored and routes to the theater to be plotted. The use of military GPS technology is a boon for society, but relying too much upon the benefits could lead to problems down the road if future issues are not approached now, they said.

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