Space warfare: how the military could be forced to give up GPS and return to navigating by the stars

Partial view of the curvature of the Earth from space. Orbiting overhead are a number of satellites.

The military relies on space for communications, for position, navigation and timing (PNT) information, meteorology, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance. Australia now recognises space as an operational domain, alongside air, sea, land and cyber, and has established a Defence space command.

The Australian defence force already offers celestial navigation training and is working on a range of alternative navigation technologies.

It has a “navigate using celestial aids” training unit that includes learning how to construct a sun compass to establish north, south, east and west; identify celestial bodies to determine south and north; and other methods to estimate direction, time, distance, and position.

So true though that the more we rely on vulnerable digital technology, we could be quite paralysed if it is neutralised. We rely on GPS for so many types of navigation, guidance, and even timing. Even technologies like cloud computing are no longer under local and decentralised control – such computing is not only exposed in the cloud but required long distance 24/7 connectivity to use.

Satellites are going to be great for phone calls in the wilderness, but such satellites too are very exposed in future warfare.

It is good to know some of the older tried and tested analogue skills are not yet lost. We do still have technologies such as ham radio that can establish communications over 10,000+ km without any Internet, and the newer Meshtastic license-free radio does a similar thing over shorter ranges.

It seems too that “older” tech low frequency navigation signals from ground stations may be coming back into use (a bit like short wave radio made a comeback for the war in Ukraine), and which are far more difficult to jam.


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