Advent of European Encrypted GPS

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Encrypted GPS has been available in the U.S. for quite some time, but the results of recent tests demonstrate that the European community may soon have their own encrypted technology. This development could decrease these nations’ dependence on U.S. technology for military applications.

GPS SatellitesHow It’s Been

Some years ago, the United States developed GPS technology to aid in the targeting of nuclear missiles. The location data made it possible for missiles to land precisely on hidden bunkers or silos. As the technology continued to advance, the military found many additional applications for GPS location services. Today, equipment ranging from smart bombs to warships is equipped with such devices. To protect against tampering, an encrypted GPS signal was developed. These signals are well guarded from tampering and can only be used by those who possess the encryption keys.

Why It’s a Problem

At present, the U.S. has been generous in sharing the encrypted technology with its allies. They do, however, have the option to turn off other nations’ access should a conflict arise.  This setup leaves America’s allies dependent on the U.S. for the targeting of its military weapons. Countries with shaky relationships with the U.S. are especially bothered by this dependency.

What’s Been Done

Recently, the European Space Agency began developing their own GPS alternative known as Galileo. In March, the new system passed some important tests, and a press release was issued to that effect. What did not come to light until later was that these tests were actually of the encrypted version of Galileo. The new system was able to pinpoint objects to a distance as close as ten meters. It is expected that Galileo will be available for use sometime in 2014. Most consumers will notice very little difference between the unencrypted European and U.S. versions, but the availability of a European encrypted GPS will be of great significance to some nation states. This technology will allow them to use the GPS targeting capabilities of their weapons without having to depend on permission to use U.S. systems.

It is actually somewhat surprising that it has taken so long for Europe to develop its own encrypted GPS. The long-range effects of this new independence, particularly whether it will make some nations less careful in their relations with the U.S., remains to be seen.

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Nichole Decoust

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