Putting ALL Our Navigation Eggs Up For Breaking

stolen from Comrade E B Misfit
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Knife Fighting in the Dark; the Civil Side

(The military side)

One of the side-effects of a war between adversaries with first-world comparable EW gear will be a loss of the GPS network. Whether it will be world-wide or localized to the combat area(s), whether the GPS constellation itself will be disrupted is a matter of speculation.

But what will also likely happen is a disruption of the global air traffic system. The short-sighted beancountrs int he FAA have been pushing the decommissioning of a large chunk of the VOR network and shutting down VOR/DME -based approaches. In the event of such a war, less than two hundred “safe” airports will retain the capability to conduct VOR-based instrument approaches. All of the rest of the airport that had VOR-based or NDB-based approaches will be shit out of luck.

Besides that, putting all of the airspace control eggs into satellite based systems is betting on that there won’t be any significant solar flares.

In some ways, it doesn’t matter very much. Some airliners can’t track a VOR. Their navigation systems use GPS and overlay the VOR approach on their GPS displays. So while it may look as though they’re flying a VOR approach, they really aren’t. Losing GPS would transform those airplanes into VFR-only which would effectively ground them all, as they’d be fuel-sucking pigs at VFR altitudes.

Time was, we had redundant systems of navigation. When IFR airplanes had ADFs, the location of the higher-power AM radio stations were on the navigation charts. It wasn’t fun drawing lines-of-position on charts in a cockpit, but it could be done. (See, chapter five of Fate is the Hunter ) High-end airplanes several decades ago had OMEGA and LORAN. Microprocessors made LORAN usable in small aircraft and boats.

It’s more than airliners and boats. The trucking industry is dependent on GPS. GPS units ensure that truckers avoid parkways and low bridges. It’s far more accurate than the old road atlases. Crop-dusters use GPS to precisely apply their chemicals. Farms use GPS to micro-customize the management of their fields. EMS uses GPS to navigate to the site of the emergency. If you call 9-1-1 on your cell phone or hit the emergency button on your car’s nav system (or OnStar), the car sends your GPS location. The clown who stalked you and is wearing an ankle bracelet so he stays away from you while he’s out on bail– want to guess how that thing works?

If the GPS constellation is degraded or disabled in a war, the effects will be far-reaching beyond what most people can fathom.

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