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The GPS system: military use and US strivings to maintain domination

Written by: (Contributed) on 28 October 2023



Revelations that the US is urgently seeking to upgrade their dual-use Global Positioning System (GPS) intelligence facilities has emerged due to significant factors, including competition from China and the Russian Federation together with other systems controlled by those usually associated as US allies. 

Serious questions about the effectiveness of the US-led GPS system and defence and security provision appear to have arisen. An insight into the US position, furthermore, can be found amongst studies from the previous Cold War which reveal the nature of US foreign policy toward China in the present Cold War.

During mid-October a media release from Washington found its way into a mainstream Australian outlet. It announced that fears had been raised about the centrality of the US-led GPS, which for fifty years had been a world leader in global navigation, geo-location and time services. (1) Planning has already taken place for the system to be further upgraded with a fleet of satellites to enable 'non-military devices more precise co-ordinates in more indoor and hard-to-reach spaces'. (2)  

Non-military users of the GPS rely upon the facilities for a multitude of household items including clocks and timing devices, smart-phones and other smart-devices, and road-users with location finding. The gadgets are a dominant feature of everyday life in Australia.

What was not divulged, however, was that the GPS is dual-use technology, closely linked to sensitive US-led intelligence facilities. It is, therefore, not surprising to note the GPS was established for use in 1973, coinciding with the official opening of intelligence facilities based on Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean and Pine Gap in Central Australia; other linked facilities included the opening of Silvermine near Cape Town in South Africa with arcs within the Southern Ocean Defence Plan, from Argentina to South Africa, to Diego Garcia, to Pine Gap. (3) Pentagon controlled, it transformed the nature of intelligence-gathering. (4)

While the system has been fully operational since 1995, the US Space Force have now taken control of the system, while still inside the Pentagon. (5)  

Present-day military planning to upgrade the GPS has also included maintaining the original radio frequencies for gadgets, 'to avoid making billions of dependent devices obsolete'. (6)

Studies of the military-uses of the GPS have revealed widespread surveillance and monitoring facilities: the Pine Gap facilities have been noted as possessing the ability to work as a 'multi-purpose vacuum cleaner … sucking electronic signals 35,000 kms into space and feeding them into the enormous computer complex at Pine Gap … unwanted data is sifted out by computers on the ground'. (7) 

The Echelon system has provided the basis for sifting through masses of basic intelligence data and selecting only those items required for higher levels of analysis and profiling. (8) It was working overtime during the pandemic.

Any controversy surrounding the use of the GPS system by the Pentagon for regional surveillance can be easily clarified by the fact the main satellite position was placed over Borneo in Indonesia, at the end of the First Island Chain of the US Island Chain Theory (ICT) and its regional defence and security provision. (9) The island chains represent areas of access and egress into the Asia-Pacific region, which the US have used in an attempt to restrict China's ability to enhance their diplomatic presence and influence in the most dynamic sector of the global economy. (see diagram)

ICT was conveniently shelved at the end of the previous Cold War, then suddenly revamped and directed toward China with the onset of the present one.

The island chains have also been subject to US military planning for their Pacific Deterrence Initiative with networks of precision-strike missiles along the first island chain, costed at $27.4 billion; integrated air missile defence systems have also been planned for the second island chain. (10) The US are clearly planning for military hostilities and ‘real-war scenarios' against China, more likely than not, in the Indo-Pacific region.

Fears, however, have arisen within Pentagon circles that competition from both China and Russia have presented a credible challenge to US-led supremacy with their own GPS.

China's Beidou system, for example, has grown in recent years to have 46 operational satellites which provided global coverage in 2020; the US, by contrast, has only 31 operational satellites. (11) The Beidou system, furthermore, is based on at least thirty precision-enhancing monitoring stations on earth and claims to pinpoint users' locations accurate within several cms. The service also offers ‘basic two-way communications capacities'. (12) Other competitors including Russia and the EU, likewise, already have facilities which offer global coverage. (13) Japan and India have also developed technology for more localised uses in the northern Asia region as part of main US-led systems. (14)

In conclusion, the balance of forces is swinging away from the traditional US-led hegemonic position in the Indo-Pacific region; hidden within Australian defence budgets from Canberra, nevertheless, lies information relating to the extra burden placed on Australian tax-payers to fund US-led military and security provision for ‘US interests' together with wholesale interference with our domestic and everyday communications:

                   We need an independent foreign policy!

1.     US's GPS system at risk of losing top position, Australian, 17 October 2023.
2.     Ibid, and, Wikipedia: List of GPS satellites, detailing that on 15 August 2023, the system had about half of its satellite system officially ‘retired', together with a further two lost while being launched.
3.     Wikipedia, Diego Garcia; and, Maritime Operational and Communications HQ., Front Page, The Star (South Africa), 10 March 1973; and, Security in the Mountain, The Star (South Africa), 17 March 1973.
4.     The CIA and the cult of intelligence, Victor Marchetti and John D, Marks, London, 1976), page 121.
5.     Australian, op.cit., 17 October 2023.
6.     Ibid.
7.     The Secrets of Pine Gap, Willian Pinwill, Australian Penthouse, October 1979, pp. 62-68; and, The Falcon and the Snowman, Robert Lindsay,        (London, 1981), Chapter 34, pp. 237-249.
8.     Espionage, Spies and Secrets, Richard M. Bennett, (London, 2002), Echelon, pp. 89-93.
9.      Secrets of Pine Gap, ibid; and, Diagram – Island Chain Theory.
10.   See: US to build anti-China missile network along first island chain, Nikkei., 5 March 2021; and, US Indo-Pacific Command proposes new missile capabilities to deter China, RFA., 5 March 2021.
11.   Australian, op.cit., 17 October 2023.
12.   Ibid.
13.   Ibid.
14.   Ibid.


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