Saturday , May 25 2024

Policy Proposal: Cook Satellite Navigation System

With the EU pushing the UK out of Galileo, the government is rightfully considering all the options, primary among this is the building of our own British equivalent to Galileo and other satellite navigation systems. Nevertheless, we at the CRCC and Daily Globe wish to make a policy proposal: Open it up to CANZUK and the Commonwealth and possibly to traditional allies. This would offer smaller, middle power nations such as Australia, Canada, South Africa and Singapore their own independent satellite navigation system, completely independent of other great and superpowers. The benefit of this cannot be overstated: the US recently shut down all civilian GPS in the Mediterranean east of Cyprus, presumably to support their efforts against the Islamic State terrorist organisation in Syria. This meant that anybody navigating in the region – whether by air, sea or land, would be left without their navigation software, which we have come to intensively rely upon. In 2016, GPS signals around the US Air Force testing facilities in California were shut down, prompting the Federal Aviation Administration to declare a warning for all aircrew in the area not to rely upon it for navigation.

The US has had a history of shutting down GPS signals to nations it wishes to embargo or to penalise countries. This is by no means merely theoretical as the government of India will attest. In 1999, Pakistani forces disguised as terrorist Mujahideen attacked and overran Indian positions in the disputed Kashmir area. On the back foot and threatened by a nuclear power, the Indian government requested the US to provide it GPS to ensure it could appropriately respond. The US refused. For whatever reason Mr Clinton decided it was in the US interest to ensure that the Indian forces defending themselves did not have access to accurate navigation, the ability to conduct pinpoint search and rescue operations, or the ability to use precision-guided weapons, ensuring minimal civilian casualties in the fighting around the town of Kargil. Following this incident, India began developing their own regional Sat Nav system: IRNSS, the India Regional Navigation Satellite System.

Understandably, we know that Brexit means the UK is back in the world scene, on its own and operating as part of very few international organisations. As such, it cannot rely on other nations for its military ability. The UK’s last major war by itself remains the hottest location where the greatest chance of war is: the Falklands Islands. Although the garrison should be more than capable of preventing any military attempts by the Argentinians to capture the islands, there are issues.

During the 1982 war, the US refused to shift the orbit of some of NATO’s spy satellites from reconnaissance over Eastern Europe to the South Atlantic, to further the attempts to liberate the islands. It was deemed that they did not present as much of a threat as the USSR & Warsaw Pact did. While this is understandable, it did mean that the UK was without vital intelligence which would have very likely saved a number of lives.

Further, the US was pushing for a peaceful resolution to the conflict, which, while laudable, denied the fact that Argentina was a fascist dictatorship which hid and practised Nazis and Nazism and was the aggressors. Let us imagine that to exert pressure on the UK in a similar situation in the future, the US decided to switch off GPS, or the EU decided to switch off Galileo, signals to all British forces in the South Atlantic. This would have a number of major effects.

First among these would be the use of navigation. GPS has revolutionised navigation and ensured that one can know precisely where one is. Without GPS, navigation would be considerably harder and there would be no way to know where one is as precisly as with a Sat Nav system. Therefore, the Royal Navy would have it harder to get their forces in the right location in mid-ocean. This also matters for at sea replenishment, where a tanker or supportship is supposed to rendevous with a warship at a certain place at a certain time.

Further, the use of GPS has completely changed bombing accuracy. Circular Error Probability (the margin by which a bomb is likely to miss the target) for GPS guided bombs (JDAMs) is about 7 metres. In other words, when the bomb is dropped, it will “fly” up to 15 miles and land within 7 metres or 21 feet of the target.

Although more accurate laser guided bombs exist, they rely on a direct line of sight for the beam and cannot work inthe cloud.

If Galileo or GPS was switched off, the RAF would have to rely on 1980s style methods: This involved two sorties by two Vulcan bombers, each armed with 21 1,000lb bombs to get a single hit on the target with the technology available. If GPS was switched off, and clouds obscured laser guiding (which would still leave the bomber with the moderate difficulty in arriving at the target), the flight crew would have to rely entirely on bombing computers to ensure the bombs hit the right location. This would considerably increase CEP and raises the issue of bombs going astray and not hitting their targets.

While this could be key during a war, the even more concerning thought is: if the bombs miss the target, what would they hit? In the case of the Falklands Islands, Port Stanley airfield was rather close to the town of Port Stanley. Therefore, without GPS or Galileo, while it is possible to perform nearly all of the same duties, it becomes considerably harder for most of the Airforce & Navy’s precision munitions to work, which means more will be required to do the same job and the others will miss with all the side effects that may have. During the Yugoslavian conflict, the US managed to accidentally bomb the Chinese Embassy; before accurate navigation & friend & foe identification were available, friendly fire incidents were depressingly common. Without access to a Satellite Navigation system, the risk of both of these occurring would increase. How much by may be the million pound question, but how expensive are the lives of civilians & allied servicemen?

Less pivotal for national security, but equally key in the post-Brexit world, a UK satellite navigation network would be a massive soft power tool, which would enable the UK to offer navigational independence to smaller nations which would otherwise not be able to access such technology. It would represent the original idea of the Commonwealth: A forum where a number of smaller nations, weak on their own, could pool their resources and affect the world. While the term “Pooled Sovereignty” is a clear contradiction in terms, “Pooled Power” is not; neither are “Co-operation” and “Mutual Independence”.

And that is before we consider the risks to British & neutral shipping; who would now be in a potential war zone with poor navigation. For long-distance sailors, this could easily create navigational errors and longer voyages, cutting into food reserves. For commercial shipping, the risk could be leaving the shipping lane, taking the wrong course and arriving late and having steamed further. This would increase the overall cost; as would the extra navigation training crew members would need to undergo.

Understandably, the UK has decided that they do not wish to be reliant on either the US or EU’s military spec defence navigation system. Other nations have similar issues but cannot afford to do so. For the UK it is a matter of national security and so May is happy to pay whatever is necessary to ensure it created. “Whatever is Necessary” is something between £2-£5 billion; and the government hopes to get their £1.2bn contribution back from the EU, reducing the costs to £0.8-3.8bn; which is somewhat more affordable.

Space, is, however, rather cramped and the world cannot continue to send up satellites all the time, even if all the nations who would like to have or operate such systems could afford them – which they clearly cannot. Therefore, we at the CRCC have proposed a number of solutions:

  1. Create a joint-CANZUK satellite navigation network
  2. Create a CANZUK & key ally navigation network (like CANZUK, Kenya, South Africa, Brazil, Singapore, Israel, & Chile)
  3. Combine a new satellite navigation system with India’s regional IRNSS, which is also known as Navic, a Sanskrit word for ‘sailor’

The wider the network, the greater the knowledge available to the UK and its allies is. However, it also raises risks to secrecy. In any of the three options, a name must be developed for the new ‘Sat Nav’ network.

Personally, I think Cook would be the best name as he: was British; Expertly charted the St Laurence and Maritime Canada and explored New Zealand & Australia. In short, Cook is a well-known explorer to all four CANZUK nations, which would be the backbone of any Commonwealth satellite network. Apart from a predictable ‘alphabet soup’ acronym, the term Cook or ‘Cook Satellite Navigation Network’ (CSNN) would have no competitor for naming which is as effective. Captain Cook was a brave man, who saved many lives through the attention to detail he had throughout his service in the Royal Navy. Further, just as his charts enabled mariners to identify precisely where they were in the decades or even centuries, after his surveys were completed, the Cook SNN would assist the next generation of navigators.

Having decided that a new British & key allied nations satellite navigation system is useful and indeed required, in the second part of the series, we will see if the UK & any combined allies have the ability to launch such a constellation of satellites into space and maintain such a system.


Picture courtesy of Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd


About Ted Yarbrough

Ted is the co-founder and editor of the Daily Globe. He is a long-time blogger on British politics and has written a thesis on Thatcherism.

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