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GPS at War: A Ten-Year Retrospective
James M. Hasik, IBM Global Services
Michael Russell Rip, Ph.D., Michigan State University
Since its large-scale debut in the 1990-1991 Persian Gulf
War, GPS has grown over the past ten years to support
nearly every aspect of US warfighting. No significant
military operation is conducted without it, and no
substantial system is built without it. This profound
investment has occurred because GPS has enabled the
lethal combination of precision strike with standoff range,
adverse weather performance, and operational flexibility
– all at a low marginal cost. In operations such as Desert
James Hasik holds an MBA (Finance & Business Storm, Deliberate Force, and Allied Force, GPS and
Economics) from the University of Chicago and a BA synergistic systems have enabled US and Allied forces to
(History & Physics) from Duke University. His dominate their opponents in ways that were inconceivable
research interests and experience span military and in the 1980s.
commercial policy, management, and technology.
He is a former US Navy officer. However, operations such as Desert Fox and Infinite
Reach have shown that GPS is not a political silver bullet.
Paradoxically, the tactical dominance afforded by GPS-
equipped systems seduced American political leaders in
the 1990s into a series of questionable, though seemingly
riskless, standoff strikes. Despite the ubiquity of GPS,
fratricide and collateral damage still plague military
efforts (albeit at a reduced level). Thus, the allure of
bloodless warfare and the reality of maddeningly
persistent losses may have combined to condemn such
campaigns to a cycle of undeliverable surgical promises.
At the same time, potential enemies may not remain idle.
Michael Russell Rip holds appointments in James
The immense capability of GPS – shown on television for
Madison College and the Department of
the world to see – has induced military powers around the
Epidemiology, College of Human Medicine, at
globe to adopt it for their new systems as well, and to find
Michigan State University (MSU). He holds B.Sc.
ways of combating it. The low marginal cost of this
(Hons) and M.Sc. (Community Health) degrees from
investment may affect a relative shift in the balance of
the University of Cape Town, and a Ph.D.
power away from progenitors of GPS. Countries with
(Epidemiology) from MSU. His research interests
hitherto little hope of challenging NATO may now find
include the proliferation of weapons of mass
their asymmetric strategies bolstered by the unforeseen
destruction and the international security dimensions
secondary effects of widespread GPS adoption.
GPS at War: A Ten-year Retrospective
THE NEW BINDINGS OF WAR accuracy since the 1970s, and as far back as the 1940s,
the Luftwaffe and the US Army Air Forces had radio
The weapons of choice during the air campaign command link weapons.  What distinguishes GPS as a
over Kosovo were the precision, GPS-aided system is the tremendous decrease in cost required to
weapons… in the next conflict you will see 100 achieve that precision. For a trivial price, GPS has made
percent utilization of these weapons.  weapons truly autonomous – a feature that had not been
achieved in any precision weapon short of a million dollar
General Lester Lyles Tomahawk cruise missile – and has distributed this
USAF Vice Chief of Staff autonomy to a potentially unlimited number of users.
Military use of GPS has come a long way in the past ten To date, the most dramatic example of the value of this
years. Virtually every aircraft and missile flying over distributed precision has arguably been the famous ‘Left
Yugoslavia during NATO’s 1999 campaign was equipped Hook’ of the 1990-91 Persian Gulf War. Until this time,
with GPS navigation, and much of their dramatic deep desert operations were considered too difficult to
capabilities derived from it. It is doubtful that any affect en masse. For example, T. E. Lawrence captured
technology since nuclear weaponry has had such a Aqaba in 1915 with a small force, but the general Anglo-
dramatic influence on military strategy. Today, GPS is the Indian advance into Kuwait and Iraq in 1917 followed the
glue that binds together modern military operations, and Gulf coast and the Tigris -Euphrates Valley. In 1991, the
its promise and pitfalls sit at the core of the question of Iraqis expected a similar route for the Coalition attack,
military transformation. This is true because GPS’ lethal and had largely not deployed west of the Wadi al Batin
combination of inexpensive precision, standoff range, along the western Kuwaiti border. Coalition commander
adverse weather performance, and operational flexibility General Norman Schwartzkopf, however, ran around this
has prompted military forces the world over to adopt it force with the equivalent of eight US, British, and French
with blinding speed. armored divisions and two airmobile divisions. How
could Schwartzkopf’s armor accomplish such a wide
sweep without getting lost in the trackless desert? Tank
units moving at 50 kilometers per hour could easily
stumble into one another at ranges precluding visual
identification, and fire on one another with deadly results.
The answer was, of course, GPS.
Airman 1st Class Jason Fifield of the 393rd Bomb Squadron
readies 2000-lb Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAMs) for a B-2 Abrams tanks, Bradley troop carriers, and a Humvee light truck of
bomber flight to Kosovo. Note the GPS antenna at base of each the US 1st Armored Division speed across the Iraqi desert during
bomb. For many US servicemen, the introduction of precision the famous ‘Left Hook’ maneuver of February 1991. GPS was
stand-off weapons has changed warfare into a clinical affair essential to navigating these trackless wastes in good order.
conducted from the comfort of, say, Knob Knoster, Missouri. Photograph courtesy of US Army VII Corps.
USAF photo by Senior Airman Jessica Kochman.
The Iraqis had not expected that nearly all of these troops
Inexpensive Precision – down to company level – would be equipped with GPS
receivers. The nearly ubiquitous distribution and use of
THE MISSION OF THIS PROGRAM IS TO: these receivers (which required very little training)
1. DROP 5 BOMBS IN THE SAME HOLE AND enabled the first mass, deep desert advance in military
2. BUILD A CHEAP SET THAT NAVIGATES history. Shocked by the speed and direction of the attack,
(<$10,000)  and by six weeks of continual bombardment by Coalition
aircraft (many finding their targets with GPS), the Iraqi
Col. Bradford Parkinson, USAF forces crumbled in one of the most lopsided exchanges in
First Director, GPS Joint Program Office (JPO) centuries. Unsurprisingly, many Coalition commanders
cited GPS as one of the most important technologies of
Precision alone is perhaps the least astounding attribute of the war; General Sir Peter de la Billière, commander of all
GPS. After all, laser guidance has provided pinpoint British forces in the Gulf, called it a war-winner. 
GPS at War: A Ten-year Retrospective
While the Iraqis would not likely have successfully
opposed an attack by a Coalition army without GPS, the
one-sided nature of the outcome was entirely propelled by
its widespread availability. More so, this capability could
never have been achieved at a reasonable cost or accuracy
with inertial navigation sets (INSs), and not with the same
geographical sweep with LORAN. 
[The revolution in military affairs is leading to]
warfare where distance offers no protection,
where if a target can be found it can be
The Rt. Hon. Ian McLachlan NATO estimate of the Serb air defenses of northwestern Bosnia
and the Krajina. Briefing slide courtesy of NATO Air Forces South.
Former Australian Defence Minister
INS performance, of course, degrades with distance from
NATO’s Combined Air Operations Centre (CAOC) in
launch. Since GPS performance does not, it is ideally
Vincenza, Italy then tasked USS Normandy to destroy
suited for guiding long-range weapons. This capability
Lisina with Tomahawk cruise missiles. The cruiser
has become essential in campaigns in which casualties are
launched thirteen weapons starting at 2043 local; eleven
destroyed the ‘golf ball’ radome and toppled the relay
tower between 2125 and 2130. Two missed, and one was
In early September 1995, Lieutenant General Michael
recovered later – relatively intact – by Serbian defenders.
Ryan, USAF, Commander Allied Air Forces South, and
All of these weapons simply flew to predetermined GPS
the leader of NATO Operation Deliberate Force, needed
coordinates, acquired the imagery expected for their
to reduce the complex of Bosnian Serb air defenses and
digital scene matching and correlation (DSMAC) sensors,
communications sites around the town of Banja Luka.
and then detonated their warheads.
Serbian 2K12 Kvadrat (SA-6 ‘Gainful’) batteries were
thought to have congregated there in reaction to a drive by
the Croatian Army towards the area; earlier in the year,
one had ambushed Capt. Scott O’Grady, USAF, and his
F-16. On the 8th , however, Ryan’s request for basing six
F-117 Nighthawk stealth fighter-bombers at Aviano was
denied by the Italian Government. Although this was
simply intended to retaliate for Washington’s failure to
secure Rome a seat at the ‘Contact Group’ peace
negotiations, by Ryan’s calculation, it placed Allied
aviators at risk. On the 9th , 30 NATO aircraft fired 33
High-speed Anti-Radiation Missiles (HARMs) at seven
mobile SAM batteries in the Banja Luka area without a
confirmed kill. [7,8] On the 10th , two of NATO’s five
strike packages were unable to drop munitions because of
deteriorating weather.  Later that day, the US Navy
sent F-18C Hornets from the USS Theodore Roosevelt
against the Lisina Mountain radio relay station with
Remnants of the Lisina Mountain radio relay tower after a strike
AGM-84E Stand-off Land Attack Missiles (SLAMs).  by GPS-guided cruise missiles. Predator UAV imagery courtesy
Simultaneously, the USAF sent F-15E Strike Eagles from of the US Air Force.
Aviana against the Prnjavor relay station with GBU-15
televisually-guided glide bombs. Despite GPS midcourse
guidance for the SLAMs, imagery from a USAF GPS- This mission matched the ease with which seven B-52G
guided Predator unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) the next Stratofortresses used 39 AGM -86C Conventional Air
morning showed only slight damage from one of the Launched Cruise Missiles (CALCMs) to dispatch Iraqi
GBU-15s, and no results from the SLAMs. Simply put, power plants and communications sites on the opening
Ryan needed a better answer. night of the Persian Gulf air campaign. The non-stop
flight from Barksdale AFB, Louisiana to northern Saudi
Arabia was not so easy, but the distance demonstrated the
GPS at War: A Ten-year Retrospective
range at which the US Air Force could strike with GPS bombers with 2000-lb JDAMs. The bomber pilots, of
weapons. course, could care little whether they saw their targets
through the weather or not. The fate of their targets was
Incidentally, a wave of F-18Cs later returned from to sealed (short of an impressive interception of the stealth
finish the job with more SLAMs. Again, they hit nothing, bomber) by knowledge of their geographical coordinates.
but this time the cause was known to be interference with
their missile control datalinks: the pilots saw GBU-15
imagery on their screens, as another F-15E strike was
going on simultaneously only a short distance away. The
F-15Es, however, destroyed their target on this second
try.  Paradoxically, for the Navy in this case, it was
autonomous guidance that won the points for simplicity.
What is less incidental is the reaction that these weapons
had on the Serbian leadership. General Ryan and his
associates did not consider the use of the Tomahawk at all
escalatory. Some members of the North Atlantic Council,
however, were upset that they had not been consulted in
advance on the use of the weapon. More dramatically, one
US diplomat noted that the use of cruise missiles “scared
the shit out of the Serbs” with whom he was in contact, as
they “did not have a clue where we would go next.” 
One might reasonably wonder whether the campaign
would have been concluded more quickly with a massive
barrage of missiles on the first night.
Adverse weather performance
We will weather the weather, whatever the
weather, whether we like it or not. 
Cloud cover over southern Italy, Bosnia, and Yugoslavia on 3
Jamie Shea April 1999. These conditions were typical during the NATO air
campaign over Kosovo. Defense Meteorological Support Program
NATO Spokesman (DMSP) satellite image courtesy of the Pentagon.
In 1991, adverse weather severely complicated Coalition
efforts to destroy Iraqi armor, as the targets generally GPS-guided weapons, however, have proven less useful
required the use of laser-guided bombs. Conditions over against targets that move. NATO aircraft probably did
Bosnia in 1995 were not much better as NATO aircraft scant damage to the Yugoslav Army (VJ) and Special
largely concentrated on ammunition dumps and bridges. Police (MUP), whatever the weather. Though E-8C Joint
Though the targets were largely static, GPS-guided Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (J-STARS)
weapons were not available in large numbers for this aircraft are quite impressive at finding the precise
conflict, so the precision strikes with LGBs were often coordinates of moving ground targets, the VJ and MUP
scrubbed for weather. In 1999, however, the air planners did little mass movement during the campaign. Thus,
did not consider the ground troops in Kosovo to be the dispersed, fielded ground forces remain one of the most
center of gravity, and GPS-guided Joint Direct Attack difficult targeting problems. GPS has also not solved the
Munitions (JDAMs) were plentiful – at least at the start. ‘Battle of the Bulge’ problem – an enemy ground attack
There remains some question over what exactly brought in the face of overwhelming air superiority could succeed
Belgrade to terms, and over how much damage NATO if the weather were bad enough. Close air support through
really accomplished. What is clear, however, is that low-altitude clouds is difficult without helicopters, and
NATO’s object seems to have been to compel acceptance helicopters – flying low and slow enough to see their
of some form of the Rambouillet Accords by threatening targets up close – scare those unused to casualties. Using
economic activity – particularly that of the Yugoslav elite. armed UAVs for this sort of work would not go over well
This focused the bombing on assets such as broadcast with the Infantry. Indeed, in Kosovo, the USAF resorted
facilities, car factories, petroleum refineries, electrical to man-in-the-loop (MITL) AGM -130 missiles to fly
transformers, and Slobodan Milosevic’s house. below the weather after targets. Some of these $300,000
weapons were reportedly dropped on trucks.
The threat was rather cheaply made good even through
completely obscured skies by GPS guidance: virtually all
these targets were attacked with GPS-guided weapons,
sometimes half-a-dozen aim points at a time by B-2 Spirit
GPS at War: A Ten-year Retrospective
Operational flexibility straight and level flight path (for ease of programming)
for 61 minutes over Croatia and western Serbia towards
The theory is that two factors – information Batajnia. Air defenses did not respond effectively, and at
technology and precision strike – are bringing the exact GPS coordinates of the target, the missile
about a basic change in the way w ars are discharged 166 Combined Effects Munitions (CEM)
fought.  bomblets right over the sitting aircraft. Although more
than just GPS accuracy determined the accuracy of the
Andrew W. Marshall missile, the GPS constellation provided that day a circular
Director of the Office of Net Assessment error probable (CEP) that was about one-third the width
of the MiG’s fuselage.  The cloud of submunitions
Each of these preceding three, critical attributes had completely destroyed the MiG-29 parked below, and the
become available with the fielding of the conventionally- results were immediately and remotely observed by the
armed Block II Tomahawk cruise missile in the early still-circling Predator.
1980s. Though impressive, the capability was not
revolutionary in that operational limitations prevented its
widespread adoption. Specifically, the Tomahawk’s
terrain contour matching (TERCOM) guidance system
took weeks to program for new targets. Until the advent
of the Block III missile, programming a flight path would
have required building a complicated terrain profile of the
ground to be overflown. This explains in part why the
missiles were not used against Libya in Operation El
Dorado Canyon in 1986, why only 268 were used against
Iraq in 1991, and why weeks passed between a US
ultimatum and the Tomahawk strike on the Iraqi
Zafraniyah nuclear fabrication plant in early 1993. After
1993, however, the GPS/INS-guided Block III missile
became available, and Navy ships received the new
Collaborative Contingency Targeting System (CCTS). A MiG-29 positioned near the Batajnica airfield in Yugoslavia as
The CCTS and GPS allowed planners simply to enter a some villagers look on. Or is it? Although this was the genuine
article, plenty of supposed Yugoslav aircraft, armored vehicles,
series of GPS waypoints into the missile’s computer as a and guns were actually high-fidelity decoys. Photograph from an
flight path. anonymous Yugoslav source.
It is this sort of widely available operational flexibility
that makes GPS so revolutionary. For example, UAVs In this regard, one might reasonably consider weapons
have been available since the 1970s, but navigation and like the Tomahawk, the Boeing CALCM, and the new
control problems precluded their widespread use until French SCALP-EG (Système de Croisière Longue Portée
recently. Today, GPS-guided UAVs allow air forces to – Emploi Géneral) missile represent Mr. Marshall’s rather
reconnoiter enemy territory at low altitude without much basic change in the ways of war. Ships and aircraft now
worry about losses. In Kosovo, the loss of twenty-one quietly hurl weapons hundreds of miles towards their
NATO UAVs hardly affected operations. The French targets while keeping their crews out of harm’s way.
Army lost five of the thirteen that it deployed: had these
been losses of manned aircraft, reconnaissance operations
might very well have been curtailed.  THE UNFULFILLABLE PROMISE
Indeed, it was a USAF Predator UAV gave NATO its …even if the Americans threaten force… Let me
first real-time remote targeting success. On 26 March tell you, the state of Iraq is one of the most
1999, a Predator found a MiG-29 parked alongside a experienced in the region, maybe in the world, in
runway at the Batajnica airfield (home to the Yugoslav terms of war… Iraq knows that a couple of
MiG-29 squadron). The control crew informed NATO’s missiles will not win a war. We know their
Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC) in Vincenze, effectiveness, and also their limitations. 
Italy, which in turn decided on a cruise missile strike,
since the weather was getting difficult for manned Tariq Aziz
aircraft.  The CAOC transmitted the required data to Iraqi Foreign Minister
USS Philippine Sea, waiting in the Adriatic Sea about 50
miles off the Dalmatian coast. The cruiser needed 101 The past few short, untaxing wars have suggested that US
minutes to process the data with its CCTS (including is (to quote the French press) a “hyperpower” with
passing its own GPS coordinates to the firing solution) overwhelming military capabilities. At the same time, the
and to launch a missile. The missile then flew a relatively US continues to fight brush-fire wars, since some corners
GPS at War: A Ten-year Retrospective
of the world remain unconvinced that these GPS- effectively from the bombers which stayed about 15,000
equipped precision legions are truly invincible. This is feet. However, the allure of war without casualties enticed
because GPS technology is not a military panacea, and many NATO governments to shrink from the ground
indeed, because its overuse is strategically self-limiting. option. Thus, only a handful of commandos and the
We group the reasons for this into matters of maskirovka; Kosovar guerrillas were on hand to flush the quarry out.
collateral damage, fratricide, and the ‘empty building In the end, this seduction and unchallenged air superiority
syndrome’; interdiction; proliferation; and political abuse. dictated the indirect strategy of the campaign. Unable to
significantly attrite VJ and MUP forces in Kosovo,
Maskirovka NATO resorted to economic coercion. So, equipping
entire air forces with GPS weapons may or may not have
We had one big amusement… we made fake made the jet fighter bomber the decisive weapon of war.
tanks out of cardboard and NATO aimed at these It has certainly, however, made it an extremely effective
and bombed them all the time.  coercive instrument of economical economic destruction.
Anonymous Yugoslav Army conscript
First, was the target destroyed that day on Batajnica Field
really a MiG-29? The Tomahawk strike was a brilliant
technical feat of arms, but the prominence of the target –
sitting parked next to a runway for perhaps three hours –
should call into question the validity of the strike. Since
the Yugoslav Air Force possessed only thirteen MiG-29s,
who would place one in open view? A sophisticated
hoaxster would do so, since the aircraft was probably no
real MiG-29. This is because thirteen fake MiG-29s were
constructed of welded steel frames and wooden ribbing,
wrapped in cloth, and painted in full Yugoslav Air Force
regalia before the war. Steel radar reflectors
complemented steel tubing and jet engine exhaust
nozzles, and internal heat generators simulated an
aircraft’s thermal signatures. Tins of gasoline and smoke A high-fidelity MiG-29 decoy under construction at the LIFAM
pots mimicked secondary explosions if the decoy was hit. Factory in Nova Pazova. Photograph by Djordje Ivanov.
 Major General Charles Wald, USAF, then Joint Staff
Vice Director for Strategic Plans and Policy, suggested
incredulously during the war that “if that's a decoy, he's Wrong buildings, empty buildings, wrong people
putting a lot of money into decoys.”  Indeed, it seems
that in quite a few cases, he was. It was the right address applied to the wrong
Maskirovka is the Russian word loosely designating
military deception, concealment, and dispersion. While Anonymous Senior US Intelligence Official
GPS guidance and computer technologies have enabled On the bombing of the Chinese Embassy
NATO air forces to destroy just about any fixed target
they wish, maskirovka complicates the question of what Just before midnight on 7 May 1999, a B-2 bomber struck
the target really is. GPS-equipped weaponry is optimized that Federal Military Supply Directorate Headquarters
for coordinate attack: weapons navigating to GPS with five, GPS-guided, $27,000 JDAMs. With impressive
coordinates do not care what they are destroying, so to accuracy, the attack demolished an entire wing of the
speak, so long as they are detonating in the right building. The problem was that the building was not the
geographic spot at the right time. Adding autonomous headquarters at all, but the Mainland Chinese Embassy.
terminal sensors to weaponry can help, but it is expensive Though tragic, the bombing is explainable:
and not entirely proven against relocatable forces. Adding
MITL guidance to a weapon is a more certain approach, • The street map of Belgrade used in finding the target
but it is far from infallible, adds the expense of additional dated from 1992, but the Embassy had only moved to
systems, and removes much of the autonomy and its then-present location in 1996. In any case, the map
flexibility gained from of GPS guidance in the first place. was of too small a scale to be useful in precision
Maskirovka becomes easier when one’s opponent is either
unable or unwilling to root out the deception. Without • The intelligence databases used to check for this sort
significant Allied ground forces in Kosovo, the VJ and the of error had been updated in 1997 and 1998, but the
MUP had rather free reign to hide their materiel very error had not been detected
GPS at War: A Ten-year Retrospective
business very effectively without every showing up at the
• No one familiar with the city had been consulted in office. It is doubtful that destroying barracks and secret
the construction of the target databases, or of ‘no-hit’ police headquarters will have any effect on military
databases of buildings to scrupulously avoid bombing operations, but these seem to remain favored targets for
(hospitals, orphanages, embassies, etc.)  GPS-guided weaponry.
Expectations of what they can accomplish, however, have
somewhat outrun reality. In 1995, a senior Pentagon
political appointee reportedly delayed work briefly on the
Block IV Tomahawk missile program out of concerns
about the collateral damage that the weapon could cause.
The individual in question was stunned to discover that
the weapon had not been designed to rule out any
possibility of collateral damage. After a lesson or two
about the fog of war, the program proceeded. Fratricide is
a tragedy that would seem tailor made for prevention by
GPS, and much has been done in this area.  Still, GPS
cannot prevent all occurrences of it, as people will
continue to do regrettable things under pressure.
Casualties from a mistaken NATO air attack on Kosovar refugees.
Photograph courtesy of Radio Television Serbia
Ground level photograph of the Chinese Embassy in Novi
Beograd, Yugoslavia, after an inadvertent JDAM attack. Consider the NATO air attack near Djakovica, Kosovo,
Photograph courtesy of an anonymous Yugoslav photographer.
on 15 April 1999. The pilot of the attacking aircraft
thought that he was attacking a VJ or MUP truck column;
his target was actually a convoy of farm tractors ferrying
None of this placated Beijing, whose European
refugees out of the province. Over 80 civilians were killed
intelligence gathering headquarters was somehow the
or wounded when USAF F-16s attacked them with 500-lb
wing of the building targeted in the only strike of the
GBU-12 laser-guided bombs (LGBs). These, of course,
campaign nominated by the US Central Intelligence
were the very people that NATO was claiming to be
Agency. Assuming this to have been a shocking
helping by its bombing. GPS, of course, is not particularly
coincidence (rather than a brilliantly devious scheme), the
useful for distinguishing farm tractors from tank columns
moral here is that smart weapons wielded by not-so-smart
at 15,000 feet from the cockpit of a jet fighter-bomber, so
targeters are likely to induce embarrassing consequences.
visual identification of targets will remain essential for
More so, while GPS is very good at guiding weapons to
quite a while.
street addresses, no technology seems available for telling
the targeters whether the building at that address is
For finding targets, and for avoiding the wrong targets,
actually occupied. In the words of one Pentagon official,
operators using GPS-guided weapons need considerably
the Iraqis have, after ten years of desultory bombardment,
more intelligence and targeting support than in the past.
become “professional cruise missile recipients”. Indeed,
Even if entire theaters can be constantly, visually scoured
the national security business around the world has some
by UAVs flying beneath the clouds, trained analysts will
reasonably clever people who can figure out how to do
be needed to classify suspects, prioritize targets, and
GPS at War: A Ten-year Retrospective
schedule missions of both manned and unmanned been replaced by considerable conscientious effort to
weapons systems. This may be neither a quick nor increase the robustness of the system to jamming and
inexpensive process. spoofing. Still, several recent US Space Command
wargames have illustrated how widespread dependence
Interdiction on GPS for all precision warfighting matters makes GPS
an enticing target.
We know that Russia or former Russian
republics are selling, in effect, hand-held
jammers that can jam satellite signals.
The Hon. Donald Rumsfeld
US Defense Secretary (at Confirmation Hearing)
This also assumes that those weapons will continue to
work. It is widely known today that the vulnerability of
GPS receivers to jamming ranges from the extreme (e.g.,
a handheld C/A code device) to the slight (a Y-code
device with an integrated INS and a null-steering
antenna). What is surprising is that jamming has not
apparently been attempted with greater vigor. Still, a
glimpse of what could happen was seen in a combined
British-American raid on Iraqi air defenses on 16
February 2001. The force consisted of USAF F-15E
Strike Eagles with AGM -130s; US Navy F-18C Hornets
with AGM -154A Joint Stand-Off Weapons (JSOWs),
HARMs, and SLAMs; and RAF Tornadoes with Paveway
LGBs. The Paveways, SLAMs, HARMs, and AGM -130s
elicited no complaints. The 28 GPS-guided JSOW glide
bombs, however, were another matter. About half their
targets escaped damage when 26 of them systematically
discharged their CEM payloads about 100 feet off. The famous “soda can” jammer built by the Naval Weapons Test
Center China Lake. This one-watt device can effectively terminate
GPS reception for most commercial receivers within line of sight.
This miss distance is not dreadful from the launch range Photograph courtesy of the GPS Joint Program Office.
of up to 40 miles, but does indicate possible performance
under jamming, should the weapons have been forced to
rely on their INSs. Note also that it is roughly the miss Proliferation
distance expected of a C/A code weapon operating under
Selective Availability (SA). Jamming, however, was Every nation, in one fashion or another, is
considered unlikely in this case. The bombs likely planning to use the GPS signals.
encountered strong, low-level winds around the targets,
but their flight paths did not include a sufficiently long Col. Michael Wiedemer, USAF
straight-and-level run with which to correct their courses past GPS Program Manager
before fusing. This incident, however, illustrates how
targeters, planners, and politicians may assume that GPS Why destroy GPS, though, when one can use it for one’s
is an ever-present ether whose function is guaranteed, but own purposes? In October 1997, USAF Space Command
a mystery. GPS, of course, is a technology, but one whose conducted an experiment to test the ease with which
functioning – and whose limitations and vulnerabilities – adversaries could locate deploying air units. Using only
are probably not sufficiently well understood by those open-source information and commercial satellite
who call upon it to perform in combat. imagery, a team tracked the deployment of an Air
Expeditionary Force (AEF) to Bahrain. With no special
If jamming is a local matter, with localized rewards, access to sites in the .mil domain, the team discovered the
destruction of the satellites would be a far more general AEF’s location, mission, and composition. The team
matter. In the late 1980s, US Navy officers and tasked the French SPOT (Satellite Probatoire pour
quartermasters were usually taught to avoid over-reliance l’Observation de Terre) satellite to photograph the AEF’s
on GPS as a navigation system. Many (at least outside the bed-down locations. Image analysts located the AEF’s
JPO) simply assumed that a global war would see most headquarters, its hardened aircraft shelters, refueling
navigation and communications constellations blasted by areas, and the tents housing the crews. 
nuclear anti-satellite weapons. Since the collapse of the
Soviet Union, this concern has receded – although it has
GPS at War: A Ten-year Retrospective
limitation.  That over-reliance caused President
Clinton to dispatch at least 864 cruise missiles on seven
different occasions against Iraq, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan,
and the Sudan. The politically expedient behavior may
have largely served to encourage potential opponents to
master the very same technology on which the US
depends so heavily.
This “missile boat diplomacy” rather defined military
operations in the 1990s. The first attack entirely
conducted with GPS-guided weapons was Operation
Desert Strike, a raid on Iraq on 3 and 4 September 1996.
Four US Navy surface ships, one submarine, and two
USAF B-52 Stratofortresses launched 31 Tomahawks and
Yugoslav troops leaving Kosovo on 11 June 1999. Would the
13 CALCMs at Iraqi targets in retaliation for attacks on
result have been the same had these forces been capable of Kurdish rebels. Despite almost no threat of casualties to
threatening NATO bases in Italy and Hungary with autonomous Americans, and the impressive technology involved, it is
precision weapons? Photograph courtesy of an anonymous entirely unclear what Iraqi behavior this prevented. The
pattern, however, did not reach its nadir until Operation
Infinite Reach on 20 August 1998. In this attack, two US
Navy surface ships fired 13 GPS-guided Tomahawk
Today, over 70 nations possess antiship cruise missiles;
cruise missiles at the El-Shifa pharmaceutical plant in
converting these to GPS-guided coordinate attack
Khartoum, while four surface ships and a submarine fired
weapons is not a technically difficult matter. For Iranian
66 Tomahawks at suspected terrorist training camps 150
missile crews to have fired on the AEF effectively would
miles southeast of Kabul.
not have been difficult. Indeed, since the new American
way of war depends on repeated sorties by fighter-
Regrettably, Infinite Reach would have been more
bombers from fixed bases, adversaries have a strong
appropriately titled Ultimate Futility. The attack
incentive to develop the means to attack those bases –
destroyed the pharmaceutical plant, and killed the night
which are easily located on commercial satellite imagery.
watchman, but no plausible evidence ever emerged to
Thus, while GPS has encouraged reliance on aviation, it
corroborate the story that the facility was actually a nerve
has also provided the means for countering it. Since there
gas plant. A spokesman for bin Laden stated that 34 of his
is little to stop an adversary from having the same impact
people had been killed including one top lieutenant.
on the American leadership that cruise missile usage had
National Security Advisor Sandy Berger’s claim that the
on the Serbian leadership in 1995, we should assume that
attack had “significantly disrupted the capability to use
weapons as these will be used against US troops. Whether
these camps as terrorist facilities” is a little more difficult
the system guiding these missiles is GPS, a better-
to believe.  Bin Laden’s underground bunkers
populated GLONASS constellation, an eventual pan-
survived, and his mud huts above ground could be easily
European Galileo system, or a fully operational Chinese
rebuilt. The overall operation, however, cost roughly $80
Beidou system is a secondary question.
million in munitions alone.
There is even reason to believe that the entire thing was a
stunt designed to deflect public attention from the
The Americans have once again launched a
President’s domestic political tribulations. Speaking from
futile and cowardly attack upon us, hiding
Martha’s Vineyard eight days later, Mr. Clinton said:
behind their great technology which God has
“I was here on this island up till 2:30 in the
Saddam Hussein 
morning, trying to make absolutely sure that at
that chemical plant there was no night shift. I
In fact, some remember a time when casualties were
believed I had to take the action I did, but I didn't
assumed to be a part of war. As recently as 1986, the use
want some person who was a nobody to me —
of Tomahawk cruise missiles against targets in Libya was
but who may have a family to feed and a life to
rejected by the Joint Chiefs of Staff for fear that the
live and probably had no earthly idea what else
technology would slip into Soviet hands. Rather, manned
was going on there — to die needlessly.” 
aircraft were used, and two USAF crewmen of an F-111
Aardvark died in the strike. Their sacrifice was deemed
Who could imagine that a nerve gas plant would lack a
necessary for preserving future security. The 1990s,
substantial night watch? Why would workers at a nerve
however, saw much of the mystique of US air power
gas factory not be desirable military targets? While Mr.
squandered in the short-term interest of casualty
Clinton’s statement was transparently deceptive, his
GPS at War: A Ten-year Retrospective
behavior is the sort which access to long-range, push- integrating massed precision strikes with the more
button weaponry encourages. immediate capabilities of ground forces. When no one is
willing to engage in a knife-fight, however, possession of
a rapier, however ineffectual, is the price of admission.
In the US, the ease of precision strike that GPS has
enabled has led to a doctrinal dissonance amongst the
military services. In the early 1980s, faced with the very
real threat of a Soviet invasion of Western Europe, the US
Army and Air Force cooperated to articulate the AirLand
Battle doctrine of synergistic employment of aviation and
ground troops. Today, air power enthusiasts write with
some derision about the contributions of their ground
forces comrades, and extol the virtues of these rather
unvirtuous, bloodless wars. After relative successes in
Bosnia and Yugoslavia, many planners simply assume
that massed coordinate attacks by GPS-guided weapons
will be enough to compel virtually any opponent to
accede to the (sometimes) reasonable terms that the
A B-52 Stratofortress drops a GPS-guided AGM-86C CALCM. For United States is willing to offer. Dependence on space-
now, seemingly low -risk precision firepower is on call for NATO
leaders round-the-clock. Photograph courtesy of the USAF.
based systems like GPS, however, begs two questions
central to the matter of military transformation:
• First, when will attacks against fixed infrastructure be
THE NEXT TEN YEARS enough to compel compliance? Our theories of
deterrence and compellence with precision
A country that has cruise missiles retains control conventional weapons have generally lagged the
over how they are used, but on the other hand, a development of those systems. If the US cannot
country that doesn’t have any can find itself resolve this issue, then will its soldiers continue to be
excluded from part of the decision-making “permitted to kill, but not to die?”  If so, how
process on strikes.  circumscribed will national goals become should this
pattern become a habit?
French Defense Ministry Report on Kosovo
• Second, as central as GPS technology is to the new
Even if the Infinite Reach strikes had an objective linked means of warfighting, how far will potential
to national security, they certainly were of negligible opponents go to interdict it? Will major adversaries
political value. Earlier, a dozen cruise missiles had restrict themselves to their own satellite systems (to
frightened the Bosnian Serbs, but it is likely that future guard against reimposition of Selective Availability),
adversaries will be no more impressed by this than were or will they use their high earth orbit lift capabilities
hostile Arab tribesmen by the RAF’s aerial control of the to target the GPS constellation directly? If so, how
1920s. After a fashion, adversaries who do not too dearly far towards militarization of outer space should the
value tangible assets learn to endure: Osama bin-Laden is US proceed to protect this essential military asset?
still making bombs, and Saddam Hussein remains in
Baghdad. This, as Colonel Douglas MacGregor, USA In short, the US military needs to think about its
(Ret.), puts it, is because while air forces attack targets, dependence on satellite applications systematically.
only ground forces change governments.  Considering the capabilities of GPS (or GLONASS,
Galileo, or Beidou) without considering the
Yet satellite-guided autonomous weapons continue to vulnerabilities that over-dependence engenders is a
capture the imagination worldwide. The French Defense dangerously piecemeal approach. Military thinking about
Ministry has recently announced that it is forgoing GPS could use more maturity, and less euphoria.
construction of a second nuclear-powered aircraft carrier
to match the Charles de Gaulle. Instead, funds will be
focused on new frigates and nuclear-powered submarines
armed with a naval version of the satellite-guided
SCALP-EG cruise missile. Seven of the frigates would
cost as much as the carrier, but it is assumed that these
ships and their missiles could stand in for the single
carrier if it is laid up during a crisis.  Not much
thought, it seems, has yet been given to the question of
GPS at War: A Ten-year Retrospective
1. Tech. Sgt. T. Hoffman, “Vice Chief Cites Importance
of Space”, Air Force Space Command Public Affairs,
1 September 1999.
2. Bradford W. Parkinson, et al., “A History of Satellite
Navigation,” NAVIGATION: Journal of the Institute of
Navigation (Spring 1995), Vol. 42, No. 1, p. 138.
3. See Chapter 2, “A Short History of Military Air
Navigation,” of M. Rip and J. Hasik, The Precision
Revolution: GPS and the Future of Aerial Warfare
(Naval Institute Press, December 2001).
4. General Sir Peter de la Billière, Storm Command: A
Personal Account of the Gulf War (Harper Collins,
1992), p. 348.
A Chinese Long March rocket lifts the first Beidou (Northern
5. The US 101st Airmobile Division was partially
Dipper) navigation satellite from the Xichang launch center into equipped with LORAN receivers, but this was an
orbit on Halloween Night, 2000. Photograph by the Xinhua News entirely adequate substitute, as Saudi Arabia had an
Agency. excellent LORAN network. The French 6th Light
Armored Division neither GPS nor LORAN
receivers, but used Gazelle helicopters of its 1st and
3rd Combat Helicopter Regiments as pathfinder units
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS immediately behind their lead units. These aircraft
were not equipped with GPS either, but used the
The authors would like to acknowledge the sponsorship of Nadir Doppler-radar navigation system and an
Naval Institute Press (Annapolis, Maryland) in the established system of waypoints behind the French
publication of their upcoming book, The Precision advance. M. Hammick, “Gazelle HOTs extend
Revolution: the GPS and the Future of Aerial Warfare French anti-armour reach,” International Defence
(November 2001). They would also like to thank Review, May 1991, p. 456.
Michigan State University Press (East Lansing, Michigan)
for its assistance in the development of their next project, 6. “Interview: Ian McLachlan, Australian Minister for
Just a Little Bombing: NATO’s Balkan Air Wars and the Defence,” Jane’s Defence Weekly, 7 August 1996, p.
Question of Military Transformation. 40.
7. Lt. Col. Richard L. Sargent, USAF, “Deliberate
Force Targeting”, in Col. Robert C. Owen, USAF,
ed., Deliberate Force – A Case Study in Effective Air
Campaigning: Final Report of the Air University
Balkan Air Campaign Study (Air University Press,
2000), p 315 (hereafter, BACS).
8. Tim Ripley, Operation Deliberate Force: The UN
and NATO Campaign in Bosnia, 1995 (Centre for
Defence and International Studies, 1999), p. 279.
9. Lt. Col. Mark J. Conversino, USAF, “Executing
Deliberate Force, 30 August – 14 September 1995”,
in BACS, p 155.
10. See Chapter 5, “NAVSTAR’s Storm Across the Desert –
the Second War in the Persian Gulf, 1990-91,” in Rip
& Hasik, op. cit. Seven SLAMs had been used
against Iraq in 1991, and four had hit their targets.
11. Ripley, op. cit., p 285.
GPS at War: A Ten-year Retrospective
12. Col. Robert C. Owen, “Summary”, in BACS, p. 492. - A GPS/INS Application to Improve Effectiveness
Admiral Leighton Smith, USN, Commander of and Minimize the Possibility of Fratricide”
Allied Forces South, related this story to Col. Owen.
25. Lt. Col. Beth M. Kaspar, USAF, The End of Secrecy?
13. NATO Press Conference, Brussels, 14 April 1999. Military Competitiveness in the Age of Transparency
(Thesis, Air War College, Maxwell AFB, Alabama,
14. Testimony before the Senate Armed Services April 2000). Kaspar cites a report by US Air Force
Committee, May 1995. Space Command, “Operation Seek Gunfighter:
Aggressor Space Applications Project Operational
15. These aircraft were the Crecerelle and Piver drones Report”, Falcon AFB, Colorado, 23 January 1998.
deployed by the French 7e Régiment d’Artillerie in
Macedonia. Interestingly, as an older system, the 26. Address on Iraqi television, 3 September 1996.
Piver did not carry a GPS receiver, but only an INS,
an altimeter, and a Doppler radar. Rip & Hasik, 27. For more on this line of thought, see Eliot Cohen,
Chapter 5, op. cit. “The Mystique of American Air Power,” Foreign
Affairs, January/February, 1994. One might argue,
16. See Chapter 12, Rip & Hasik, op cit. however, that the opportunity for restraint has
17. Analysis performed by the authors courtesy of
Richard Langley, Geodetic Research Laboratory, 28. M. Sappenfield, “What Cruise Missiles
Department of Geodesy and Geomatics Engineering, Accomplished,” The Christian Science Monitor, 28
University of New Brunswick (Fredericton, New August 1998, p. 4.
29. See Christopher Hitchens, “Weapons of Mass
18. Scott Ritter, Endgame: Solving the Iraqi Problem – Distraction,” Vanity Fair, March 1999. Mr. Hitchens
Once and for All (Simon & Schuster, 1999), p. 141. is not normally considered temperate in his opinions,
Aziz was meeting with Rolf Ekeus, the United but this argument is a strong one. Also, the
Nations Special Commission’s first executive occurrence of this event so close to the release of the
chairman in Baghdad, on 19 June 1996, following the film Wag the Dog was oddly fascinating.
Iraqi government’s refusal to permit an inspection
team access to three Special Republican Guard 30. Craig R. Whitney, “U.S. Military Acted Outside
facilities. NATO Framework During Kosovo Conflict, France
Says,” The New York Times, 11 November 1999.
19. B. Maddox et al., “The 80 Days War,” The Times
(London), 15 July 1999. 31. Col. Douglas Macgregor, USA (Ret.), Breaking the
Phalanx: A New Design for Land Power in the
20. M. Stekovic, “Yugoslavia’s Wooden Fulcrums,” Air Twenty-first Century (Praeger: 1997).
Forces Monthly, November 1999, pp. 34-35.
32. J. A. C. Lewis, “France rules out second aircraft
21. Wald has since been promoted to Lieutenant General, carrier,” Jane’s Defence Weekly, 18 June 2001, p. 12.
and been given command of the US 9th Air Force. His The seven frigates are assumed to cost about as much
particular comments were about an S-125 Pechora without their missiles as the carrier would cost
(NATO codename: SA-3) surface-to-air missile site without its aircraft. It remains to be seen whether
that had to have been real, since the attack shown in Paris will equip its weapons – in the long run – with
the gun camera video indicated massive secondary GPS, or will insist on developing the Galileo system
explosions. The Yugoslavs, of course, were rigging for guidance not subject to US cooperation.
their decoys to do just that. US Department of
Defense Briefing on Operation Allied Force, The 33. Comment by Lt. Gen. Philippe Morillon, former
Pentagon, 24 May 1999, Pentagon Deputy commander of UN Forces in the Former Yugoslavia.
Spokesman Mike Doubleday and Maj. Gen. Charles See Col. Peter F. Herrly, USA (Ret.), “The Plight of
Wald briefers. Joint Doctrine after Kosovo,” Joint Forces Quarterly,
Summer 1999, pp. 99-104.
22. ABC News, 11 May 1999.
23. US State Department, Report on Accidental Bombing
of Chinese Embassy, 6 July 1999.
24. See elsewhere at this conference: Thomas Loeffler,
“International HARM Precision Navigation Upgrade