Baltic Sea region: Experts monitor disruptions in satellite navigation

Baltic Sea area
Experts monitor satellite navigation disruptions

“The disruptions have been observed in crisis regions for some time,” explain researchers from the German Aerospace Center (DLR). photo

© Holger Hollemann/dpa

GPS navigation has been disrupted on a large scale in the Baltic Sea region for some time now. Intentional impairment is primarily found in crisis regions. What happens there?

Security experts are tracking targeted disruptions to satellite navigation in the Baltic Sea region all the way to Germany. “Since December 2023, disruptions to the navigation signals emitted by the satellite navigation system “Global Positioning System (GPS)” have been sporadically reported from the northeastern area of ​​German airspace,” the Federal Ministry of Transport (BMDV) told the German Press Agency in Berlin upon request. The Federal Network Agency, which is responsible for protecting the electromagnetic spectrum, is continuously informed. There is also an exchange between other authorities involved, the Bundeswehr and the airspace users. A spokesman for the ministry writes: “Initiating countermeasures would also be the responsibility of the Federal Network Agency.”

What happens there?

German security researchers, aviation experts and military personnel are tracking the GPSDisturbances are fairly accurate and a specific location of the sources of the disturbance is also possible. No information is provided publicly about the results. However, concrete suspicion falls on Russia, which, according to various reports, also protects its own cities with a kind of jamming shield against attacks, like the ones Ukraine flies with drones as part of its defense. The Russian military itself uses its own satellite navigation system, Glonass.

The disruptions are particularly noticeable in crisis regions

“Severe disruptions to GNSS reception can currently be detected in the Baltic Sea region. However, this phenomenon is not entirely new. The disruptions have been observed in crisis regions for some time,” explain researchers from the German Aerospace Center (DLR). GNNS (“Global Navigation Satellite System”) is a collective term for worldwide satellite systems for positioning and navigation.

Since pilots and ship captains rely on several systems, the DLR experts believe there is “no acute threat” to them. “However, there have been route changes and flight cancellations,” they write. However, with a view to the development of future positioning technologies that serve to cope with increasing traffic density and automation in the mobility sector, one is “well advised to take such disruptions seriously and take them into account in such future technology developments”.

Satellite technology now also determines everyday life

The use of satellite navigation has become very widespread in everyday life. The signals are used to determine one’s own position and for route planning in vehicles. They are also relevant for automated processes such as in agriculture. The DLR researchers point out another point: the satellites emit precise time signals that allow highly precise synchronization of technical systems. This is used in power grids, modern telecommunications networks and also in financial transactions. Due to increasing automation – for example in road traffic – it is important to “develop effective countermeasures”.

“Navigation warfare” is the general military term for weakening the enemy with this type of warfare. Even if there is a solution to a disruption, a combination of data attacks can lead to a collapse. The fact that Germany is inadequately prepared for such scenarios – which could be part of a larger hybrid attack – has been criticized for a long time.

However, countermeasures are already being worked on at the DLR Institute of Communication and Navigation. An example is the alternative navigation system R-MODE. It is currently being tested in the Baltic Sea and enables ships to determine their position even in the event of GNSS interference by using other radio signals. There is also a comparable alternative for aviation with LDACS-NAV. Receivers with high dynamics and multiple antennas that allow “robust satellite navigation” are also very efficient. The experts: “They enable directional resolution of the received signals and can therefore very well detect and suppress interference signals radiated in from a certain direction.” The tests were very successful and the technology should become a product for a wide range of applications in the coming years.


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