GPS: War fears unwarranted

With war in the Persian Gulf, the Maritime Safety Authority (MSA) is quick to reassure users of global positioning satellite location devices that the US military won't switch the network off.

With war in the Persian Gulf, the Maritime Safety Authority (MSA) is quick to reassure users of global positioning satellite location devices that the US military won’t switch the network off.

When the US Department of Defence began launching GPS satellites in the 1980s, it provided two classes of service: signals with an accuracy to 10 or 20 metres for military users and a degraded signal available to civil users accurate to 100 metres. In May 2000 the US government announced it would allow commercial users to receive the more accurate signal from the GPS system as long as it could be degraded in times of international trouble.

Engineers at Christchurch-based GPS device specialist Navman say it is possible for the US DoD to switch off the system entirely. But a spokeswoman for the MSA says any move to degrade the service would first be announced by the US. Ray Parker, spokesman for the National Rescue Coordination Centre, believes at most the US would limit the accuracy of the system for non-military users.

Meanwhile, German car club AvD is warning drivers in Europe to take extra precautions in case the GPS system is downgraded. Around two million German cars are equipped with GPS navigation systems. AvD suggests packing old fashioned maps for the duration.

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