The Red Flag US Air Force drill started just recently. Red Flag is the biggest Air Force annual drill, taking place in Nevada and incorporates pilots from allied countries alongside American pilots. This year, the drill included GPS jamming, so the pilots were tested for their navigational skills as well as their flight skills.
In a demonstration by theaviationist.com, members of the 527th Space Aggressor Squadron (527th SAS) at Nellis AFB showed how they can use off-the-shelf equipment to conduct tactical short-range jamming of the GPS signal on a local level. In only a few seconds members of the 527th SAS used off-the-shelf equipment available to the public to jam local GPS reception. The signal bars on the test receiver, a typical consumer GPS, disappeared entirely as though GPS simply didn’t exist anymore.
The Squadron’s mission is not active combat jamming of GPS, but to provide these and other electronic warfare capabilities for training purposes in exercises like Red Flag. The unit is based at Schriever AFB in Colorado but is attached to the 57th Wing at Nellis. According to the U.S. Air Force, the 57th Wing, “is the most diverse wing in the Air Force and provides advanced, realistic and multi-domain training focused on ensuring dominance through air, space and cyberspace.”
The Squadron’s personnel also said that cyber and electronic warfare is the most dynamic and fastest growing battlespace in modern combat.
A member of the U.S. Air Force 527th Space Aggressor Squadron from Schiever AFB in El Paso County, Colorado demonstrates GPS jamming capability at the 2017 Aviation Nation Air & Space Expo at Nellis AFB, Nevada.
In an operational environment jamming GPS signals represents both a threat and an important capability. In addition to serving an important purpose in navigation on land, sea and in the air GPS also provides targeting capability for precision weapons along with many other tactical and strategic purposes.
It’s pretty clear that dominating the GPS “domain” is crucial to win. That’s why during Red Flag the widespread jamming of GPS for training purposes enables warfighters to operate in an environment where electronic and cyber-attacks may disable GPS capability. This compels the players to develop new tactics for fighting “GPS blind” and to revisit existing capabilities perfected in the era prior to widespread use of GPS in a warfighting role.