Protecting America's Global Positioning System

"The Global Positioning System signal and service need to be protected based on the importance of GPS to national security, civil services and the economic benefits to the nation." — Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper


GPS at Risk

The Defense Department opposes a license the Federal Communications Commission has granted to a private company, Ligado, to deploy a low-power nationwide mobile broadband network. Here's why:

GPS disruptions caused by Ligado interference could have global ramifications to U.S. national security, commercial and civil sectors, the economy, and those who rely on this service in their everyday lives.

There are too many unknowns, and the risks are too great, to allow the proposed Ligado system to proceed. We risk lives and the security of the nation if GPS is interrupted for any amount of time.

There is no need to put GPS at risk. Mid-band spectrum for 5G exists, and DOD is working with industry on a dynamic spectrum sharing framework. Ligado's proposal is unnecessary.

Ligado's proposed network lacks the bandwidth, power or global ecosystem to deliver robust 5G services. The only beneficiaries are Ligado shareholders.

Practical Uses of GPS by the U.S. Public

The satellite-based navigation system has become critical to everyday living for billions of people worldwide who use it for communications, travel, financial transactions, recreation and commercial and military aviation.

Army Command Sgt. Maj. Steven Peters, assigned to the 411th Hospital Center video-chats with his wife, Rita Peters, from Kuwait while watching a video put together by hospital center staff, April 29, 2020.

Military Use of GPS

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The military developed GPS to meet its critical need to determine precise locations in any battlespace — on land, sea or in the air. GPS remains an indispensable asset to U.S. forces at home and deployed around the globe. Our military uses GPS in operations ranging from search and rescue missions to missile launches, reconnaissance and guiding unmanned systems.



GPS Facts

$70 Billion to U.S. economy annually

$1.4 Trillion to U.S. economy since 1980s

$1 Billion potential daily outage cost

24 U.S. satellites in space

12 Hours GPS satellite circles the Earth

We have a fundamental responsibility to protect GPS as it's paramount to the safety of American citizens, as well as national and economic security. — DOD Chief Information Officer Dana Deasy

Case Timeline

DOD CIO and the Department of Transportation, as the acting Positioning, Navigation, and Timing Executive Committee co-chairs, representing the nine EXCOM members and all Interagency users of GPS, signed a joint letter Dec. 3, 2018, to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration unanimously and unambiguously objecting to the Ligado request.

Acting Defense Secretary Shanahan sent a letter to the Secretary of Commerce on April 18, 2019, and to the FCC Chairman on June 7, 2019, requesting the FCC not allow the proposed system be deployed per the PNT EXCOM decision.

Secretary Esper sent a letter to the FCC Chairman on Nov. 18, 2019, requesting that the FCC not allow the proposed system be deployed per the PNT EXCOM decision.

On March 12, 2020, DOD Chief Information Officer Dana Deasy and Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Dr. Michael Griffin sent a letter to the NTIA asking that the letter be forwarded to the FCC for inclusion in the public record of the Ligado proceeding. The letter included an attached document from the Air Force, DOD's executive agent for GPS and DOD's member of the Inter-department Radio Advisory Committee, providing additional information to the chair of the IRAC on the detrimental impacts of approval of the Ligado request. The attachment was endorsed by representatives of 12 organizations with critical equities in the unhindered operation of GPS.

On April 20, 2020, the Federal Communications Commission unanimously approved Ligado's application to deploy a low-power terrestrial nationwide network in the L-Band that will primarily support 5G and Internet of Things services.

  • Practical Uses of GPS by the U.S. Public

    Practical Uses of GPS by the U.S. Public

    GPS has become an integral part of technology that has improved commerce, travel, safety and the lives of billions of people around the world. It is critical to the American way of life.

    GPS satellites are always transmitting a precise timing signal that delivers the gold standard in positioning, navigation and timing services supporting vital U.S. and allied operations worldwide.

    GPS underpins critical functions and services that billions of users have come to depend on daily, to include, but not limited to:

    • Finance: major financial institutions, Wall Street transactions, ATMs, banking transactions, and credit card purchases.
    • Essential services: smart cities, disaster response organizations, 911 response services and seismic monitoring of earthquake detection systems.
    • Utilities and infrastructure: transportation systems, survey and mapping, power generation and distribution, and agriculture.
    • Aviation: Federal Aviation Administration operations and commercial aviation safety, air traffic control.
    • The Economy: commercial industry and small businesses.

    In fact, space-enabled technology is so seamlessly integrated into people's daily lives that they rarely give it a second thought while using their smartphone and navigation systems for cars, boats and aircraft.

    GPS contributes approximately $70 billion to the U.S. economy annually, and has generated $1.4 trillion since it was made available for civilian and commercial use in the 1980s.

    Research commissioned by the Department of Commerce's National Institute of Standards and Technology and conducted by RTI International, an independent nonprofit research institute, on the "Economic Benefits of the Global Positioning System (GPS)" estimates that the loss of GPS service would have a $1 billion per-day impact on the U.S. economy.

    What follows is excerpted material from that report:

    GPS is not just a service; it is also a platform for innovation. With the support of federal agencies, private enterprise has leveraged GPS to deliver value through precision agriculture, advanced logistics and route optimization, high-speed wireless services, and a host of other applications. For most Americans, the impact of GPS is as near as their smartphone. Using maps and navigation, social networking, shopping, and interpersonal relationships are all supported by their phones' location services. GPS is a link between innovation within the national lab system, technology transfer to the private sector, and the tools of their everyday lives.

    These advances have led to substantial gains in productivity, efficiency, and personal enjoyment. From people driving to some place new to multinational corporations coordinating complex logistics networks, hundreds of millions of users rely on GPS every day for navigation and positioning.

    Table ES-1. Summary Economic Benefits of GPS for Private-Sector Use, 1984 to 2017

    Specific Analytical Focus Benefits
    ($ million)


    Precision agriculture technologies and practices



    Electrical system reliability and efficiency


    Location-based services

    Smartphone apps and consumer devices that use location services to deliver services and experiences



    Efficiency gains, cost reductions, and increased accuracy



    Navigation, port operations, fishing, and recreational boating


    Oil and gas

    Positioning for offshore drilling and exploration



    Productivity gains, cost reductions, and increased accuracy in professional surveying



    Improved reliability and bandwidth utilization for wireless networks



    Efficiency gains, cost reductions, and environmental benefits through improved vehicle dispatch and navigation


    Total $1,354,830

    Note: Economic benefits were measured relative to a counterfactual that specified that preexisting positioning, navigation, and timing (PNT) systems continued to be available in the absence of GPS. Thus, the relative benefit for some sectors is negligible but substantial for those with applications that have a requirement for GPS's accuracy and precision. We recommend interpreting the $1.4 trillion estimate as a rough order of magnitude. The range of benefits to date is estimated to be between $903 billion and $1.8 trillion.

    We estimate that the loss of GPS service would have a $1 billion per-day impact. If the outage were to occur during the critical planting season in April and May and lasted multiple weeks, the impacts could be as much as 50% higher because of the widespread adoption of GPS-enabled precision agriculture technologies by American farmers.

    O'Connor, A.C., Gallaher, M.P., Clark-Sutton, K., Lapidus, D., Oliver, Z.T., Scott, T.J., Wood, D.W., Gonzalez, M.A., Brown, E.G., and Fletcher, J. 2019, June. Economic Benefits of the Global Positioning System (GPS). RTI Report Number 0215471. Sponsored by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Research Triangle Park, NC: RTI International.

  • Military Use of GPS

    Military Use of GPS

    Over the last 25 years, GPS has become an integral part of technology that has improved military operations worldwide.

    At home, the North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S Northern Command are responsible for DOD defense of the homeland missions. GPS provides NORAD and Northcom precise location accuracy and the critical timing for secure and uninterrupted communications for command and control of assets, ground radars/missile systems, and air defense helicopters and fighters that respond and provide homeland defense forces for official events, such as the U.N. General Assembly meetings in New York, G-7 conferences, and large sporting events such as the Super Bowl and Olympic Games.

    Defense Support to Civil Authorities is a Northcom mission that most recently deployed the USNS Mercy and USNS Comfort to the east and west coasts, and soldiers, aailors, airmen and Marines to support hospitals throughout the nation. We saw similar large-scale DOD DSCA deployments in 2005 for Hurricane Katrina and recently in responding to California wildfires. Ships, aviation and ground assets in these cases are all dependent on GPS to pinpoint their location and coordinate for mission accomplishment anywhere in the U.S.

    At home and abroad, GPS and the airmen who operate the system are foundational to our nation's ability to deter aggression and provide global effects, from humanitarian and disaster relief to major combat.

    GPS military capabilities were first engaged in war during 1990 and 1991 for Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Allied troops relied heavily on GPS to navigate the featureless deserts in Kuwait and Iraq.

    During Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, GPS contributions to warfighting increased significantly. The GPS satellite constellation enabled accurate delivery of GPS-aided Joint Direct Attack Munitions with pinpoint precision and minimal collateral damage.

    For the Joint Force, GPS supports navigation, "Blue Force" tracking, and ultimately making sure bombs are on target. Instead of sending dozens of bombers dropping hundreds of bombs over an entire city, such as was done during World War II air raids, we can now send one bomber to drop one munition precisely on the enemy and reduce the possibility of collateral damage. GPS coordinates also enable casualty evacuation and navigating out of dangerous situations in combat. In addition, Airmen conduct resupply missions with battlefield precision airdrops to combat forces with GPS-guided parachute-delivered equipment pallets, known as "Smart Pallets."

    Today, The GPS Master Control Station, operated by the Air Force's 50th Space Wing's 2nd Space Operations Squadron at Schriever Air Force Base is responsible for monitoring and controlling the GPS satellite constellation. The Global Positioning System is a constellation of orbiting satellites that provides navigation data to military and civilian users all over the world.

  • History of GPS

    History of GPS

    GPS has its origins in the Soviet Union's 1957 launch of Sputnik I, the first artificial satellite. While the launch was a Cold War setback for the U.S., it ultimately led to U.S. researchers discovering that Sputnik's orbit could be accurately tracked from its radio transmissions using ground-receiving stations, a discovery that fostered government and private research and development programs in satellite technology within the United States. Different programs from the 1950s and 1960s eventually merged in 1973 to form the modern GPS program.

    In the early 1970s, the Department of Defense used experiments the U.S. Navy had conducted in the mid-1960s with satellite navigation to develop its own proposed navigation system. DOD launched its first Navigation System with Timing and Ranging, or NAVSTAR, satellite in 1978. The 24 satellite system became fully operational in 1993, and attained full operational capability in 1995.

    But even before reaching its full capability, GPS was used in military operations. Desert Shield, and later Desert Storm in 1990 and 1991, would mark the first time military forces used GPS technology in a combat situation. U.S. and coalition air forces quickly eliminated Iraq's command and control capability and its air force's ability to harass coalition ground forces. When the ground offensive began in earnest on Feb. 24, 1991, the U.S. Army reported about 4,000 GPS receivers assigned to its forces. The Global Positioning System allowed these and allied units to advance in a featureless desert at night, during inclement weather, and to engage Iraqi units with a lethal accuracy unknown to that point.

    GPS remained in the government domain until Korean Air Flight 007 mistakenly flew into Soviet restricted airspace and was subsequently shot down on Sept. 1, 1983, killing all 269 people on board. After the tragedy, President Ronald Reagan called for GPS technology to be made accessible to civilian enterprises at no cost to prevent similar events from happening again.

    Though accessible for civilian purposes, GPS signals available to the public were intentionally degraded for national security reasons, termed Selective Availability, or SA, until President Bill Clinton directed the U.S government to discontinue its use of SA in May 2000. With SA deactivated, the quality of GPS signals for public use improved tenfold. Industry such as shipping, fishing and transportation began using GPS technology to enhance their operations. First responders and other services benefitted form the increased capability, while recreational navigation use also increased, such as driving, boating, and hiking, with private companies introducing personal GPS products. In February 2013, three industry leaders – Garmin, John Deere, and Trimble – would create the GPS Innovation Alliance, based in Washington, D.C., to help protect GPS as a national resource.

    The National Executive Committee for Space-Based Positioning, Navigation and Timing formed in December 2004. The committee, co-chaired by the secretaries of Defense and Transportation and responsible for managing GPS, ensures GPS remains equally influenced by military and civilian interests.

    President George W. Bush announced the end to the procurement of SA-capable GPS satellites in 2007, effectively ensuring that high-quality GPS would remain available to support peaceful civil activities throughout the world.

    To further reinforce global access to GPS, President Barack Obama signed the directive on U.S. National Space Policy in 2010 that included guidance on GPS use, stating that the U.S. shall, "provide continuous worldwide access, for peaceful civil use, to the Global Positioning System (GPS) and its government-provided augmentation, free of direct user charges."

    Most recently, President Donald Trump issued an executive order on "Strengthening National Resilience through Responsible Use of Positioning, Navigation, and Timing Services," in which he directed U.S. government agencies to protect critical infrastructure that relies on GPS.

    Today, GPS is a multi-use, space-based radio navigation system owned by the U.S. government and operated by the United States Air Force to meet national defense, homeland security, civil, commercial and scientific needs. The ability to measure time intervals and frequencies extremely precisely is what allows GPS users to pinpoint their location any time, anywhere in the world. From the time stamp on ATM receipts, international banking, sports and recreation uses, search and rescue activities, humanitarian operations, and the ability of us all to make and receive cellphone calls and texts, GPS has become an integral part of our everyday activities.

  • How the Ligado Proposal Could Disrupt GPS

    How the Ligado Proposal Could Disrupt GPS

    DOD would be subject to network interruptions in the supply systems for air, land and sea platforms across the services and food supply to the Defense Commissary Agency, which manages the stores where our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and their families do their primary grocery shopping.

    Interference of precise location accuracy and the critical timing provided by GPS for secure and uninterrupted communications in support of defense of the homeland missions may occur.

    These missions provide assets, ground radars/missile systems and air defense helicopters and fighters that respond and provide homeland defense forces for official events such as the U.N. General Assembly meetings in New York or G-7 conferences and large sporting events such as the Super Bowl and Olympic Games.

    DOD systems that are dependent on GPS to pinpoint their location and coordinate for mission accomplishment anywhere in the U.S. could be impacted by Ligado operations affecting Northcom's ability to deploy ships, aviation or ground assets.


    Information systems that run banking, the supply chain for all industries, and all aspects of an industry such as travel from reservation systems to air traffic control systems could be disrupted and information throughput slowed, and networks could go down intermittently or for extended periods.

    First responders could be delayed in responding to calls as they would be unable to locate where the call is coming from. They would also have increased difficulty communicating through normal channels with other first responders and be unable to communicate across multiple jurisdictions.

    This would also means that our DOD installations would be more vulnerable to regional problems such as wildfires that do not respect DOD property lines or mass casualty events where DOD installation resources are not sufficient.

    Pipeline operation and maintenance could be disrupted, slowing shipment of liquid and natural gas. General overall awareness of problems in the pipeline may be degraded, which would delay the response time to fix leaks or other malfunctions, which has the potential to cause an unnecessary increase in damage to the environment.

    The electric power and manufacturing industry, like liquid and natural gas industries, also use GPS timing dependent information systems for operations and maintenance, which would in turn cause disruption to the DOD ranging from inability of the defense industrial base to produce required weapons, systems and components to DOD installations left without electricity for anything less than critical infrastructure that has back-up generator power.

    The FAA has reported potential problems with air traffic management including loss of navigation signals for aircraft and loss of situation awareness for controllers. DOD would be subject to these same issues on installations with airfields both in the US and abroad where the perform aviation operations.