• May 24, 1996

This week, the Celtic League successfully frustrated secret UK MOD attempts to start tests on countermeasures for so called “smart weapons”. We argued the tests would pose a danger to ships and aircraft in the Irish sea area.

The MOD initially would neither confirm nor deny our claims (then good sense appears to have prevailed). The tests at Aberporth missile range in mid Wales have now been deferred for a month.

The League argued that the technology aimed at disabling Global Positioning Systems, on which the smart weapons depend, could pose a danger to others such as commercial ships, fishing craft and aircraft which use the systems. We set out below (in lay man’s terms) detail to back up that argument.

GPS is a vital component of modern navigation: It aids accurate navigation, geographic measurement of islands in the ocean, life saving and the control of rockets. Its pinpoint accuracy makes it a vital component of so called smart weapon technology which was demonstrated to such devastating effect during the Gulf War.

GPS was originally a project of the US military which built the system of 24 satellites which span the world. Since 1990 the technology has been available for civil use and this enables a wide range of users to determine accurately the position of ships, land vehicles or aircraft.

The GPS satellites rotate around the the earth in an elliptical orbit at an average height of 20,000 km. Eight satellites are “visible” at any one time in an intersecting orbital pattern.

This constellation allows a continuous communication with the GPS receiver which, using the data from at least three of the “visible” satellites, enables determination of exact position with a degree of accuracy that, previously, mariners could only have dreamed of.

The technology is at present controlled by the United States. (A parallel system called GUS-GLONAS established by the former Soviet Union exists but does not have the accuracy or reliability of the US system).

The United Kingdom has long been anxious to offset US superiority in smart weapon technology but its world economic position does not allow it to challenge the US directly. The Aberporth experiments are, therefore, designed to develop a sort of “poor man’s” solution to smart weapons which, in the process, would render useless the Americans’ costly weaponry.

To carry on this research successfully, means that periodically (perhaps for just brief periods) satellite navigation systems for a wide range of users across the Irish sea and western British Isles may be disabled.

The MOD decision to defer the testing is to be welcomed, however, their original decision to initiate the project surreptitiously was dangerous.

The long term wisdom of developing counter technology of this nature is also questionable. Is this electronic counter weapons research vital to the defence of the United Kingdom or is it simply semi-redundant research workers keeping themselves in a job in the post cold war period?

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