Murphy's Law: Just In Case GPS Dies


March 1, 2017: Since introduced in the early 1990s GPS (satellite based navigation) has revolutionized movement in unfamiliar areas and nowhere was this more apparent than in the military, where so many personnel on the ground, flying aircraft and steering ships operate in unfamiliar surroundings. Yet after a decade old forms of navigation (using compass, sextant and maps) began to fade away in the military. But after a few years a growing number of commanders, and their subordinates, realized that that satellites could fail or be jammed and the only alternative would be to fall back on the old ways. Training was revised. Ground troops were reintroduced to pre-GPS training in which troops were taught how to move cross country using a compass and map, or simply told to reach a barely visible distant land feature by using a landmarks they could see. Naval academies reintroduced celestial navigation and the use of the sextant. Pilots, especially those flying helicopters, were taught the old “visual orienteering” methods.

It was found that without GPS the younger troops, sailors and pilots could still do it old school and seemed to relish the challenge. In one U.S. Navy exercise officers and sailors aboard a destroyer successfully used pre-GPS methods to guide their ship across 2,500 kilometers of open water (from Japan to Guam) and arrive within seven kilometers of where GPS would have taken them. That was close enough to Guam (which is 59 kilometers long) to visually navigate to the naval base and dock. Similarly there was a recent incident in Central Asia (that was caught on a cell phone video and widely distributed) showing a Kazakh Mi-8 helicopter landing on a highway and asking people in the next vehicle to show up where they were on a map. A truck driver pointed to where the city was they were looking for and the helicopter went on its way. The Mi-8 crew were on a training exercise to see if they could navigate without GPS and back in the old days that sometimes involved landing and asking for directions. On the ground troops are being reintroduced to the compass, paper maps and orienteering. Most managed to figure it out how it worked before GPS when the joke was that the most dangerous man on the battlefield was a second lieutenant with a map..




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