WASHINGTON — The U.S. military has begun a new series “unacceptably widespread” tests throughout the country’s busiest airspace that could cripple crucial navigation systems onboard airplanes, helicopters, and drones without warning.
U.S. Navy ships off the coast of Georgia are jamming GPS signals now through Sunday, according to an advisory by the Federal Aviation Administration. Aviation industry trade groups stress the immense geographic scope of the tests, stretching from South Florida to New Jersey and including all of Maryland, D.C., and Virginia.
“GPS is integrated into everything in aviation,” said Rune Duke, senior director of government affairs for the 400,000-member Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association. Duke stressed that GPS jamming tests impact not just smaller, general aviation aircraft but also larger, commercial airline flights.
Trade groups underscore that GPS is the backbone of the FAA’s NextGen initiative, allowing commercial flights to take quicker, more direct routes. Flights at altitudes up to 40,000 feet can be impacted by the jamming tests, which might not be immediately obvious to pilots.
“Some pilots have had to declare emergencies because of this,” said Duke.
AOPA estimates that more than 28,000 airplanes could be impacted.
GPS jamming has become a favorite tool for militaries worldwide. Russia is suspected of jamming GPS signals during an October NATO exercise in Norway. Until now, tests over American soil have been limited to Alaska and the New Mexico desert.
“Out here on the east coast we have a lot more aircraft, a lot more airports, and a lot more people flying, so this becomes a much bigger deal,” said Duke.
FAA officials have not yet returned WUSA9’s request for comment.