GPS jamming raises more alarms

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Police in Norway’s northernmost county of Finnmark are now issuing warnings that Russian jamming of GPS signals can threaten security and emergency preparedness in Norway. The warnings come after the Norwegian military confirmed that the latest wave of GPS jamming had been traced to Russian ground troops on the Kola Peninsula.

Pilots of passenger flights over Finnmark have experienced disruption in GPS signals once again in recent weeks. They have alternative navigation systems, but now police are voicing concerns. PHOTO: Barents Observer/Thomas Nilsen

Russian officials have long been suspected of GPS jamming, not least after commercial airline pilots flying over Finnmark reported how they’d  lost GPS signals in the fall of 2017. It had happened before as well, and problems have cropped up again in recent weeks. The Barents Observer reported on November 2 that pilots were once again experiencing loss of GPS signals (external link to the Barents Observer) in the air space between Kirkenes in the east and Lyngen in Troms in the west.

Among airlines affected was the domestic short-haul carrier Widerøe. An airline spokesman stressed that cockpit crews have alternative navigation systems and declined to speculate on the reason the signals disappeared.

Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported Tuesday morning that police in Finnmark are concerned. They noted that disturbances of GPS signals in Finnmark have occurred at least three times since last September, and can also interfere with police response to emergency situations. GPS coordinates are often used to determine locations when police are out on the job.

Ties to NATO exercises
The recent GPS disruption occurred during NATO’s recent Trident Juncture military defense exercises much farther south in Norway. Russia had objected mightily to NATO’s huge display of strength, and speculation immediately arose that the recent GPS jamming may not have been coincidental. Russian authorities have denied they’ve been behind earlier incidents.

On Tuesday, however, Norwegian military officials confirmed they were aware that Russian ground troops on the Kola Peninsula, just to the east of Finnmark, had disrupted GPS signals while the NATO exercise was underway.

“We are following the situation closely along with relevant authorities,” read a statement sent to news bureau NTB from the Norwegian defense department (Forsvaret). The statement noted that Norway’s foreign ministry “has taken this up with Russian authorities on earlier occasions.” The latest incidents of GPS jamming occurred between October 16 and November 7, according to the defense department.

Svein Johan Pedersen of the Norwegian aviation authority (Luftfartstilsynet) also confirmed on Tuesday that it was aware of disturbances in GPS signals. “The disturbances in the air space have been marked on several occasions when GPS signals have been abnormally weak or haven’t been received (by pilots) during flights,” Pedersen told NTB. Indicators in the cockpit immediately inform a pilot when GPS signals disappear.

Finland also affected
The Barents Observer reported Tuesday that passenger flights in Northern Finland have also reported unstable GPS signals. Finland took part in the recent NATO exercises, and the country’s prime minister told state broadcaster YLE that Russia was suspected of being behind the GPS disruption.

The Barents Observer has reported that Russia has invested heavily in electronic warfare equipment in recent years and has been training its forces in how to disrupt or shut down GPS-, radio- and mobile phone signals. Last year’s disruptions over Eastern Finnmark, which shares a border with Russia, were linked to Russia’s own large military exercise Zapad 2017. There are several Russian military camps located just a few kilometers from the Norwegian border.

Norway’s foreign ministry have contacted Russian authorities and asked them to stop the jamming. Details of the “dialogue” between the Norwegian and Russian officials were not revealed.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund