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Russia's GPS jamming puts aviation, shipping at additional risk as well

Map of GPS jamming Estonia experienced on December 31, 2023.
Map of GPS jamming Estonia experienced on December 31, 2023. Source: gpsjam.org

Russian jamming of GPS signals has spread to Estonia and other nearby countries, posing further risks to both aviation and shipping. Generally speaking, GPS interference reduces positioning accuracy, however intense interference can cause GPS receivers to lose positioning information altogether.

On the heels of recent successful Ukrainian drone strikes, the Russian regime has decided to shut down the internet and jam GPS systems in certain regions.

State borders are no obstacle here, which is why GPS interference has also been reported on the Baltic Sea as well as in the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

According to Col. Eero Rebo, commander of the Headquarters of the Estonian Defense League (Kaitseliit), Russia likely doesn't have sufficient air defense, and in order to assuage its people, it has decided to simply find surrogate activities instead.

"This creates additional risks in aviation, but also in shipping as well, actually," Rebo emphasized. "There's no point to these additional risks because this GPS suppression in no way impacts drone technology. So this is being done by the [Vladimir] Putin regime moreso to show that something is being done to defend assets vital to them."

"GPS interference can affect the operation of GPS equipment," explained Erko Kulu, head of the Frequency Management Division at the Consumer Protection and Technical Regulatory Authority's (TTJA) Electronic Communications Department. "Generally this manifests itself in a decrease in positioning accuracy, as the receiver no longer 'sees' a sufficient number of satellites. And of course in the case of severe disturbances, a GPS receiver may also lose its position as well."

Estonia and its neighbors have noticed an uptick in GPS interference since last summer already, Kulu said, noting that in Estonia, these episodes have been more frequent to the country's northeast and east, and high up in the country's airspace.

"These disruptions haven't affected air traffic to any significant extent either, because in aviation there are always several navigation devices being used that complement and support each other," the TTJA official continued, adding that he is counting on Estonian and neighboring countries' pilots' good training.

"And let's face it, this isn't the first time this has happened here," he acknowledged.

Should the impacts of the GPS interference worsen, Estonia can either appeal to the UN's International Telecommunication Union (ITU) or discuss the issue directly with Russia.

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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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