Russian Version of GPS Stirs Spy Fears in U.S.


In the view of America’s spy services, the next potential threat from Russia may come from within U.S. borders. High-tech “monitor stations” would hone Glonass, the Russian version of the global positioning system—and, some fear, improve surveillance on the U.S. and the precision of Russian weaponry. (New York Times)

Use our resources to better understand GPS.

This video from U.S. Air Force Space Command explains how GPS works—and they’d know, they run it!

Discussion Ideas

  • Read the NY Times article, then read our short encyclopedic entry on GPS or watch the video above. Why do you think Russia, China, and the European Union want to pursue their own version of GPS when the U.S. provides the service for free?
    • From an expert quoted in the article: “[Russians] don’t want to be reliant on the American system and believe that their systems, like GPS, will spawn other industries and applications,” said a former senior official in the State Department’s Office of Space and Advanced Technology. “They feel as though they are losing a technological edge to us in an important market. Look at everything GPS has done on things like your phone and the movement of planes and ships.”
    • In particular, “Russians do not want to rely on the American GPS infrastructure because they remain suspicious of the United States’ military capabilities . . [Their] worst fears, analysts said, [are that] Americans could potentially manipulate signals and send erroneous information to Russian armed forces.”
  • According to the NY Times article, the “United States has stations around the world, but none in Russia.” In fact, the U.S. has 16 monitoring stations and more than a dozen other types of tracking stations or antennas. Look at this map. Where are the closest monitoring stations to Russia? Are there any monitoring stations or other facilities located in nations with which the U.S. is not very strongly allied?
    • The closest GPS monitoring stations to Russia are the United Kingdom (in western Europe), South Korea (in northeastern Asia), and Bahrain (in southwestern Asia).
    • All GPS facilities are located in nations with which the U.S. has very stable, strong diplomatic ties—Tahiti, Ecuador, Argentina, South Africa, the UK, Bahrain, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand. The rest are in the U.S. or U.S. territories.
  • Do you think the Russians have some reasons to be skeptical about relying on GPS? The video above or our short encyclopedic entry might give you some background.
    • Given Russia’s Cold War history with the U.S. and the current tense diplomatic relationship between the two countries, it’s understandable why Russians might be skeptical. Watch the video above, starting at 1:35. GPS was developed for use by the U.S. military, and is still operated by the Air Force Space Command. GPS is essential to navigate military satellites, aircraft, ships, and ground forces, such as Humvees. It is also used “to guide precision weapons to their targets.” Even today, GPS satellites are designed and constructed by defense contractors such as Lockheed Martin and Boeing.
  • Why do you think some U.S. agencies, such as the CIA, are skeptical about Russia establishing Glonass monitoring stations in the U.S.?
    • The same reasons the Russians are skeptical about GPS technology. According to the NY Times, “the C.I.A. and other American spy agencies, as well as the Pentagon, suspect that the monitor stations would give the Russians a foothold on American territory that would sharpen the accuracy of Moscow’s satellite-steered weapons. The stations, they believe, could also give the Russians an opening to snoop on the United States within its borders.”

One thought on “Russian Version of GPS Stirs Spy Fears in U.S.

Leave a Reply