Australia should be concerned about recent reports of passenger aircraft having their GPS jammed by “Chinese military”, according to Flinders University expert, Professor Samuel Drake.
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Reports of aircraft communication and navigation interference in South China Sea and Pacific should be considered carefully, according to the electromagnetic systems security expert for the Flinders University Centre for Defence Engineering Research and Training.
Qantas pilots have been issued a notice warning about “unwarranted VHF interference” from stations purporting to be Chinese military in the western Pacific and South China Sea area.
“In addition, Group aircraft have experienced GPS jamming suspected to originate from warships operating off the north-west shelf of Australia,” according to the notice warning.
The International Federation of Air Line Pilots’ Associations has also reportedly released a statement that it has been “made aware of some airlines and military aircraft” being called over certain VHF numbers radio communication channels “by military warships in the Pacific region, notably South China Sea, Philippine Sea, East of Indian Ocean”, “provided vectors to avoid the airspace over the warship” or experienced interferences to other global navigation satellite systems and radio altimeter systems.
Professor Drake said although there seems no immediate threat now, the situation could change without warning.
“The loss of the GPS signal is not a safety issue as aircraft have other more reliable and robust navigation systems on board,” he said.
“Unwarranted VHF communications from ‘persons purporting to represent the Chinese military’ on the other hand needs to be considered carefully.
“Firstly, the pilots probably want to keep those communication channels open for emergency communications.
“Secondly, it is possible that a foreign military is conducting ‘electronic warfare’ exercises that may interfere with or damage communication systems and electronic systems on the commercial aircraft.
“Higher powered devices are involved in the jamming of civilian GPS receivers on commercial aircraft, such as the Qantas plane mentioned in media last week. It is relatively easy; all nation states possess this capability.”
In Australia it is illegal to operate, supply, offer to supply, or have a GPS jammer or equipment. Their use can result in up to eight years in prison or over $1 million in fines, according to the Australian Communications and Media Authority.
These types of low-powered devices will not interfere with aircraft navigation systems.