GPS May Not Work in the Western US, Because the Air Force’s Jamming It

Jan 26, 2018

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If your GPS navigation system fails you on your road trip west this month, it isn’t you — or your Garmin. It’s probably the United States Air Force.

Between January 26 and February 16, the USAF will periodically block GPS over a wide swath of the Western states, on dates coinciding with Red Flag 18-1, the military’s “premier set of aerial war games.”

Exercise Red Flag is an advanced military training series that simulates real-time combat conditions for pilots and weapons systems officers. The USAF has hosted Red Flag every year since 1975. The exercise takes place in a series of multi-week sessions at Nellis Air Force Base just outside of Las Vegas.

NELLIS AFB, NV - APRIL 25: A U.S. Air Force F-16C Fighting Falcon takes off from Nellis Air Force Base while participating in the Joint Expeditionary Force Experiment 2006 (JEFX 06) April 25, 2006 in Las Vegas, Nevada. JEFX is a biannual test of new systems and technologies by every branch of the military in an attempt to speed their introduction into the modern battlefield. This year's tests involve about 1,400 personnel from the U.S., Great Britain, Canada and Australia studying new technologies during mock combat over the Nevada desert and center on finding better ways to communicate critical information between armed forces. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
A U.S. Air Force F-16C Fighting Falcon takes off from Nellis Air Force Base. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)


GPS has become a crucial part of modern technology, and the blackout is designed to challenge air and weapons personnel to stay familiar with alternative navigational techniques under realistic fighting conditions.

This year’s exercise is the largest of its kind in Red Flag’s 42-year history, and besides the US Air Force includes airplanes and crews from trusted US allies Australia and the United Kingdom in addition to the United States Marine Corps.

“We’re trying a few new and different things with Red Flag 18-1,” said Col. Michael Mathes, 414th Combat Training Squadron commander. “It’s the largest Red Flag ever with the largest number of participants, highlighting the balance of training efficiency with mission effectiveness.”

How will this exercise affect civilians? Flying Mag reports that the GPS blackout will extend to a number of states surrounding the Nevada-based air base, including California, Nevada, Oregon, Wyoming, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Montana and New Mexico, possibly causing inconsistent GPS access for aircraft and ground vehicles alike.

Feature image  by Airman 1st Class Rachel Loftis/United States Air Force

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