There is an enormous, invisible clock that keeps ultra-precise time, can be checked from anywhere on earth, and is free for everyone to use. This technological gift to mankind was built by the US government. It is called the Global Positioning System (GPS), it lives in space, and you use it every time you check the map on your phone. … And it is far more vulnerable to attack and disruption than most people know or are willing to admit.
While the US GPS constellation is the preeminent source of this data, other nations have launched similar constellations: Russia’s GLONASS, China’s BeiDou and Europe’s Galileo, along with smaller regional services, offer a similar signal under the rubric of “GNSS”—Global Navigation Satellite System.
Intentional or unintentional jamming could cause millions, even billions of dollars in damage; it could also lead to the loss of life.
To prepare for such threats, experts urge laws that would require toughening up critical infrastructure so it would be able to maintain its own high-quality timing for at least thirty days if GNSS vanishes.
But the more important idea is simply to create a terrestrial back-up: Let’s build another invisible clock, down here on earth. … budget cuts prompted the Obama administration to cancel the eLoran upgrade in 2008.
Putting it in place now could cost as much as $500 million. It’s a lot of money, but it’s a little less than the $547 million total cost of one of the latest generation of GPS satellites. (The current constellation includes many that are well past their theoretical expiry dates.)
The other obstacle is that the companies that depend most on this technology are reluctant to advertise their Achilles’ heel by lobbying for a more resilient system.