GPS in smartphones turns off if it suspects that it travels onboard ballistic missile

Google Maps mobile phone

Is it true that GPS receivers in consumer grade devices automatically disables itself when it suspects it’s being used in advanced weaponry? It definitely seems so. The limits set by CoCom were established: anything faster than 1,000 knots (1,900 km/h or 1,200 mph) or higher than 59,000 feet (18,000 m) was regarded as a weapon. Most likely, an intercontinental ballistic missile.

COCOM Limits – what is CoCom?

CoCom, which stands for Coordinating Committee for Multilateral Export Controls was established in the 1950s by Western Bloc countries (Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, West Germany, Greece, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Turkey, United Kingdom and the United States). Its purpose was to put embargo and other economic sanctions on Eastern Bloc countries suspected of weapons trade. CoCom was terminated in 1994, but the abbreviation is still used in the term “COCOM Limits” relating to GPS geolocation technology.

Will I ever reach CoCom limits?

Trident II Missile
Trident II Ballistic Missile launched from a submarine (Credit: U.S. Department of Defense photo, public domain)

Typical user is very unlikely to ever encounter a problem caused by ballistic missile limits in their smartphone, Garmin or car satnav device. It sometimes generates problems in scientific applications. Meteorological balloons (a.k.a. weather balloons) can reach extreme altitudes, even above 30 km. Enterpreneurs and tech companies like Copenhagen Suborbitals have to work around limits set by GPS. Usually that means contacting the manufacturer, who in turn contacts U.S. authorities, and manufactures a batch of special GPS units.

Encrypted GPS with no weapon limits

GPS (Global Positioning System) was created by the United States government for military applications. First satellite started working 1978, and full constellation of satellites works since 1993. U.S. military can use GPS on rockets, missiles, and mechatronic space bots (if they are ever created), because the satellites actually transmit more than one signal. The military uses encrypted signal. The consumer signal was released to civilian use after a tragedy that claimed 269 human lives, that could have been averted if GPS technology was available.

Korean Air Lines Flight 007 shot down by Soviet Union

A civilian Boeing 747 of Korean Air Lines accidentally deviated from its designated route. It entered prohibited Soviet air space. Coincidentally, a U.S. reconnaissance mission was planned at the same time. Soviet Air Forces intercepted the aircraft suspecting it’s a U.S. spy plane. They fired warning shots, but Boeing pilots probably haven’t even noticed them. Afterwards, the aircraft was brought down by air-to-air missiles. The heartbreaking tragedy that killed 269 people made U.S. President Ronald Reagan pledge to release GPS technology for common good, as soon as possible.

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2 Comments


  1. GPS in my sh*tty Nokia turns off when it suspects it travels onboard a bicycle. Christ, I want a new phone…

    Reply

    1. Are newer Nokias shitty as well? They resurrected the brand AGAIN

      Reply

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