10 GPS myths: Busted

10 GPS myths: Busted

By [email protected] (Brian Hagberg)

 GPS has been broadcasting signals for nearly 40 years. During that time, a number of myths, misconceptions, conspiracies and falsehoods that have been raised. Let’s examine 10 common myths surrounding GPS. This list is presented in no particular order.

1. The U.S. military controls GPS Top GPS Facts

GPS is operated by the 2nd and 19th Space Operations Squadrons at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado; however, the U.S. Government owns GPS and the program is paid for by U.S. taxpayers. According to, GPS receives “national-level attention and guidance from a joint civil/military body called the National Executive Committee for Space-Based Positioning, Navigation and Timing.” The committee is co-chaired by the Deputy Secretaries of Defense and Transportation.

Top GPS Facts2. The U.S. military has turned off civilian GPS signals for operational or combat purposes

Since being declared fully operational in 1995, GPS has never been deactivated by the military for their exclusive use during combat operations. There are millions of civilian users and monitors of GPS around the world. If the U.S. military had turned off civilian GPS signals, even for only a few seconds, those monitors would have made sure everyone knew about it.
The bulk of this myth stems from what’s known as Selective Availability, which allowed the military to intentionally degrade public GPS signals for national security reasons, most notably during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. In May 2000, President Bill Clinton directed the government to discontinue use of SA and this policy has remained in place ever since. President George W. Bush took the policy a step further when, in September 2007, he announced that the government would procure GPS III satellites, which do not have the SA feature. Once these satellites achieve full operational status, SA will no longer be an option, thus eliminating this myth permanently.

3. Military GPS is more accurate than civilian GPS Top GPS Facts

The accuracy of GPS signals in space is the same for both military and civilian GPS, says The main difference, for the time being, is that military GPS operates on two signals, while civilian GPS operates on one. However, civilian users will soon have two new signals to operate on. In June 2014, a group consisting of 2 and 19 SOPS, Space and Missile Systems Center, Headquarters Air Force Space Command, the Department of Defense and Department of Transportation completed an upgrade to current GPS satellites allowing them to broadcast the L2C and L5 civilian signals. The signals are not yet fully operational, but once they are, civilian users will have access to two signals as well.

Top GPS Facts4. The closer you get to a military base, the better your GPS signal will be

“So I’m sitting in a restaurant with my lovely wife and this guy at another table, the kind of guy (who) talks loud so everyone is aware he is an expert on whatever subject it is he’s talking about, starts talking about GPS,” said Lt. Col. Matthew Brandt, 2nd Space Operations Squadron commander. “My wife whispered to me, ‘He’s wrong, isn’t he?’ ‘Oh yes,’ I responded. ‘He’s way off.’ After a while the guy boldly proclaims to the entire restaurant, ‘Of course, you know GPS always gets better the closer you get to a military base!’ and I promptly spit my drink across the table.”

As for being close to a military base, well, let’s just say that my TomTom has a hard time even finding Schriever, let alone getting a signal boost when I’m there.

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Source:: Air Force Space Command