GPS in the military perspective


For a soldier operating under cover of darkness in enemy territory the biggest challenge is navigation due to unfamiliar territory and lack of easily identifiable landmarks on ground. Soldiers have been using night skies for ages to find out direction but their location on ground cannot be determined. The necessity of knowing their own position by troops during war was very clearly highlighted during the Gulf War (1990) and the Kargil conflict (1999). This can be judged from the fact that initially about 1000 GPS receivers were issued for use during the Gulf war but by the end nearly 9000 handheld devices were in use (Fig 2). Similarly, during the Kargil conflict, Indian patrols operating in rugged terrain along the line of control, initially strayed into enemy held areas with disastrous consequences but later on the availability of handheld GPS receivers proved to be invaluable to them. In fact, these GPS receivers are fast replacing the conventional compasses in a soldiers rug sack. Special forces and crack teams also use these to reach and destroy vital enemy installations. Such teams can draw air and artillery fire accurately by providing the accurate positional data. Further, gun positions can be occupied quickly using GPS, as in modern warfare, artillery batteries must move often to keep pace with assault troops and to avoid being hit by counter fire. Convoy movements can also be tracked and planned effectively using GPS devices.


In a military scenario, potential targets need to be constantly tracked before they are declared hostile and engaged by various weapon systems. This tracking data is fed as input to modern weapon systems such as missiles and smart bombs etc. Just to site an example, the US Army has developed a GPS Truth Data Acquisition, Recording, and Display System (TDARDS). It is a compact, lightweight, low-cost, and easily transportable or mobile GPS-based tracking system that uses up-to-date GPS data, radio data link, and computer technology to provide highly accurate, real-time time-space position information (TSPI) on up to ten test objects, such as ground vehicles, helicopters, and fixed-wing aircraft. The system is highly modular, built with commercial off-the-shelf hardware, and easily modifiable to meet any special needs of individual testing and tracking applications (Gilkey et al., 1994).

Bomb and Missile guidance

Modern day weapon systems are designed to use GPS data as input for targeting and guidance. Cruise missiles commonly used by US to accurately hit targets from large standoff distances use multichannel GPS receivers to accurately determine their location constantly while in flight. The Multiple Launched Rocket System (MLRS) vehicle uses GPS based inertial guidance to position itself and aim the launch box at the target in a very short time (Fig 3). This reduces the chances of detection and counter bombardment. The Exploitation of DGPS for Guidance Enhancement (EDGE) program of the US army has developed a 2000 lb glide bomb, which uses a GPS seeker rather than a Laser for guidance. This bomb could accurately hit its target 11 miles from its drop point guided by four DGPS base stations about 1000 nautical miles away (Anonymous(a), 2001).


Rescue and emergency response is another area where GPS can prove invaluable to the military. Determining the location of a casualty during operations, emergency response teams can use the GPS to reduce response time. For example, the US Air Force is already taking advantage of GPS based technology and is developing a Combat Survivor Evader Locator (CSEL) system. The new system integrates the GPS receiver with a communications radio so that search and rescue teams can locate downed aircrew members faster and more accurately than before (Anonymous(b), 2001).

Map Updation

To carry out planning at various military headquarter levels, the defence forces need accurate and updated maps at various scales depending upon the level of the commander for planning operations, administrative planning and training. The availability of GPS shall augment the collection of precise data necessary for quick and accurate map updation. The GPS can also be used effectively for the establishment of grid control locations for the placement of various weapons and other assets, location of targets etc. For example, the modern mapping techniques such as remote sensing and GIS will now constantly use the DGPS technology to register the images into absolute geocoordinates (Kelly, 2001). This would enable the military personnel to utilize modern map products to accurately determine the locations of target points for use by the new generation of weapons.

Facility Management

In almost all countries of the world, the military manages and operates large bases which cover extensive areas. To manage these facilities effectively, it is essential to prepare an accurate base map. Here GPS/DGPS can be of immense help, as existing maps are not updated regularly. GPS co-opted with Geographic Information System (GIS) can effectively tackle this task. For example, at Yokosuka US Naval Base in Japan, Arc View GIS software was used to evaluate three different components for the GPS implementation. First, for modeling the optimum location for a GPS base station, secondly for selecting benchmark locations to fix the base station location and thirdly evaluating accuracy of survey by GPS (Dunham, 1999).

GPS in Everyday Life

The GPS system was developed to meet military needs, but new ways to use its capabilities in everyday life are continually being found. As the information before, the system has been used in aircraft and ships, but there are many other ways to benefit from GPS.

GPS is helping to save lives and property across the nation. Many police, fire, and emergency medical-service units use GPS receivers to determine the police car, fire truck, or ambulance nearest to an emergency, enabling the quickest possible response in life-or-death situations. GPS-equipped aircraft can quickly plot the perimeter of a forest fire so fire supervisors can produce updated maps in the field and send firefighters safely to key hot spots.

Mapping, construction, and surveying companies use GPS extensively. During construction of the tunnel under the English Channel, British and French crews started digging from opposite ends: one from Dover, England, and one from Calais, France. They relied on GPS receivers outside the tunnel to check their positions along the way and to make sure they met exactly in the middle. Otherwise, the tunnel might have been crooked. GPS allows mine operators to navigate mining equipment safely, even when visibility is obscured.

Remember that the example of the car with a video display in the dashboard. Vehicle tracking is one of the fastest-growing GPS applications today. GPS-equipped fleet vehicles, public transportation systems, delivery trucks, and courier services use receivers to monitor their locations at all times for both efficiency and driver safety.

Automobile manufacturers are offering moving-map displays guided by GPS receivers as an option on new vehicles. The displays can be removed and taken into a home to plan a trip. Several major rental car companies have GPS-equipped vehicles that give directions to drivers on display screens and through synthesized voice instructions. Imagine never again getting lost on vacation, no matter where you are.

GPS-equipped balloons monitor holes in the ozone layer over the polar regions as well as air quality across the nation. Buoys tracking major oil spills transmit data using GPS to guide cleanup operations. Archaeologists, biologists, and explorers are using the system to locate ancient ruins, migrating animal herds, and endangered species such as manatees, snow leopards, and giant pandas.

The future of GPS is as unlimited as your imagination. New applications will continue to be created as technology evolves. GPS satellites, like stars in the sky, will be guiding us well into the 21st century.

GPS Applications on the land

Roads and highways

It is estimated that delays from congestion on highways, streets, and transit systems throughout the world result in productivity losses in the hundreds of billions of dollars annually. Other negative effects of congestion include property damage, personal injuries, increased air pollution, and inefficient fuel consumption.

The availability and accuracy of the Global Positioning System (GPS) offers increased efficiencies and safety for vehicles using highways, streets, and mass transit systems. Many of the problems associated with the routing and dispatch of commercial vehicles is significantly reduced or eliminated with the help of GPS. This is also true for the management of mass transit systems, road maintenance crews, and emergency vehicles, GPS enables automatic vehicle location and in-vehicle navigation systems that are widely used throughout the world today. By combining GPS position technology with systems that can display geographic information or with systems that can automatically transmit data to display screens or computers, a new dimension in surface transportation is realized.

A geographic information system (GIS) stores, analyzes, and displays geographically referenced information provided in large part by GPS. Today GIS is used to monitor vehicle location, making possible effective strategies that can keep transit vehicles on schedule and inform passengers of precise arrival times. Mass transit systems use this capability to track rail, bus, and other services to improve on-time performance.

Many new capabilities are made possible with the help of GPS. Instant car pools are feasible since people desiring a ride can be instantly matched with a vehicle in a nearby area.

Using GPS technology to help track and forecast the movement of freight has made a logistical revolution, including an application known as time-definite delivery. In time-definite delivery, trucking companies use GPS for tracking to guarantee delivery and pickup at the time promised, whether over short distances or across time zones. When an order comes in, a dispatcher punches a computer function, and a list of trucks appears on the screen, displaying a full array of detailed information on the status of each of them. If a truck is running late or strays off route, an alert is sent to the dispatcher.

Many nations use GPS to help survey their road and highway networks, by identifying the location of features on, near, or adjacent to the road networks. These include service stations, maintenance and emergency services and supplies, entry and exit ramps, damage to the road system, etc. The information serves as an input to the GIS data gathering process. This database of knowledge helps transportation agencies to reduce maintenance and service costs and enhances the safety of drivers using the roads.

Research is underway to provide warnings to drivers of potential critical situations, such as traffic violations or crashes. Additional research is being conducted to examine the potential for minimal vehicle control when there is a clear need for action, such as the pre-deployment of air bags. The position information provided by GPS is an integral part of this research.

GPS is an essential element in the future of Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS). ITS encompasses a broad range of communications-based information and electronics technologies. Research is being conducted in the area of advanced driver assistance systems, which include road departure and lane change collision avoidance systems. These systems need to estimate the position of a vehicle relative to lane and road edge with an accuracy of 10 centimeters.

With the continuous modernization of GPS, one can expect even more effective systems for crash prevention, distress alerts and position notification, electronic mapping, and in-vehicle navigation with audible instructions.


The development and implementation of precision agriculture or site-specific farming has been made possible by combining the Global Positioning System (GPS) and geographic information systems (GIS). These technologies enable the coupling of real-time data collection with accurate position information, leading to the efficient manipulation and analysis of large amounts of geospatial data. GPS-based applications in precision farming are being used for farm planning, field mapping, soil sampling, tractor guidance, crop scouting, variable rate applications, and yield mapping. GPS allows farmers to work during low visibility field conditions such as rain, dust, fog, and darkness.

In the past, it was difficult for farmers to correlate production techniques and crop yields with land variability. This limited their ability to develop the most effective soil/plant treatment strategies that could have enhanced their production. Today, more precise application of pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers, and better control of the dispersion of those chemicals are possible through precision agriculture, thus reducing expenses, producing a higher yield, and creating a more environmentally friendly farm.

Precision agriculture is now changing the way farmers and agribusinesses view the land from which they reap their profits. Precision agriculture is about collecting timely geospatial information on soil-plant-animal requirements and prescribing and applying site-specific treatments to increase agricultural production and protect the environment. Where farmers may have once treated their fields uniformly, they are now seeing benefits from micromanaging their fields. Precision agriculture is gaining in popularity largely due to the introduction of high technology tools into the agricultural community that are more accurate, cost effective, and user friendly. Many of the new innovations rely on the integration of on-board computers, data collection sensors, and GPS time and position reference systems.

Many believe that the benefits of precision agriculture can only be realized on large farms with huge capital investments and experience with information technologies. Such is not the case. There are inexpensive and easy-to-use methods and techniques that can be developed for use by all farmers. Through the use of GPS, GIS, and remote sensing, information needed for improving land and water use can be collected. Farmers can achieve additional benefits by combining better utilization of fertilizers and other soil amendments, determining the economic threshold for treating pest and weed infestations, and protecting the natural resources for future use.

GPS equipment manufacturers have developed several tools to help farmers and agribusinesses become more productive and efficient in their precision farming activities. Today, many farmers use GPS-derived products to enhance operations in their farming businesses. Location information is collected by GPS receivers for mapping field boundaries, roads, irrigation systems, and problem areas in crops such as weeds or disease. The accuracy of GPS allows farmers to create farm maps with precise acreage for field areas, road locations and distances between points of interest. GPS allows farmers to accurately navigate to specific locations in the field, year after year, to collect soil samples or monitor crop conditions.

Crop advisors use rugged data collection devices with GPS for accurate positioning to map pest, insect, and weed infestations in the field. Pest problem areas in crops can be pinpointed and mapped for future management decisions and input recommendations. The same field data can also be used by aircraft sprayers, enabling accurate swathing of fields without use of human "flaggers" to guide them. Crop dusters equipped with GPS are able to fly accurate swaths over the field, applying chemicals only where needed, minimizing chemical drift, reducing the amount of chemicals needed, thereby benefiting the environment. GPS also allows pilots to provide farmers with accurate maps.

Farmers and agriculture service providers can expect even further improvements as GPS continues to modernize. In addition to the current civilian service provided by GPS, the United States is committed to implementing a second and a third civil signal on GPS satellites. The first satellite with the second civilian signal was launched in 2005. The new signals will enhance both the quality and efficiency of agricultural operations in the future.


To sustain the Earth's environment while balancing human needs requires better decision making with more up-to-date information. Gathering accurate and timely information has been one of the greatest challenges facing both government and private organizations that must make these decisions. The Global Positioning System (GPS) helps to address that need.

Data collection systems provide decision makers with descriptive information and accurate positional data about items that are spread across many kilometers of terrain. By connecting position information with other types of data, it is possible to analyze many environmental problems from a new perspective. Position data collected through GPS can be imported into geographic information system (GIS) software, allowing spatial aspects to be analyzed with other information to create a far more complete understanding of a particular situation than might be possible through conventional means.

Aerial studies of some of the world's most impenetrable wilderness are conducted with the aid of GPS technology to evaluate an area's wildlife, terrain, and human infrastructure. By tagging imagery with GPS coordinates it is possible to evaluate conservation efforts and assist in strategy planning.

Some nations collect and use mapping information to manage their regulatory programs such as the control of royalties from mining operations, delineation of borders, and the management of logging in their forests.

GPS technology supports efforts to understand and forecast changes in the environment. By integrating GPS measurements into operational methods used by meteorologists, the atmosphere's water content can be determined, improving the accuracy of weather forecasts. In addition, the proliferation of GPS tidal tracking sites, and improvement in estimating the vertical component of a site's position from GPS measurements, present a unique opportunity to directly observe the effects of ocean tides.

GPS receivers mounted on buoys track the movement and spread of oil spills. Helicopters use GPS to map the perimeter of forest fires and allow efficient use of fire fighting resources.

The migratory patterns of endangered species, such as the mountain gorillas of Rwanda, are tracked and mapped using GPS, helping to preserve and enhance declining populations.

In earthquake prone areas such as the Pacific Rim, GPS is playing an increasingly prominent role in helping scientists to anticipate earthquakes. Using the precise position information provided by GPS, scientists can study how strain builds up slowly over time in an attempt to characterize, and in the future perhaps anticipate, earthquakes.

Another benefit to using GPS is timeliness with which critical products can be generated. Because GPS data are in a digital form available at all times and in all parts of the world, they can be captured and analyzed very quickly. This means that it is possible for analysis to be completed in hours or days rather than weeks or months, thus ensuring that the final product is timelier. With the rapid pace of change in the world today, these savings in time can be critical.

The modernization of GPS will further enhance the support of GPS technology to the study and management of the world's environment. The United States is committed to implementing two additional civilian signals that will provide ecological and conservation applications with increased accuracy, availability, and reliability. Tropical rain forest ecology, for example, will benefit from the increased availability of GPS within heavy foliage areas and the reduction of spatial error in fine-scale vegetation mapping.

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