US Navy reinstates celestial navigation due to fears of computer hacking

The US Navy is reinstating classes on celestial navigation for new recruits due to fear of hackers breaching computer navigation systems.

Officials reinstated brief lessons in celestial navigation earlier this year after it had been declared obsolete for nearly two decades.

The need for celestial navigation was believed to have become useless with the launch of satellites in the early 1990s. These satellites conglomerated into the Global Positioning System (GPS), which could directly pinpoint the location of millions of individuals.

Approximately 31 satellites circle the globe twice a day. Managing these satellites costs American tax payers nearly $1 billion a year. [1]

The growing threat of cyber attacks

With the growing threat of cyber attacks, however, the Navy has decided that the same techniques which helped guide Columbus to the Americas may still have some practical use.

“We went away from celestial navigation because computers are great,” said Lt. Cmdr. Ryan Rogers, the deputy chairman of the naval academy’s Department of Seamanship and Navigation. “The problem is there’s no backup.”[1]

The sale of sextants, a doubly reflecting navigation instrument used to measure the angle between any two visible objects, plunged with the literal rise of satellites.

“The perceived need for sextants was taken away,” Peter Trogdon, president of nautical instrument company Weems & Plath in Eastport, Maryland, told sources. “There’s only a few thousand sold a year,” he said. “Most of those are sold to yachtsmen who want to have a backup.”[2]

By all accounts, GPS is better than sextants. Sextants are difficult to use and are imprecise in their calculations. Nevertheless, sextants do have one advantage over GPS: Their inability to be hacked by cyber criminals.

Reinstating celestial navigation in the classroom

The first batch of midshipmen to receive training in celestial navigation were juniors, earlier this summer. Newly enlisted sailors will be required to study the stars and learn theories behind celestial navigation next autumn. The class of 2017 will be the first to graduate with the reinstated courses.

“This is the first semester we added it in, so we’re just baby-stepping it,” said Lt. Christine Hirsch, who teaches navigation at an academy in Annapolis, Maryland. “Only three hours will be taught. We just added the theory, but we really do have the capabilities to expand.”[2]

With only three hours of teaching under their belt, however, students won’t really be well equipped to use sextants.

We’ve grown accustomed to GPS in the digital age, but a world cast into darkness isn’t as farfetched as one may suspect. Solar flares are as much a threat to communication satellites as computer hackers.

“In the event that we had to go into a national emergency, we would probably have to shut the GPS down because it can be used by potential enemies,” retired Navy Capt. Terry Carraway of Silver Spring told sources. “It would be pretty hard to train a lot of people in celestial navigation, so we wanted to keep contact with all the people who taught it.”[2]

Check out for more breaking news on important issues involving cyber warfare.

Sources include:

[1] Telegraph.Co.Uk


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