Pentagon shifts to GPS with no signal reduction

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Pentagon no longer needs to hamper the entire Global Positioning System when facing a threat in one part of the world and will stop buying satellites that enable it do so, the military said on Tuesday.

The U.S. government can now reduce the accuracy of signals received by civilians within a much smaller area, said Pentagon spokesman Maj. Patrick Ryder.

Ryder said that means the next generation of GPS satellites won’t require the capability to degrade the entire system.

GPS was developed by the Defense Department during the Cold War for precision targeting. Built into the system was the ability for the Pentagon to reduce the accuracy of signals by about 10 percent to protect against targeting by enemies.

The military switched off its signal reduction capability in 2000 under an order from President Bill Clinton, who cited the needs of the commercial sector. That decision boosted accuracy from 100 meters to about 10 meters.

The Pentagon said its decision to stop buying satellites that include the signal reduction capability should eliminate any lingering concern about potential U.S. government meddling with GPS signals.

“While this action will not materially improve the performance of the system, it does reflect the United States’ strong commitment to users by reinforcing that this global utility can be counted on to support peaceful civil applications around the globe,” the Pentagon said.

The decision was approved by President George W. Bush.

It will affect the next generation of satellites due to launch in 2013, Ryder said.

Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp. are competing for the contract to provide those satellites.