Eielson GPS signal-jamming exercise may affect navigation devices, cellphone apps

Navy F-18 Super Hornets brought in from Naval Air Station Lemoore, Calif., for the annual Northern Edge 2019 training exercise parked Friday on the flightline at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. (DVIDS photo)

Eielson Air Force Base has begun a series of exercises that may cause intermittent problems for navigation systems and other electronic devices around the Interior over the next couple of weeks.

Air Force Lt. Grant Graupmann says Eielson’s 354th Fighter Wing began the GPS signal-jamming over the weekend, and he says it’ll continue through May 24th during weekday evenings.

“In order to try and mitigate how it could be an inconvenience,” he said, “we made sure to limit it to only about an hour-and a half per day, sometime between 4 to 7 p.m.”

Graupmann says civilian pilots are the most likely to experience loss of GPS service briefly during the jamming exercises, which will be conducted at a facility about 20 miles east of Eielson. A base news release says the signal-jamming could affect aircraft flying at 10,000 feet within 437 nautical miles of Eielson; and aircraft flying at 4,000 feet may have some problems if they’re within 371 nautical miles of Eielson.

“It shouldn’t be anything too serious,” Graupmann said. “It might be a little patchy where you’ll have it for a few minutes, then you’ll lose it, then you’ll get it again.”

Graupmann is assigned to a test unit out of Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico, and he’s helping conduct the signal-jamming exercise. He says it won’t affect most navigation systems for vehicles traveling on the ground, except for those passing through a stretch of the Richardson Highway while the jamming is under way.

“If they’re driving from Fairbanks to Delta Junction along that highway, that might be their best chance of seeing something,” Graupmann said. “But again, I expect it to still be minimal.”

Graupmann says people who travel within range of the signal-jamming during the exercise may briefly lose functionality of cellphone applications like Google Maps.

Sailors from an electronic-warfare unit based on Whidbey Island, Wash., arrive at Eielson AFB last week. The unit is one of many that will participate in Northern Edge 2019. (DVIDS photo)

Air Force Lt. Kayshel Trudell says pilots depend on GPS-linked systems, but because adversaries routinely jam those systems during combat, the pilots must train to operate in that environment.

“We need to train to those environments in order to make sure the tactics, techniques and procedures that we develop and train to will allow us to be as effective as possible in any environment,” Trudell said.

Trudell is a spokesperson for a larger series of exercises called Northern Edge 2019, which includes the GPS signal-jamming. Northern Edge is hosted by the Hawaii-based Pacific Air Forces and this year it’ll involve about 10,000 U.S. military personnel. The exercise is intended to prepare U.S. forces to respond quickly to trouble spots in and around the western Pacific and Indian oceans.

Northern Edge will be conducted in training areas around the state, including the Gulf of Alaska, that are part of the Joint Pacific-Alaska Range Complex. And because of that, area residents will notice more aircraft in the skies over Eielson and Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage over the next couple of weeks.

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Tim Ellis is a reporter at KUAC in Fairbanks.