Military Training is a routine part of the flying season in Alaska. Sporting the largest contiguous complex of special use airspace in the country (the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex or JPARC), military planners last week announced the dates of four Red Flag exercises over the coming months. The thing that is a little different is that each of these 10 day exercises this year will include “GPS testing” where military forces on the ground will jam the GPS signal from participating aircraft, to test this real-world threat now faced by our armed forces. The challenge is, it may also impact civil aircraft, outside the boundaries of the MOAs and Restricted Areas used by the military aircraft.
When/where will this happen?
The GPS testing will take place within the ten-day windows of the Red Flag Exercises. At a briefing last week, the dates of this years exercises were shared with civil aviation operators. We also learned that some of these exercises will have as many as 120 aircraft, participating, including visitors from several foreign countries. These are dates you may want to put on your calendar, and pay attention to as you plan your flying activities:
26 April – 11 May
On the dates within these ranges that GPS testing is planned, NOTAMs will be issued at least 72 hours in advance, with defined date and time ranges that will limit the testing. Even though the testing is highly directional in nature, aimed at military participants, the potential for it to disrupt GPS signals outside their airspace is significant. As we progress into the NextGen era, where GPS is the primary basis for IFR as well as VFR navigation, this is something we all need to plan for.
What if I lose my GPS?
We still have a lot to learn about the impacts of GPS testing. If you lose GPS signal while flying please do two things:
(1) Notify ATC, whether it be Anchorage Center, approach control, a control tower or a flight service station. Let them know when and where you lost GPS signal, or experienced any other problems with GPS navigation. This holds for both IFR and VFR operations.
(2) After your flight, please fill out a GPS Anomaly Reporting Form to help us learn the extent and nature of impacts that may be caused by this testing. https://www.faa.gov/air_traffic/nas/gps_reports/
AOPA is working this issue on a national level and getting reports from Alaska will help define the impacts of this training activity—which influences all segments of civil aviation. Through time, we hope this will result in more accurate NOTAMs, or other accommodations to provide more precise understanding of the impacts of these training activities.
What else can I do?
As pilots, we are trained to have back-up plans. If you are operating IFR, remembering to tune in the VOR and ILS frequencies from our “legacy” equipment. For those of us that fly VFR, it might be a good idea to make a flight or two this summer just navigating with a good old paper chart—and re-discovering the joys of pilotage.