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Army Systems That Use GPS

written by: Caroline Thompson•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 2/28/2011

Global positioning systems (GPS) are used in cell phones, cars and as handheld tracking devices. As with many civilian technological advances, the U.S. Army has already made use of GPS units to aid military personnel and ground forces overseas in various common and not so common uses of GPS devices.

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    GPS and the Army

    GPS systems are used daily by people all over the world, many may wonder what the common and not so common uses of GPS are in the Army. GPS became popular with the U.S. Army during the Gulf war. Ground soldiers used handheld GPS receivers to navigate during Operation Desert Storm, according to PBS Frontline. The soldier’s GPS units are guided by signals from three or more of the Defense Department’s 24 Navstar satellites that calculate longitude, latitude and altitude with an accuracy of 100 feet. GPS applications for the military are intricately tied to state of the art weaponry used by the Army. The Army has incorporated these GPS units in a variety of common and not so common uses. Here is a look at Army systems that use GPS.

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    Common GPS Uses in the Army

    Using satellites with GPS units enables soldiers and other military personnel to relay on accurate navigational information, which is critical during military operations. The Army has many common uses for GPS units similar to civilian uses.

    • Navigation is the first and most common use of GPS units for both the Army and in civilian use. Operation Desert Storm soldiers were often shrouded in desert sand storms and had to keep their bearings in a vast featureless desert. Using handheld GPS units, Army soldiers were able to navigate unfamiliar territory using a more precise system than conventional navigation technology.
    • Map updates are available instantly. This is useful to Army personnel planning military operations. GPS unit coordinates can be used as precise data for updating military maps.
    • Rescue and emergency response times can be reduced using GPS coordinates. Determining the location of wounded Army personnel during live military operations has always been difficult and time consuming. Using GPS units for search and rescue has already proven itself with the U.S. Air Force. Air Force personnel rescue teams use GPS to locate downed aircrew and have developed the Combat Survivor Evader Locator (CSEL) system.
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    Uncommon GPS Uses in the Army

    New technological advances have increased the scope of GPS use in Army applications. New military tracking software and more accurate and complex combat systems has created new and uncommon uses for GPS in the Army.

    • Military Grid applications can be improved upon using GPS coordinates to establish grid control locations for placement of weapons, assets and location of targets. GPS units can sync with modern mapping techniques and use DGPS technology to convert images into absolute coordinates.
    • Tracking potential targets using GPS Truth Data Acquisition, Recording, and Display System (TDARDS) helps to determine if the target is hostile. The information is input into various weapon systems (missiles and smart bombs), which then engage the target.
    • Bomb and missile guidance systems are designed to use GPS data for targeting and guidance. Cruise missiles, Multiple Launched Rocket System (MLRS) and glide bombs use GPS data for guidance and targeting.


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    GPS performance during the Gulf War solidified its ability to play a key role in military operations both at peacetime for search and rescue and during wartime as a precision system for various critical military operations. As technology changes, Army systems that use GPS will change to meet the needs of a modern Army.

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    PBS: Frontline - Weapons: Global Positioning System (GPS)

    U.S. Army: GPS Overview

    Global Waypoint Registry: Military Uses of GPS