Military Embedded Systems

Cyberattack concerns prompts Navy to go back to its roots


November 02, 2015

Mariana Iriarte

Technology Editor

Military Embedded Systems

Cyberattack concerns prompts Navy to go back to its roots

There are three questions that I seem to get asked most often after people find out I served in the Navy. The first: what my job was? The second: the ratio between men and women onboard a ship? And the third: can I navigate using only the stars?

I never learned how to navigate in the traditional sense, but nor did many of those that I served with. However, with a growing concern for cybersecurity, a question has been looming over the heads of many officials. What happens if someone hacks the navigation systems on a Navy ship?

The Naval Academy actually stopped teaching full classes in celestial navigation in the late 1990s. According to a Military Times article, the Navy ended celestial navigation training in 2006. The archaic method of navigating was not resonating with students. It’s understandable, why choose a taxing method of doing something when technology provides a better way?

Thanks for the U.S. Air Force GPS navigation took the role of guiding ships to their destination. Technology has a way of making a lot of things outdated. For people that thrive in tradition, the news caused a reaction. How can sailors not know how to navigate via stars? I’m sure the old salts had their say about the new generation navigating with all high tech capabilities. Tradition is hard to let go for some.

No one needs a sextant to navigate, it takes too long and if your calculations are wrong, then you get everyone lost… unless there’s a cyberattack.

In the event that GPS goes down on a ship, there are back ups to guide the ship accordingly. But what if the all forms of navigation go down? What if navigational systems are hacked? In response to this growing threat, the Naval Academy has reinstated the celestial navigation classes.

In reality, GPS is more accurate than using a sextant. It’s easier and more effective. The United Launch Alliance just launched another GPS satellite into orbit for the U.S. Air Force. Another satellite to join the network that will allow users to better navigate. I don’t think students want to go back to an archaic form of navigating when they have all these tools at their disposal, especially when all military branches continue to advance technologically. And I don’t think the U.S. Air Force is planning on taking down their satellites.

At the Naval Academy, the class of 2017 will the first to graduate with some basic knowledge in celestial navigation. It may be old-school, it may be archaic, and a pain to do, but when you’re out in the middle of nowhere it would be pretty cool to know how to navigate without the crutch of a network.

Worst-case scenario: future Navy enlisted and officers have to navigate using the stars. Best-case scenario: they know how to navigate using the stars.