One of the pleasures of attending the many aviation trade shows on our annual to-do list is the opportunity to see new aircraft, products and people. I’m sure many of the “new” exhibitors that I run across every year have probably been exhibiting for years and I just haven’t noticed them, but it’s still fun to meet new people, like Maxim Antonov of Avioconversiya (no relation to the Russian aircraft designer).
Antonov’s company makes GPS and radio jammers. His booth at the Dubai Air Show in November couldn’t have been more front and center, right near the main entrance to the exhibit hall. The name on the booth display said it all: JAMMERS Are Here.
My first thought when I saw the booth was whether it is even legal to sell jammers and could a company that makes jammers just exhibit openly like that? Apparently, the regulations covering jamming equipment are different in Russia and there are no issues with exporting jammers. Whether one could import one into the U.S. is a different question.
Maxim cheerfully gave me the background on Moscow-based Avioconversiya, including an anecdote about how President George W. Bush complained about Avioconversiya’s jammers throwing off U.S. GPS-guided missiles during the initial stages of the Iraq War. Maxim also explains how useful jamming equipment can be for thwarting pirates, especially those preying on commercial shipping in the Gulf of Aden.
The bottom line is that GPS and satellite signals are extremely weak and easy to overwhelm. Obviously, I know that the issue of jamming GPS signals is not something that should be taken lightly. And in fact, the FAA regularly warns aviators in the U.S. of possible GPS effects due to military jamming tests. But the fact is, if you can work out the legalities, you can purchase a GPS jammer for about $50,000 and a combo GPS and satcom jammer for $80,000. That is much cheaper than the ransom for a cargo ship or oil tanker, Antonov pointed out.