GPS jamming by Russia was already a concern. For the Nordic NATO countries, it may only get worse

Norwegian soldiers take part in the NATO Nordic Response military exercises outside Alta, Norway.
Norwegian soldiers take part in the NATO Nordic Response military exercises outside Alta, Norway. Copyright Heiko Junge/NTB Scanpix via AP
By Anna Desmarais
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There could be more GPS disruption in Nordic countries now that NATO operates there, a defence expert said.

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Be prepared for more GPS disruption in Nordic countries now that NATO operates there, a defence expert told Euronews Next, as more than 20,000 troops left the region after an “enlarged” military exercise this week.

Jagannath Panda from Sweden’s Institute for Security and Development Policy said the most recent North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) exercise will help “NATO countries prepare for the future”.

“The jamming strategy comes as a wake-up call for the Nordic countries about how to coordinate, how to respond and how to respond quickly,” he added in an interview with Euronews Next.

GPS jamming involves using a frequency-transmitting device to block radio communications that regulate everything from phone calls to air ambulance services and WiFi.

In recent months, local media in Nordic countries have reported increased blocking signals in aviation which they suspect is coming from Russia.

Busy week for NATO in the North

Panda’s comments come as NATO wraps up a busy week during which officials met in Brussels to mount and fly the Swedish flag for the first time.

Jens Stoltenberg, NATO’s Secretary General, said at the ceremony that Sweden’s accession to NATO shows that “the door remains open”.

“No one can close it,” Stoltenberg continued. “Every nation has the right to choose its own path, and we all choose the path of freedom and democracy”.

Some 20,000 troops also wrapped up Operation Nordic Defence this week, one mission of the broader Operation Steadfast Defender 24, which the organisation called one of the largest military exercises since the Cold War.

The exercise “address[es] security challenges in the High North,” the NATO website states.

NATO has been working in the Norwegian Arctic since 2006, conducting Cold Response exercises for its troops there every other year.

This year, the mission expanded following NATO’s “enlargement” in the Arctic, bringing up soldiers, over 50 ships, and more than 110 aircraft to the region.

NATO exercise sends ‘huge signal to Russia’

GPS blocking in the Arctic is not new, Panda told Euronews Next.

What is, he continued, is the volume of attacks that started accelerating in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022, and now, in response to NATO’s scaling up.

Both the enlargement and bigger exercise “just sends such a huge signal to Russia,” Panda said. “Jamming the GPS…could be Russia’s strategy to intimidate NATO countries.”

During the exercise, NATO’s Nordic members established a temporary Nordic Air Operations Centre, where 300 officers planned, controlled and assessed air operations in a set “operations area”.

"The establishment of the temporary combined Nordic Air Operations Centre is yet another visible proof of our ability to cooperate on our important joint task of deterring and ultimately defending NATO's northern flank," Colonel Henrik Nielsen, chief of staff of the Air Command Denmark, said in a NATO statement on Tuesday.

The organisation did not respond to a request for comment.

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Maria Zakharova, the spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, said in a statement that Moscow will react to Sweden’s accession to NATO, but what that looks like will "depend on what practical steps Stockholm takes," to implement its new membership.

Zakharova’s statement did not specify which steps Sweden should or could take but noted that there had not been a referendum by the Swedish people about whether to join NATO.

GPS blocking hard to predict: Finland

While local press has reported that all Nordic countries have seen a spike in GPS blocking in recent months, the transportation authorities in Sweden and Norway did not return a request for comment.

Finland’s Transport and Communications Agency (TRAFICOM), meanwhile, told Euronews Next in a statement that they’ve seen an increase in the number of blocking reports from the aviation sector since the beginning of the year.

These types of interferences, the agency statement said, are “observed at higher altitudes, are short in duration and therefore difficult to verify afterwards or prevent”.

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Still, TRAFICOM maintains that flying is safe because “airlines have … operating procedures for situations where GPS signal is lost”.

There are also other parts of the flight, like the final approach of an aircraft to land on a runway, that do not need a GPS signal, the statement continues.

Ultimately, TRAFICOM says airlines make their own decisions about whether it is possible to operate if it is known that there are interferences with the GPS signal.

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