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White House Press Briefing on the GPS


Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release May 1, 2000


The James S. Brady Briefing Room

2:08 P.M. EDT

MR. KENNEDY: If you're ever wondering about your place in the world, we have an announcement today that should make life a little easier for you. And here to explain the improvements we're announcing in the civilian global positioning system, we have Neal Lane, the President's Science Advisor; Arthur L. Money, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Command, Control, Communications and Intelligence; and also Dr. James Baker, the Administrator of NOAA; and Gene Conti, DOT Assistant Secretary.

Dr. Lane.

DR. LANE: Thank you very much, Jim. Welcome and thank you very much for being here today.

My colleagues who have just been introduced will be happy to answer your questions shortly, and they'll have brief statements, as well. The press office I think has already put out the President's statement on the global positioning system and an accompanying fact sheet, also posted on the web, should you be more interested in getting it there.

Before I turn to the others, let me just make a few overall points about the global positioning system, or GPS, and the announcement we're making today. GPS is a dual use, satellite-based system that provides accurate location and timing information to people worldwide, to far more civilian users, in fact, than military users.

The system transmits signals that can be used by GPS receivers to calculate position, velocity and time anywhere in the globe, any time of day or night, in any kind of weather.

Today, based on a recommendation from the Secretary of Defense, in coordination with Secretaries of State, Transportation and Commerce, and the Director of the CIA, the President is announcing that the United States can safely stop its intentional degradation of the GPS signals available to the public. The United States is turning off a feature known as selective availability, which we'll talk more about.

This is a very significant step forward in furthering the worldwide utility of GPS for peaceful, civil, commercial and scientific pursuits. However, should the occasion arise in which it's in our interest to block the GPS on a regional basis, we will have the ability to do so.

This announcement is another step in the administration's strategic vision for the evolution of GPS. The vision included a goal of encouraging the acceptance of the integration of GPS for peaceful purposes, encouraging private sector investment and promoting safety and efficiencies in transportation and other fields. This was followed by a recommendation -- this followed a recommendation by the Gore Commission for Aviation Safety and Security in 1997, and by a GPS modernization initiative that Vice President Gore announced in January of last year.

In plain English, we are unscrambling the GPS signal. It's rare that someone can press a button and make something you own instantly more valuable, but that's exactly what's going to happen today. All the people who bought a GPS receiver for a boat or a car, or their riding lawn mower or whatever, to use in business and in recreation, are going to find that they're suddenly 10 times more accurate as of midnight tonight.

Policemen, firemen and emergency crews will now be able to respond faster and more accurately to exactly where help is needed. Before, you could be somewhat certain that something you were looking for -- or you, yourself -- were within a couple of hundred feet of a certain location. Now you can pinpoint much more precisely, down to tens of feet.

Finally, let me say a couple of words about what GPS owes to investment in basic research -- I couldn't leave the podium unless I did that. GPS works because of super-reliable atomic clocks. No mechanical timekeeping device could come close to what the atomic clocks do. These clocks resulted from Nobel prize-winning physics and creative engineering that managed to package devices which once filled large physics laboratories into a compact, reliable, space-worthy device.

The GPS system grew directly from our past research investments in basic physics, mathematics and engineering, that was supported by American taxpayers. It's a prime example of why America's world-leading science and technology enterprise must continue to be sustained and nurtured.

As with most of our public R&D portfolio, the taxpayer's investment has again paid off handsomely in terms of new industries, new jobs and new knowledge that continues to improve the quality of our lives.

Thank you very much, and I'd now like to turn in order to Defense, Transportation and NOAA. So, first, Assistant Secretary Art Money.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY MONEY: In the next couple minutes I'll give you the perspective of what Dr. Lane just announced on the President's decision from the Department of Defense standpoint.

The Air Force Space Command will implement this decision by commanding all the GPS satellites to stop their intentional degradation of the signal, improve the accuracy, commencing at midnight Greenwich Mean Time today -- that's roughly a little less than six hours from now.

I thought you should know a little bit about how we got here, the decision process. This action was, in fact, initiated by the Department of Defense in full coordination with all aspects of the military.

I tasked the joint staff to develop a road map for the discontinuation of selected availability in December, 1998. The joint staff formed several working groups, with at least all the four services, the United States Space Command, the Global Positioning Joint Program Office and other agencies, including the Central Intelligence Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Defense Information Systems Agency, the National Air Intelligence Center, the National Imagery and Mapping Agency, the National Reconnaissance Office and the National Security Agency.

The purpose for these working groups was to develop a coordinated recommendation on selective availability for the annual report to the President and Congress, due this year, in October. The working group worked diligently, 14 months, and they conducted a very comprehensive and thorough review.

I received the joint staff's report in February 17th of this year, recommending that selective availability could be set to zero. We formally coordinated this recommendation with the Interagency GPS Executive Board, of which I'm a co-chairman, and Gene Conti, who you will hear from next, is the other co-chairman. This was in March. The Director of Central Intelligence National Intelligence Council reviewed this recommendation, as well as agreeing that the improvement to GPS accuracy would in fact have minimal impact on national security.

Last week, Secretary Cohen advised the President's National Security Advisor and the President's Scientific Advisor, who you just heard from, about this recommendation. The President advised the Department of Defense of his approval last Friday evening. The change will be implemented by commanding all these satellites, as I said, commencing roughly a little less than six hours from now.

In conclusion, the Department of Defense, I believe, has demonstrated the capability to negate GPS signals in a threat area, consistent with military needs and the President's policy; thus, we now can set selective availability to zero. Given the widespread use of GPS for peaceful purposes, we believe this approach is the most effective than worldwide degradation. So we're very pleased to be here today and make this announcement. Thank you.

Assistant Secretary of Transportation, Gene Conti.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CONTI: Good afternoon. On behalf of the Interagency GPS Executive Board, and especially the civilian agency members, I would like to echo Dr. Lane and Secretary Money's praise of the President's decision to discontinue the use of selective availability. This is done only four years after the release of the Presidential Decision Directive in 1996, and actually six years ahead of schedule.

The Department of Transportation has been in a unique relationship with DOD and the civilian community for many years in striving to maximize the utility of GPS for aviation and maritime uses, surface transportation and a wide range of commercial uses, while at the same time supporting DOD's efforts to maintain and protect our national security interests.

The decision to discontinue the use of selective availability is a significant step towards achieving that goal and will provide greatly improved accuracy for a wide range of civil users.

We also support the fact that GPS is a national utility used by everyone in this room, whether you know it or not -- when you make a telephone call or go to a ATM machine, or do just about anything in your daily life, you are the beneficiary of the fact that GPS is in the sky and serving the American people and people all over the world.

Transportation is using GPS in all modes, as I said, is moving to modernize critical transportation systems with GPS-based augmentation programs for aviation, for maritime and for surface transportation. And we believe that all transportation systems -- aviation, car navigation, fleet management, general aviation, maritime uses, highway and waterway maintenance and roadside assistance, to just name a few -- will benefit from the removal of selective availability. And we are also very supportive of DOD's efforts in working with us and the other civilian agencies to move forward now with additional GPS signals in 2003 and 2005, and then to look at a full modernization of the system over the next two decades.

Thank you. Dr. Baker.

DR. BAKER: I'm Jim Baker, from the Department of Commerce and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and actually am one of the GPS receivers here, which is reading 39 degrees, 24 minutes north; 77 degrees, 58 minutes west, which is our position. And now, instead of being 100 meters inaccuracy on that, we have only 10 to 20. So this is a wonderful new improvement.

So I'm here on behalf of Secretary Bill Daley and other users here. And I'd also like to thank Terry Garcia, who worked with us very hard to make all of this happen.

This GPS system is 24 satellites that's bathing the Earth in accurate time signals, has continued to be the global standard for positioning around the world. And we have tried very hard to make those signals available, free, of no charge, so that industry could develop hundreds of applications, which are now being used today. Farmers are using GPS to map and tailor applications of seed and chemicals. Oil companies are using GPS to identify drill sites. We know that there are GPS systems that are even in wristwatch size applications at this moment.

Right now the market for GPS applications and services is in the multibillion range, and it is doubling every two or three years. So it's an enormous market, and we're trying to make sure that U.S. business has an opportunity to move out there. We are moving to a single receiver positioning and navigation, which is a great example of cheaper, better, faster technology. It's cheaper because you just have to use one system for navigation; it's better because it's more accurate; and it's faster because the whole system gives you a position faster than it would have. And the administration moves much faster than it had originally promised -- instead of 2006, you're getting this decision in the year 2000.

So we find a number of very important new things even with this improvement in accuracy. For example, cell phones are going to be required to have positioning systems as a part of the 911 part of the activity. And with the new accuracy you'll be able to tell whether somebody is on one side of the freeway or on another side. Same for watching cars and trucks, for truck management, for example, you'll be able to know which way the trucks are going. We'll be able to look at wetlands and forests as we are able to monitor very specific areas.

And, importantly, we'll have better control over satellite orbits and satellite date processing, because if we know how accurately where the satellite is, we don't have to do as much data processing on board. It means a faster delivery of weather products, and it means the satellites can be lighter because they're carrying less equipment.

Outside the government, you know, we collect data by having accurate timing between data pulses. Well, by bathing the Earth, as I said, from these 24 satellites and taking away the inaccuracy, which was on that timing, now data pulses can be squeezed closer together because the timing is more accurate.

So that's a very important step. And what is also important is, this is only the tip of the iceberg for improvements to the GPS system. The government has announced that we will be providing a second civilian signal, to make the whole thing more robust by 2003; and a third civilian signal by 2005, to help eliminate some of the other inaccuracies -- the ionosphere and other such issues. And, of course, we're very interested in trying to move to new technologies as we develop this.

So it's an exciting new development. We're very pleased to see it and we'd be happy to take questions, any of the agencies that are represented here.

DR. LANE: Why don't we all come up here, we'll just take your questions.

Q Can you start by saying what the military concern is about precision, about -- you know, give an example of why you wouldn't want, in a military or in a war or something, you wouldn't want the enemy to have that precise capability?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY MONEY: We are now very -- uses extensively GPS to guide precision munitions, so we would want to deny an adversary that capability. The scenario that we answer is, we use it wherever we need deny an enemy the ability to use it wherever we need, and at the same time a civilian airliner, for example, would still be navigating successfully. So that's a very capsulated version of the scenario. But essentially deny the capabilities that could consequently hurt us or our coalition forces.

Q Now you've denied that precise capability to everyone except the U.S. military and those we decide we want to give it to. Is that correct?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY MONEY: The whole scenario around turning off selective availability was, we wouldn't do so until we have an ability to deny it. So once we have successfully achieved that, that's consequently the recommendation that went forth to the President.

Q So how will you selectively deny it?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY MONEY: I will not get into that here.

Q But will you still be using two signals, and just -- I mean, everybody else but the military will still operate off the second signal, and then you can regionally deny that second signal where --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY MONEY: The military routinely operates off two signals, and then there will be a -- as you've just heard, a new civilian signal soon, and yet another one after that.

Q For Mr. Money, what is the scope of the regional deniability? Is it --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY MONEY: I will not get into that here.

Q If it's Kosovo, can they still use the good signal in Western Europe?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY MONEY: Think of it in a localized area, whatever that localization needs to be. So I think your scenario is -- maybe the Balkans is a good one, but somebody in Berlin or Frankfort, or in Athens, will not have a problem.

Q Is it adjustable?

Q Why do you need all these expensive things, like the FAA's WAAS, and maybe the differential system nationally?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CONTI: We will continue to need differential systems for accuracy, for -- because we need in many cases in aviation very precise accuracies, a meter or less. We do need that in other applications.

Commercially, there's a lot of demand for accuracy. It's a very popular thing. And so we will continue to provide those augmentations, both through the WAAS system at the FAA, the LAAS system at the FAA, and the National Differential GPS system, which is run by the Coast Guard. So those other systems will continue to be operated. They are not very expensive in the big scheme of things, so we will continue to develop those -- and in the case of the Coast Guard system, that's already in place. But we are taking it nationwide.

Q What advantages accrue to the U.S. negotiators at the World Radio Conference, and was that one of the major motives of doing it at this point in time?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY MONEY: We always intended to turn off selected availability as several of us have mentioned, the timing of which was really predicated upon the ability to, in fact, deny an adversary. I think it also would be welcomed for the upcoming Radio Conference and, in fact, we have opened this up and will achieve much better accuracy, essentially free to any user.

Q It's not part of the motive behind the timing?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY MONEY: It was not the motivation.

Q Because it's exactly the same time as it starts.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY MONEY: That conference starts next week.

Q Right, the 8th, correct.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY MONEY: The recommendation went to the President last Friday.

Q If SA is put back on domestically, will there be any advance notice to the public?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CONTI: As far as we're concerned, there are no plans to put SA back domestically. As Dr. Money said, the ability of the war fighters in the Department of Defense to deal with what they need to deal with in any particular theater is going to be handled without selective availability.

Q Will the more accurate signal be denied anywhere -- you know, tonight, when you make the change will there be any parts of the world that can't have that at the current time?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY MONEY: No, it will be world-wide.

Q What kind of commercial pressure, for instance, from GPS-type systems developed by others may have helped to prod this decision today?

DR. BAKER: I can attempt to answer that. The commercial industry, GPS industry, has been very interested in having the full range of GPS possibilities available, and that includes the differential GPS that was mentioned, the two system receivers with very high accuracy. But also tried to get very high accuracy on single systems, because the better you can do there, the more GPS receivers you're going to sell. So we've had a very strong interest from the civil side, working with the industry and trying to make sure they had all the tools that were available there. Whether other countries developed new systems or not, that's not really a driver for what we're trying to do here. We're trying to make a robust reliable system that is very available to industry.

Q Is there any opposition at all from any quarters, either domestically or internationally, shutting off SA?

DR. LANE: To making this change that we're talking about? Not that I'm aware of -- does anyone? No, I think this is an example where everyone sees the advantage, both domestically and abroad.

Q Is there any significant costs --

Q Were the allies --

DR. LANE: I'm sorry, is that a follow-up?

Q Was is related? Yes. I wondered if the allies were consulted prior to, and what did they say?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY MONEY: Yes, after the March time frame, and Gene Conti and I had the interagency working group, the State Department then alerted all their missions to have these discussions informally with the allies, more of that as a notification there were no objections. So wholehearted agreement this is in fact the right thing to do.

The only -- as I said earlier, the only inhibiting, or gaiting matter was does the DOD have an ability to negate it? And that was -- once that was proven, then we went forth.

Q But if I could clarify -- when you make the change at midnight tonight, no one will be denied, is that correct?


Q You couldn't just -- if tomorrow morning you wake up and you change your mind, with regard to Region X, you could push that button. Is that right?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY MONEY: We will not deny that unless we're in a conflict somewhere where we need to protect U.S. forces and/or coalition forces.

Q How will these decisions be made? Who makes them?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY MONEY: That's a national command authority decision.

Q Which means who?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY MONEY: It goes up through the CINC through the department to the White House.

Q Is there any significant cost expenditure, or savings, associated with the turning off of SA? And what is the United States's annual contribution dollar-wise to the maintenance of this system?

COLONEL SKINNER: About half a billion dollars a year to sustain the system and to make the modernization --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY MONEY: The answer is in the DOD budget, about half a billion, $500 million, rough numbers, a year to operate and maintain the system. The turning off or setting to zero selected availability is essentially a software fix, so that's probably a minuscule change.

I think the better part of that question is the savings that ultimately the civil -- ultimately all of us then will derive from it by not having to put in differential -- or differential GPS things like that to augment the system so they can get a better accuracy. We just give it to them free, so there won't be as many ancillary systems conceived of to up the accuracy in a given region.

Q A follow-up with just a question. If we're being so forthcoming with the GPS now, and the selective availability, is the administration any more likely to be forthcoming about the overall reconnaissance/intelligence budget? (Laughter.)

ASSISTANT SECRETARY MONEY: Yes, it's a different subject. You ought to ask at the next press conference. (Laughter.)

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CONTI: Let me just add -- on the costs, we don't believe there's any cost in terms of the civilian side. The augmentation systems that I mentioned, DOT is investing somewhere in the neighborhood of $100 million, $120 million this year for the augmentation systems. So that's in addition, if you will, to the $500 million that Dr. Money talked about.

Q Now this is supposed to take 10 years, and it's being done in four. And I can't help but notice the fact the administration is coming to an end very soon. Did this prod the administration to come together and come up with a solution, rather than wait and let the next administration do so?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY MONEY: From my standpoint, the only negating issue was, we would not collectively -- the strategy, policy was that the United States would not turn this off until we had ability to counter an adversary's use of it. Once that was built and achieved and tested and verified, then that's when the decision was made.

The President's directive that Mr. Conti alluded to earlier said somewhere between 00 and 06 we were going to turn this off. It turns out that the mechanism to counter this was achieved sooner.

Q When did you complete your testing, and when were you aware that you could do this?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY MONEY: The testing -- this has been ongoing over a number of years, and then the final test that convinced us was done about the same time -- right before the joint staff report came to me, which was in February of this year.

Q Dr. Lane, if you're talking about accuracy and precision, how come the President keeps talking about the millennium being under way when his own Naval Observatory says it doesn't begin until next January? (Laughter.)

DR. LANE: Well, I think we're at the dawn of the millennium. (Laughter.)

Q Dr. Lane, you said at the beginning that this would improve the accuracy of devices people already have. Will anyone have to buy or install new devices, or will the flip of the switch mean that every GPS device that's out there now will just work that much better?

DR. LANE: that's my understanding. Am I correct?

DR. BAKER: Yes, absolutely. Instantly better.

Q Did you test only in friendly regions, so that while you were testing it wasn't a possibility of someone you wouldn't want to have it would be able to access into it while you were testing? Was that precaution --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY MONEY: I think it's just safe to assume the tests were very comprehensive.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

END 2:34 P.M. EDT

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