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U.S. Intelligence Voices Concerns About Iranian Satellite Jamming and Spoofing Capabilities

US Navy sailors surrendering to their Iranian IRGC captors in January 2016. Video still courtesy of Al-Alam TV.

The U.S. Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, voiced growing U.S. concerns about Iranian satellite jamming and spoofing activity in testimony he gave to the U.S. Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence in Washington, DC, on May 11, 2017.

The testimony by Mr. Coats was part of the annual briefing on global threats to U.S. interests the Director of National Intelligence provides Congress every year.

Mr. Coats prefaced his remarks about Iranian satellite jamming with the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment of how satellites are increasingly used for a variety of functions around the world by countries, corporations, and non-state actors such as non-governmental organisations and even terrorist groups. Mr. Coats said:

Continued global space industry expansion will further extend space-enabled capabilities and space situational awareness to nation-state, non-state, and commercial space actors In the coming years, enabled by increased availability of technology, private-sector investment, falling launch service costs, and growing international partnerships for shared production and operation. Government and commercial organizations will increasingly have access to space-derived information services such as imagery, weather, Internet, communications, and positioning, navigation, and timing (PNT) for intelligence, military, scientific, or business purposes. For instance, China alms to become a world leader in PNT as it completes its dual-use global satellite navigation system by 2020.

With respect to Iran, the United States is concerned with their electronic and cyber warfare capabilities that can jam satellite signals from communications, navigation, and even earth observation satellites. Similarly, the U.S. is concerned that Iran can also spoof – in which one person or program successfully masquerades as another by falsifying satellite signals, thereby gaining an illegitimate advantage. It is believed by some that the capture of U.S. Navy sailors in the Gulf in January 2016 by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) was due to Iranian spoofing of the signals from the U.S. Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite navigation service that was used by the American sailors.

Mr. Coats told the U.S. Senate that, “Iran and North Korea are also enhancing their abilities to disrupt military communications and navigation.”

Concerns about Iran’s satellite jamming and spoofing capabilities are not only shared by the United States, but also by members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Iran has been accused by a number of GCC member states of jamming their satellite communications and broadcasts. Similarly, because GCC member states are reliant upon satellite navigation they are also concerned with Iranian spoofing of satellite signals.

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