According to a US Air Force general, U.S. spy plane pilots use China’s satellite navigation system as a backup to GPS on their missions.
American U-2 spy plane pilots, who have long flown bleeding-edge technology to the edge of Earth’s atmosphere, have a new high-tech gadget: a watch that receives satellite navigation coordinates from Russian, Chinese, and European satellites. It serves as a backup to U.S. Global Positioning System satellites, in case their signal becomes unavailable.
The second generation of the Chinese system, known as Beidou, began providing global services at the end of 2018 and a third phase, featuring more satellites, is expected to be fully functional later this year.
While the Global Positioning System (GPS) is the first choice for pilots of U-2 “Dragon Lady” reconnaissance aircraft, Beidou, along with Russia’s Glonass and Europe’s Galileo, serves as an alternative in the event of GPS is unavailable.
“My U-2 guys fly with a watch now that ties into GPS, but also BeiDou and the Russian [GLONASS] system and the European [Galileo] system so that if somebody jams GPS, they still get the others,” Gen. James “Mike” Holmes, head of Air Combat Command, said Wednesday at a McAleese and Associates conference in Washington.
The general mentioned the watch as an example of building redundancies into military equipment. While Holmes did not name the watch manufacturer, the Air Force purchased 100 Garmin D2 Charlie navigation watches back in February 2018.
“Designed with pilots of varying backgrounds and missions, the D2 Charlie aviator watch features a colorful, dynamic moving map which depicts airports, navaids, roads, bodies of water, cities and more, offering greater situational awareness,” the watchmaker said in a statement at the time. “When the D2 Charlie is paired with Garmin Connect on a connected mobile device, pilots can view weather radar on top of the map display relative to flight plan information.”
For more than a half-century, the U-2 has been the Air Force’s premier high-altitude surveillance aircraft, flying more than 70,000 feet above the Earth.