Friday, 23 October 2015

Historial Navigation Techniques in the US Navy

This is an interesting development: a reintroduction of an "historical" technique to ostensibly address a problem introduced by a technology to make things simple(r).

The same techniques guided ancient Polynesians in the open Pacific and led Sir Ernest Shackleton to remote Antarctica, then oriented astronauts when Apollo 12 was disabled by lightning - the techniques of celestial navigation. 
A glimmer of the old lore has returned to the Naval Academy. 
Officials reinstated brief lessons in celestial navigation this year, nearly two decades after the full class was determined outdated and cut from the curriculum.
That decision, in the late 1990s, made national news and caused a stir among the old guard of navigators.
Maritime nostalgia, however, isn't behind the return.
Rather, the escalating threat of cyberattacks has led the Navy to dust off its tools to measure the angles of stars. 
After all, you can't hack a sextant.

Putting the political aspects of the GPS system aside, it is a single point of failure for navigation, at least until Galileo and GLONASS are properly supported by navigation devices. Furthermore, as the article mentions, the GPS system is open to attack from various vectors. The use of "legacy" (I love that word - It doesn't mean obsolete!) technologies such as the sextant address many of these issues.

For me the main thing here is that the sextant forces understanding of navigation - quite literally how coordinates are calculated which is something missing from GPS.

In other words, don't rely upon technology, or if you do, you'd better know how to drop back a level of automation...sounds is the basic premise of the 'Children of the Magenta' talk by American Airlines (see here for an earlier blog posting, the video might be available on YouTube somewhere).

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