Modern American History
Many people may not realize when and where Global Positioning System (GPS) technology came to fruition. The NAVSTAR Global Positioning System was first introduced by the US Air Force in the mid1960s, eventually becoming a Department of Defense (DOD) project. The system was designed to determine positional information on Earth through the use of a constellation of orbiting satellites. The first GPS satellite was placed in orbit In 1978. Once complete, the system was to have 24 satellites, providing unlimited two and three-dimensional coverage 24 hours a day. When the U.S. Army deployed for Operation Desert Shield in 1990, 16 NAVSTAR satellites were in orbit, providing a guaranteed three-dimensional coverage lasting about 19 hours. The new devices had a built-in error of only sixty feet compared to earlier land based systems with up to eight miles in expected error.
By 1991, GPS had been utilized for more than ten years by aircraft, Special Operations teams, and in limited training missions. The system was relatively unknown to much of the Army at the time. During Operation Desert Shield, Special Operations teams were inserted behind Iraqi lines with missions that would have been unthinkable without the use of GPS. With a large scale operation against the occupying Iraqi Army on the horizon, Army commanders realized the need to supply frontline units with the GPS devices. The problem was the limited number of devices on hand. In an October 1991 newsletter, the Center for Army Lessons Learned (CALL) noted only 500 demonstration receivers were owned by the Army at the outset of Operation Desert Shield. As a result, commercial receivers were rapidly procured. Still, when operations started on February 24, 1991, only selective units and vehicles were equipped with the new technology. For example, of the VII Corps' 40,000 vehicles in theater, only 3,000 received a GPS unit. Those...