Cyber warfare fears spur US Navy to teach celestial navigation again

After Sony was hacked and the stolen emails leaked, some US companies began urging workers to revert to using phone calls and face-to-face meetings for sensitive discussions. When NSA spying efforts were revealed, a German defense contractor switched from using computers to non-electronic typewriters, and German politicians considered doing the same.

And now the US Naval Academy is reintroducing celestial navigation into the curriculum, as the current cyber threat landscape shows that past low-tech and no-tech solutions can still come in hand when one can’t trust one’s computer.

The sextant, an old-fashioned tool that allows the user to calculate their position line on a nautical or aeronautical chart, will find itself once again in the navigators’ hands both at the Academy and the US Navy.

They have to know how use it if, for some reason, the GPS system has to be shut down in case of a national emergency – to prevent enemies from using it, for example (even though the European Union, Russia and China are working on an alternative).

According to Capital Gazette, celestial navigation classes have been cut by the Academy in 1998, and by the US Navy in 2006. They were reinstated by the Navy in 2011, but only for ship navigators. But from this year on, all enlistees will be expected to learn how to use planets, stars and old-school tools to determine vessels’ position.

Still, the task will be easier for them than for past learners, as they’ll only have to learn how to use the sextant. They will feed the information in a computer, which will do all the complex calculations that before required the use of a nautical almanac and volumes of tables.

Even though celestial navigation isn’t exact as GPS, it is now obviously considered a much needed, unhackable backup.

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