Competition and free-markets are a wonderful thing. With a level playing field, participants go at it and consumers decide who wins and who loses. The difference between the winners and losers, at times, can be very minor things.
Competitive advantage include items that are unknown to the other side. These unknowns can, and usually do, make all the difference between winning and losing. A company or nation will zealously guard these secrets by whatever means necessary, including keeping opponents off your turf.
Turns out there are folks in the Obama Administration (and maybe the Congress if this item is part of the new START treaty) that either do not understand the basics of free market competition. And, if they do, they prefer to ignore them. According to the New York Times someone, likely in the NSC, want to help the Russians improve their version of GPS, Glonass. It is being offered as some political chit (more like a block of concrete).
Placing aside the national security arguments, and there are many of those, the United States is the world’s leader in GPS technology and applications. Why would we want or need to cede any ground to any competitor, much less the Russians or the Chinese? If they need GPS technology, they can use our systems and pay for it.
What can companies and nations do with these monitor stations (see photo) placed around the United States? According to the experts, quite a bit and a lot more that we do not know. Trust the Russians? Someone thinks we should:
“They don’t want to be reliant on the American [GPS] system and believe that their systems, like GPS, will spawn other industries and applications,” said a former senior official in the State Department’s Office of Space and Advanced Technology. “They feel as though they are losing a technological edge to us in an important market. Look at everything GPS has done on things like your phone and the movement of planes and ships.”
The Russian effort is part of a larger global race by several countries — including China and European Union nations — to perfect their own global positioning systems and challenge the dominance of the American GPS.
For the State Department, permitting Russia to build the stations would help mend the Obama administration’s relationship with the government of President Vladimir V. Putin, now at a nadir because of Moscow’s granting asylum to Mr. Snowden and its backing of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria.
The Cold War may be over, that does not mean we roll over. No cigar. Find another way to “mend” whatever someone at the NSC or Foggy Bottom says needs repairing. With Snowden perched in Russia hiding from U.S. authorities, I would think we have more pressing things to do than talk about placing what could amount to electronic eavesdropping devices on U.S. soil. The Russians already find many ways to steal U.S. technology, why make it any easier?
Consider the October 2012 indictment unsealed in the Eastern District of New York charging eleven (11) members of a Russian procurement network operating in the United States and Russia. With the support of a Houston-based export company, Arc Electronics Inc., and a Moscow-based procurement firm, Apex System LLC, these individuals illegally exported high-tech microelectronics from the U.S. to Russian military and intelligence agencies. The technology was used to enhance Russian radar and surveillance systems, weapons guidance systems and detonation triggers. There are many more cases like this; and Russia is not the only country doing it.
Frankly, it may be time for the U.S. to find ways to make the space program more national, and less international. Countries such as Russia keep piggybacking on U.S. taxpayer funded know-how and, usually, use that know-how against the United States.
Read the New York Times story here.
If you want to learn some interesting GPS history and application, view this short TED talk. And if you think the Russians should be granted this much access to the U.S., well, e-mail me.