Twitter users are tracking Navy ships using newly activated beacons

UNITED STATES – People on Twitter are tracking what is believed to be U.S. Navy warship positions, the Stars and Stripes said Tuesday.

On September 29, NPR reported Naval ships were ordered to turn on their Automatic Identification System (AIS) locators after a series of collisions that killed 17 Sailors in the past couple of months.

A tweet posted on Sunday, Oct. 1. 2017, that maps the location of a “US GOV VSL” approaching Hong Kong reads: “Reason to believe this is USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76).” (Screenshot courtesy of the Stars and Stripes)

According to a few tweets, this apparently allows people to track the ships’ positions online.

Retired Vice Admiral William Douglas Crowder told NPR that Navy ships usually use locators in receive-only mode. This allows them to see other ships using the system while remaining hidden. Although it is still unclear whether the USS Fitzgerald was transmitting its AIS during its June collision, it is known that the USS John S. McCain was not when it collided with a merchant ship in August.

Lyle Goldstein, an associate professor in the China Maritime Studies Institute at the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, said it’s unlikely that AIS data will give much away to the U.S. Navy’s potential enemies.

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