Russia’s April 1 GLONASS blackout occurred, ironically, only hours after the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation to preserve infrastructure that could support a back-up system for GPS that could be used for critical infrastructure and applications in the event of a similar disaster occurring in the United States.
The 2014 Coast Guard Authorization Act requires the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to halt dismantling and disposal of infrastructure that could be used for a terrestrial system during times and in places where GPS is not available.
DHS had announced in 2008 that it would build such a back-up system, but it never did so, and actually began dismantling, destroying, and divesting itself of Loran equipment and properties. The equipment, facilities, and sites could be used to implement a new-generation eLoran system for GPS back-up, among other applications. Despite strong recommendations to the contrary by its own panel of experts, the Obama administration, DHS, and the Coast Guard moved in 2009 to kill the Loran program.
Ever watchful, Congress has lately become more visibly concerned about the vulnerability of the nation’s space systems. The 2014 National Defense Authorization Act tasked the administration with reporting on how it was going to provide necessary national security capabilities when space systems were disrupted. More recently, Congressmen Duncan Hunter (Republican, California), chair of the House Coast Guard and Marine Transportation Subcommittee, held a hearing at which he expressed his concern that the nation has no back-up for GPS. He also expressed his frustration with the Department of Homeland Security, reporting that “They said they need to do a study about their study.”
Congressman John Garamendi (Democrat, California), commented “GPS will go down one day. The question is, is there a backup?”
The legislation passed by the House authorizes DHS to partner with public or private entities to build a system that would not only backup GPS, but also work indoors, underground and underwater — all characteristics of long-wave Loran technology.
Dana Goward, president of the Resilient Navigation and Timing Foundation, said such a project would be relatively inexpensive. “If the existing equipment and infrastructure are preserved and reused, the system could be restored and put into operation for less than half the cost to dispose of it.”
“It isn’t an issue of money,” Goward continued. “It is a question of the government taking this problem seriously and acting on it.”
The foundation has as offered to partner with the government to build the system.
“Our government has known about this issue for a long time,” Goward said. “At least since 2001. And there has been a standing presidential direction to obtain back-up capability since 2004. But for some reason, it hasn’t yet happened.”
The U.S. government’s official information website about GPS has recently updated its page on eLoran and Loran-C with a tracking log for Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2014, which now goes to the Senate.