LORAN compromise to allow further DOD jamming of GPS

WASHINGTON — Officials of the U.S. Departments of Defense and Transportation will continue operating the long-range navigation (LORAN) system for aircraft and ships, while continuing to allow the military services periodically to disrupt global positioning system (GPS) signals for technology development and training purposes, under terms of a new agreement.

By John Rhea

WASHINGTON — Officials of the U.S. Departments of Defense and Transportation will continue operating the long-range navigation (LORAN) system for aircraft and ships, while continuing to allow the military services periodically to disrupt global positioning system (GPS) signals for technology development and training purposes, under terms of a new agreement.

The compromise will be published "any day now" as an amendment to the Department of Transportation`s fiscal year 2000 budget, according to Washington sources.

The agreement will allocate $35 million to begin upgrading LORAN stations. At about the same time, a revision of the 1998 Federal Radionavigation Plan (FRP) will be published incorporating this compromise.

The Office of Management and Budget originally denied the request last year on the grounds that, since LORAN was due to be phased out by the end of the year 2000, there was no need to put money into upgrades. The draft of the new FRP is now being circulated and envisions continuing LORAN until at least 2008 for some 1 million maritime users.

LORAN advocate Langhorne Bond, an aviation consultant in Pittsboro, N.C., greeted the decision saying, "DOD was always right. It [GPS] is a military system, and DOD has a right to determine usage." Bond was administrator of the Federal Aviation Agency from 1977 to 1980.

Transportation Department leaders had opposed DOD jamming in U.S. waters because, lacking LORAN, ships carrying toxic-chemical and oil cargoes would pose unacceptable risks without reliable GPS signals. Now maritime users can count on LORAN as a backup, and can live with the GPS disruptions.

Of the 25 U.S. LORAN transmitting locations, Bond estimates that only half have been upgraded to solid-state electronics. The others, he says, still use primitive vacuum-tube equipment. Upgrading the electronics of those stations would cost $100 million plus another $100 million for new antennas and other equipment, he says.

There have been no investments in LORAN since the 1994 decision to end operations in 2000. The U.S. Coast Guard operates the stations at an annual cost of about $27 million. As an alternative, Megapulse in Bedford, Mass., has proposed to operate all 25 stations for $11 million a year over the next 15 years and do the upgrades under the same contract.

Among the supporters of the compromise is the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association in Frederick, Md., which represents 100,000 operators of private aircraft, many of whom rely on both LORAN and GPS. Some military users also favor a dual navigation capability for military vessels at sea and ground units operating in urban environments and other areas out of the line-of-sight with GPS signals.

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