U.S. proposal to terminate loran-C draws fire from UK

 - May 1, 2009, 7:31 AM

A last-minute change in U.S. loran policy has raised serious concerns among international navigation and security organizations. In late February, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) removed loran-C funding from the President’s budget, provoking an immediate response from the UK.

A British delegation launched a whirlwind tour of briefings to Washington officials and politicians to protest the OMB’s action on behalf of itself and other loran-operating nations. The key issue was the continuing need for loran-C and eLoran to provide a backup to GPS, in the event of satellite failures or signal disruption. eLoran is a loran-C enhancement that can provide higher accuracy and GPS-like “all-in-view” signals from every loran-C station around the world, and out to ranges of more than 1,000 miles.

The UK’s position was that until the OMB’s announcement, the U.S. supported the view that loran provides a backup to GPS, with the Department of Homeland Security stating that loran “will mitigate any safety, security or economic effects of a GPS outage or disruption.” In January, a high-level DOT panel of independent experts, chaired by Professor Brad Parkinson–the former USAF official in charge of satnav development, now dubbed “The father of GPS”–unanimously recommended that “the U.S. government complete the eLoran upgrade and commit to eLoran as the national backup to GPS for 20 years.”

These views recognized that loran-C and eLoran are more than simply navaids. Today, government and commercial communications, finance, utilities, ATC and many other vital services in the U.S. and overseas depend on precise GPS timing, and loran-C and eLoran are the only long-range, unjammable backups that can provide comparable accuracy. Other satnav systems, such as Europe’s coming Galileo, cannot serve as backups because they share the same frequency band as GPS and are therefore equally vulnerable to jamming and other forms of accidental or deliberate distortion.

The DHS and DOT expert panel views were supported in the Feb. 1, 2009, DOT/DOD/DHS biennial federal radionavigation plan (FRP), which has provided key guidance material to overseas nations in achieving international standardization in the transition from terrestrial to satellite technology and beyond. The UK position was particularly critical on this point, noting that the OMB’s overruling of the FRP’s policy statements shortly after they were published undermined international confidence in the document’s validity as a future planning basis for other nations, at a time when international standardization is becoming even more essential. In its own case, the UK had already demonstrated the system’s value in maintaining safety under simulated GPS jamming, and had intended to implement an e-Loran network, as had other nations.

The technical basis for the OMB action remains unclear, but AIN understands that the office has agreed to review its decision by next month. However, former FAA Administrator Langhorne Bond, now president of the International Loran Association, noted that previous FAA efforts to terminate loran-C have always met resistance.