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May 13, 2009
Update: Status of eLoran Funding

Background: The Department of Homeland Security released the following statement on 7 February 2008: "Today the U.S. Department of Homeland Security will begin implementing an independent national positioning, navigation and timing system that complements the Global Positioning System (GPS) in the event of an outage or disruption in service. The enhanced Loran, or eLoran, system will be a land-based, independent system and will mitigate any safety, security, or economic effects of a GPS outage or disruption. GPS is a satellite-based system widely used for positioning, navigation, and timing. The eLoran system will be an enhanced and modernized version of Loran-C, long used by mariners and aviators and originally developed for civil marine use in coastal areas. In addition to providing backup coverage, the signal strength and penetration capability of eLoran will provide support to first responders and other operators in environments that GPS cannot support, such as under heavy foliage, in some underground areas, and in dense high-rise structures. The system will use modernized transmitting stations and an upgraded network."

On the 26th of February 2009 the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) released a statement announcing that the DHS section of the President's Fiscal Year 2010 budget "supports the termination of "outdated" [italics added] systems such as the terrestrial-based, long-range radionavigation (LOrAN-C) operated by the U.S. Coast Guard resulting in an offset of $36 million in 2010 and $190 million over five years."

In April 2009 the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released the "Report to the Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs, Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, House of Representatives: Global Positioning System, Significant Challenges in Sustaining and Upgrading Widely Used Capabilities". In part the report states "It is uncertain whether the Air Force will be able to acquire new satellites in time to maintain current GPS service without interruption. If not, some military operations and some civilian users could be adversely affected."

Hearing on May 12, 2009:
The following exchange between Senator Susan Collins (R Maine) and Ms. Janet Napolitano, Secretary, Homeland Security, took place during the 12 May 2009 hearing of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Hearing on the Homeland Security Department's Fiscal 2010 Budget:

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Last week, the GAO issued a report that raised serious concerns regarding the liability, the reliability, rather, of the GPS network. And the report is alarming in many ways. GAO said that it's uncertain whether the Air Force will be able to acquire new satellites in time to maintain current GPS service without interruption.

And GAO goes on to warn that, if not, that some military operations and civilian uses would be adversely affected.

It's ironic that this alarming report by the GAO was released the same day that the administration's budget was released, which calls for the elimination of the Loran-C, which is the network foundation for e-Loran, the leading proposed backup for GPS.

Now, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Transportation established an independent assessment team to look at e-Loran and to look at what should be the appropriate backup for the GPS system.

And the team found that e-Loran could be deployed nationwide with an additional investment of $143 million. It's already been about $160 million invested in -- in the modernization over the past 10 years.

It's going to cost approximately $146 million to decommission the existing Loran-C infrastructure. So for approximately the same amount of money, you could go to the deployment of the e-Loran system and avoid the disruption that could occur because we're proceeding without a backup to GPS.

And, again, the independent assessments team's recommendations were unanimous, and they recommended that the government should complete the e-Loran upgrade. It doesn't make sense to me that DHS is recommending the decommissioning of the Loran-C system when the same amount of money -- in fact, a little less -- could be used to get us to the upgraded e-Loran system, when we know that we need a backup to GPS.

Could you explain to me why the department is proposing terminating this system, rather than using the same amount of money to invest in the upgraded Loran system, which is needed as a backup for GPS?

Yes, Senator. First, there's uniform agreement that Loran-C, the existing system, is out of date, antiquated, and not sustainable in its current form.

The view of -- in the budget itself that was put forward was that the model, the paradigm being used of having one backup system for GPS was not the better way to go, that you needed to have a lot of different things that overlap and different kind of fail-safes as opposed to two systems, one being the full backup for the other, because from a prevention and protection standpoint, it would be better to have multiple smaller systems, as opposed to one uniform backup system, which is what e-Loran is designed to be.

I'm happy to have someone from the Coast Guard come give you a technical briefing on that. But that -- that was the recommendation that underlied the budget request.

Win win or loose lose?

But when I talked to the Coast Guard about this issue -- and I asked the question, "What is the backup going to be?" There's not an answer to that. And, in fact, while there is agreement that Loran-C is outmoded, there's also unanimous agreement that we need to proceed with e-Loran, with the notable exception of whoever put together the budget at DHS.

But if you look at the public comments that were taken on this issue, they overwhelmingly point to the value of a Loran-based system that is modernized and upgraded.

And, again, the -- the DHS own assessment team, which worked with DOT, was unanimous and unambiguous in supporting the transition to e-Loran.

My concern is that the administration is really putting the cart before the horse here. You're terminating the old system before you have a new system in place. And the GAO's report is alarming, as far as the consequences of not having a backup to GPS, given the Air Force's problems in launching satellites, one of which is three years behind schedule and way over budget.

Well, Senator, I think -- first of all, I think, again, as on so many of these things, there is money to sustain things through F.Y. '10, as we look at the transition.

But, again, there is disagreement about what really should be the replacement there. And what I would look forward to doing over the next weeks is really working with you and your staff on that.

I look forward to doing so. I think, if you look at the independent assessment team and its report and the public comments, you won't see much disagreement on the direction we should go in."

Comments by Chuck Husick, Technical Editor, BoatU.S. Magazine:
To conclude this update; at this time I do not know if the White House will reverse their stated intent to destroy the Loran C system and thereby preclude its evolution into eLoran, or if the Congress, hopefully more sensitive and aware of the necessity for an alternate PNT system will override the ill advised recommendation made by personnel in the Office of Management and Budget of the White House.

BoatUS submitted a letter to the Subcommittee on Homeland Security in support of continued maintenance of Loran and eLoran. You may send your letters of support of Loran and eLoran to the Subcommittee on Homeland Security (see letter for address).