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Bill Introduced in Senate Recommending US Coast Guard Maintain LORAN-C Navigation System

06/17/2009

Members of the Senate's Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee have introduced a bill, S 1194 -- Coast Guard Authorization Act for Fiscal Years 2010 and 2011 -- that, if passed, would require that the US Coast Guard "maintain the LORAN-C navigation system until such time as the Secretary is authorized by statute, explicitly referencing this section, to cease operating the system but expedite modernization projects necessary for transition to eLORAN technology."

In March of this year, the Coast Guard announced that they would be closing down the 24 LORAN-C (Long Range Aid to Navigation) stations operated under the auspices of the USCG. LORAN stations provide navigation, location and timing services for both civil and military air, land and marine users. According to the USCG, LORAN-C is approved as an en route supplemental air navigation system for both Instrument Flight Rule (IFR) and Visual Flight Rule (VFR) operations. The LORAN-C system serves the 48 continental states, their coastal areas and parts of Alaska.

On February 26, 2009, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) publicly announced the President's Fiscal Year 2010 Budget. In the section for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the budget "supports the termination of outdated systems such as the terrestrial-based, long-range radionavigation (LORAN-C) operated by the US Coast Guard, resulting in an offset of $36 million in 2010 and $190 million over five years." The USCG, once a part of the US Department of Transportation, is now under the direction of DHS.

S 1194 authorizes appropriations to the Department of Transportation of $37 million for each of fiscal years 2010 and 2011 "for capital expenses related to the LORAN-C infrastructure and to modernize and upgrade the LORAN infrastructure to provide eLORAN services." These funds are in addition to the almost $9.5 billion the Committee appropriated for "necessary expenses of the Coast Guard for each of fiscal years 2010 and 2011."

The bill also instructs the Coast Guard to provide a detailed five year plan for transition to eLORAN technology to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation and the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. The plan would include "the timetable, milestones, projects and future funding required to complete the transition from LORAN-C to eLORAN technology for provision of positioning, navigation, and timing services," as well as "the benefits of eLORAN for national transportation safety, security, and economic growth."

A modernized, or eLoran version, has been proposed as a back-up for GPS and other global navigation satellite systems, as both old and new versions are much more resistant to jamming. According to the 2001 Volpe Report from the Department of Transportation, "GPS also is vulnerable to spoofing, broadcast signals with deliberately misleading information, and to unintentional interference. The latter can be due to natural causes (for example, solar flares and ionospheric scintillation), but also to human sources (for example, TV broadcasts, Mobile Satellite Services, Ultra Wide-Band systems, military jamming/spoofing tests and military communications systems). A peculiar but valid class of vulnerability is the degree of unrealistic expectations that can be produced in enthusiastic but unwary GPS users."

LORAN-A stations were developed beginning in World War II, and signals were transmitted on frequencies in and around our present-day 160 meter band. LORAN-A was responsible for reduced Amateur Radio operations -- including frequency and power limitations -- on 160 meters in the United States. In 1979, the Coast Guard phased out the LORAN-A stations; they were replaced by LORAN-C stations. The newer stations operated on 100 kHz, enabling the restrictions on 160 meters due to LORAN functions, to be dropped.

The Senate bill is sponsored by Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), with co-sponsors Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), John D. Rockefeller IV (D-WV) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME). Similar legislation is before the House Appropriations Committee.



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