eLoran Gets a Second Look

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Another signal that government is becoming more dysfunctional than ever, is the saga of eLoran.

Earlier this year, the congressional committee overseeing the Coast Guard approved language that would stop the agency from dismantling facilities needed for eLoran, which could serve as a backup in case our GPS system goes down. The Coast Guard had been tearing down stations from its old Loran-C nav system, which was shut down in 2010. (The above image shows one of the old Loran towers at night.)

Loran, for those of you who began your navigation careers in the era of GPS, stands for LOng RAnge Navigation, which uses low-frequency signals broadcast from ground stations to enable ships and aircraft to determine location, direction and speed. When Loran-C was decommissioned, the plan was to replace it with a much improved eLoran system.

The information website InsideGNSS is devoted to global navigational satellite systems and has been covering the eLoran controversy since the beginning. It contends that plans for eLoran were abandoned despite having wide public and private support. “Planned for launch as a government program near the end of George W. Bush’s presidency, its funding was pulled by the Obama Administration in 2010 for reasons that remain somewhat unclear—ostensibly to save money, but the budgetary benefit would have been minor,” writes Dee Ann Divis for InsideGNSS.

“The Department of Homeland Security has studied the presidential directive that told them to create a backup system for GPS and their conclusion was that ‘We need to study it more,’” says U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter, chairman of the House Coast Guard and Marine Transportation Subcommittee. “They did a study and now they are going to do more studies and that’s the circle loop, the endless loop of stupidity we have in Congress instead of just getting something done.”

Dana Goward, president of the Resilient Navigation & Timing Foundation, told the committee during the hearing that the U.S. could establish the system in the continental United States for about $40 million. The RNT Foundation was launched last year with the goal of persuading the government to rededicate the old Loran-C sites to eLoran and install the system—possibly in partnership with private companies.

The movement to establish eLoran appears to be growing. South Korea is creating its own in response to persistent North Korean efforts to jam GPS in the region. eLoran itself is described as jam resistant, and unlike GPS its signals extend under ground, under water and into buildings.

Stay tuned.