Obama’s LORAN Problem

© gps333@charter.net

24 June 2009

President Obama has a numbers problem. More precisely, he has shown an unwillingness to acknowledge facts when they conflict with his clear intention of turning the United States into 1980s France. We all know how that turned out.

Let’s take one good example. Obama wants to shut-down LORAN. LORAN – LOng RAnge Navigation – was developed after World War II, based upon a simpler system GEE invented by the British. Without boring the reader, let me say simply that it is a robust, world-wide, proven system of ground stations, run by the US Coast Guard, that give vehicles equipped with LORAN receivers a fix – a known position at a certain time, which is critical to navigation. A full explanation is here. A sample of a LORAN chart – this one for waters off New York – is here. As a retired Naval Flight Officer I used LORAN for my entire career in guiding P-3 aircraft around the world.

Obama wants to shut-down this vital system to save .0002% of the national budget through 2015. I kid you not.

The alleged reason to shut-down LORAN is the advent of GPS – the Global Positioning System most people know through their in-car navigators. GPS receivers are complemented with microcomputers to give the driver, mariner, or flier a moving map of the vehicle’s position, a time to destination calculation, and other handy features. So does LORAN. In fact, many have recommended that LORAN be the primary back-up for GPS to ensure a national navigation system that is nearly fool-proof. You see, GPS has a number of problems. It is based upon a “constellation” of 24 satellites in orbit, vs. LORAN’s system of ground stations. As we have seen on TV, repairing a satellite in orbit is a bit of a project. GPS uses low-power microwave signals, which are not receivable in bad weather. LORAN uses low frequency signals at high power which blast through almost any interference. A 2007 report from the government of the United Kingdom concluded that electronic navigation based on GPS or the European Galileo system is unlikely to be robust or reliable enough to withstand intentional jamming or unintentional interference. It recommends developing eLoran (enhanced LORAN, http://satellitenavigation.wordpress.com/eloran-resources/) as an “insurance policy against the potentially massive impacts of a terrorist or criminal jamming attack." The accuracy of eLORAN has been shown to equal that of GPS – both give a fix to within 30 feet. Per the NTSB’s 2006 report, just in the U.S., there are 12.7 million pleasure and commercial boats, another 286 passenger ocean-liners, 224,352 general aviation aircraft, and 8,225 air carrier airplanes. If just one in four are using LORAN, and, as Obama claims, LORAN is costing the government $ 38 million a year, the cost of providing fixing information per vehicle is less than a penny a day. Not a bad deal.

Yet, Obama wants to end LORAN, despite the facts that the nation’s sea and air fleets depend upon it, that it is far more reliable than GPS, and that the savings are meaningless in the face of the benefits to be lost. Congress, to its credit, is moving to save LORAN despite the White House’s blind intentions. The short truth is that the only winners in a LORAN shut-down would be manufacturers of GPS units. Losers would number in the millions of people deprived of the system.

Ending LORAN would simply be one more counter-productive move by an Administration that is proving it moves on the basis of ideology rather than reason.