Opposition in Congress is growing to President Obama's proposed elimination of the Loran navigational system. According to the White House, the Loran system has been made "obsolete by GPS" and dropping the program would save taxpayers $35 million in 2010 and $190 million over five years.
The Loran system employs a chain of land-based, low frequency radio transmitters to send out precise times and coordinated signals, and it serves as a backup to the GPS program. There are currently 24 Loran stations in the continental United States and the United States has already spent $160 million in upgrades to the system.
"Discontinuing the entire program would leave the nation without a backup to the GPS program, wasting millions of dollars already spent on this system," Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), ranking member of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security, said at a May 13 hearing of the panel.
To bolster her case to keep the Loran program, Collins cited a new GAO (Government Accountability Office) study that raises serious concerns regarding the reliability of the GPS network and its ability to acquire new satellites in time to maintain current military, enterprise and civilian GPS needs without interruption.
The report warns that the U.S. government has fallen behind schedule in deploying new satellites to maintain the current GPS service, and that this delay means that GPS service for military operations and civilian uses could be adversely affected.
In addition, a two-year-old report by an Independent Assessment Team commissioned by the Institute for Defense Analyses was recently released that unanimously found that the "U.S. government complete the eLoran upgrade and commit to eLoran as the national backup to GPS for 20 years."
The IAT report also found that Loran could be deployed nationwide for approximately the same amount of money that it will cost to decommission the existing LORAN-C infrastructure.
"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 eLORAN, the leading proposed backup for GPS," Collins said.
As for the IAT report, Collins said, "For approximately the same amount of money, you could go to the deployment of the eLoran system and avoid the disruption that could occur because we're proceeding without a backup to GPS."
Within his own party, Sen. Jay Rockfeller (D-WVA), chairman of the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, recently said his committee recognized the priority of "maintaining Loran-C while transitioning to eLoran" for homeland security, marine safety and environmental protection missions of the Coast Guard.