By Dee Ann Divis

A quintet of well-placed lawmakers, tired of federal dawdling, are prepared to make the Pentagon responsible for building and maintaining eLoran as a backup system for GPS. The move could come by the end of the year, possibly through language attached to a must-pass bill.

Leading the bi-partisan charge are Duncan Hunter, R-California, chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and the subcommittee’s ranking member John Garamendi, D-California.

The two sent a joint letter last July to the Departments of Defense, Transportation, and Homeland Security — the three agencies responsible for publishing the Federal Radionavigation Plan — asking why there had been no progress on a then-10-year-old presidential directive to establish a backup for GPS.

“America’s Global Positioning System (GPS) is an essential element of nearly every infrastructure upon which our economy and security depend,” the two wrote. “While GPS is superbly maintained and operated, its signals are necessarily faint and can be easily disrupted. This has become a well-recognized and unacceptable risk for our nation.”

Since then officials from a number of agencies have been meeting to discuss establishing a GPS backup. They are weighing the advantages of old proposals like an Enhanced Loran (eLoran) system, said Karen Van Dyke, director of positioning, navigation and timing (PNT) and spectrum management at the Department of Transportation (DoT). They are also looking at new approaches, such as linking up local commercial radio frequency ranging (RF) networks into a national system.

One of the issues is understanding what system users would be willing to adopt, Van Dyke told Hunter during a July 28 hearing before the House Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation.

“I hear your testimony and I’m going: ‘Here we go again,’” Garamendi said to Van Dyke during the hearing. “Yeah, there are undoubtedly alternative systems, but all of them are localized — and then coordinating all those together is going to require some sort of overarching system.  You know that. I think everybody that is interested in this has known this for at least 15 years.”

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