Raytheon gets bashing from Air Force; PNT ExCom recommends eLoran for GPS backup

Just as the U.S. Air Force's top space official slammed a new ground control system for GPS being built by Raytheon as "a disaster," U.S. Department of Defense and Transportation officials told members of Congress that the administration is working on a near-term solution to address vulnerabilities of the GPS timing signal by establishing a complementary "timing-focused eLoran capability."

First, the Raytheon debacle: The Raytheon project calls for the company to develop the latest global positioning system known as the GPS Operational Control System, or OCX, for the Air Force. But General John Hyten, commander of Air Force Space Command, last week called it a "disaster" due to escalating costs and delays.

"The OCX program is a disaster, just a disaster, and it's embarrassing to have to stand in front of people and try to defend it, so I won't," Hyten said at an industry event, according to Reuters. "When you start down a path and you basically can't deliver and you keep pushing the system out to the right, and you keep pouring money at it, and the contractor does not deliver, you're in a tough spot."

The Air Force will continue work on an alternative ground control program and explore outside options to hedge against further cost spikes and delays for the troubled ground control system for next-generation GPS satellites, reported Reuters, citing an Air Force document it obtained.

In a statement to Reuters, Raytheon said it's "fully committed to delivering, without compromise, the modernized GPS ground controls envisioned and required by the Air Force."

Meanwhile, the National Executive Committee for Space-Based Positioning, Navigation and Timing (PNT ExCom) has recommended using enhanced long range signals (eLoran) as a near-term alternative to GPS for essential timing data while it determines what capabilities are needed for a comprehensive GPS backup.

In a Dec. 8 letter to five members of Congress, Defense Deputy Secretary Robert Work and Department of Transportation Deputy Secretary Victor Mendez said they share concerns regarding the importance of GPS to critical infrastructure and security requirements. They noted that the National Space-Based PNT Executive Committee, known as EXCOM, reviewed several potential solutions and found that an eLoran network could be a viable nationwide complementary capability for GPS applications.

"Sufficient data exists from previous studies to produce initial cost estimates and basic system specifications to determine the appropriate scope of the effort," the letter read in part. "We are building on these data and estimates to develop a more detailed approached for an initial timing-focused eLoran capability. This initial timing network could provide a near-term solution while we continue our efforts to prescribe a complete set of requirements necessary to support a fully complementary PNT capability for the nation."

Inside GNSS notes the letter was sent in response to an Aug. 31 query co-signed by Representatives Bill Shuster, R-Penn., and Peter DeFazio, D-Oregon, respectively the chairman and ranking member of the House Transportation Infrastructure Committee, as well as Congressmen John Garamendi, D-Calif.; Frank LoBiondo, R-N.J.; and Walter Jones, R-N.C.

Garamendi has taken a particular interest in protecting the nation's PNT capabilities. Noting that the GPS is used by almost every major industry in America, including land navigation and cell phones, in March he introduced the National Positioning, Navigation, and Timing (PNT) Resilience and Security Act of 2015, in part to provide a backup system that can reach places GPS currently cannot, such as inside many buildings, helping first responders when they're trying to protect the public.

The backup system required by the act would step in when GPS signals are corrupted, degraded, unreliable or otherwise unavailable and take advantage of the government's existing long-range navigation system infrastructure. Unlike GPS, which relies on satellites, Loran is ground-based, making it less susceptible to atmospheric interruption, according to the Congressman. The terrestrial PNT system would use eLoran signals from 19 towers around the country, each with approximately a 1,000-mile range providing overlapping fields from which a device can derive its location.

For more:
- see this Reuters article
- see this Inside GNSS article
- see this RNRF post

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