Budget cuts bleed into Radionavigation

As a result of the economic downturn, budget cuts continue to be more prevalent than ever.   To offset the $787 billion stimulus package, the administration recently suggested a plan to cut $17 billion in government programs that are deemed of little or no importance, or that have been replaced by improved programs.   According to USA Today, a proposal to shrink or eliminate long-range radio-navigation systems is near approved.   Responsible for global navigation among other things, this news is rather alarming.

LORAN, long-range aid to navigation, consists of multiple, fixed transmitters around the globe that determine receivers’ speed and location by recording geographic intersections.   Once prevalent in marine applications and airplanes, few still use Loran to navigate.   However, many nations including the United States, Japan, and numerous European countries continue to use the Loran system for maritime purposes.

The Loran program has become somewhat outdated, replaced by Global Positioning System (GPS).   Part of the Federal Radionavigation Plan (FRP), GPS has entirely taken over control of position, navigation and timing through advanced satellites; most, if not all, modern aircraft use GPS.   Although this handover is what spurred the discussion of budget cuts, the program remains necessary.  An enhanced version of Loran (developed early 2008 as eLoran) was set to act as backup to the ever present GPS, but the cuts may put an abrupt halt to this plan.

As an integral component to the Department of Homeland Security, eLoran would alleviate safety, security, and economic effects in the event of loss of GPS signal.   And the vulnerability of Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) has sparked a renewed interest in Loran.   The program provides a global standard of uniformity: Universal Time Coordinating (UTC).   Without the modernized eLoran as a backup system, large-scale problems could likely ensue worldwide.

According to Maritime Global Net, Loran will likely be “scrapped” in order to save $35 million a year: “This long-range, radio-navigation system has been made obsolete by GPS.”   This statement is uninformed when considering the program’s aforementioned benefits and its vital role in emergency situations; however, cuts must be allocated somewhere.