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10 questions on eLoran

the former Loran-C transmission antenna at Værlandet, Norway. (Photo: UrsaNav)

Photo: UrsaNav

A PNT expert suggested that my piece titled “Opposite and Complementary: eLoran is part of the solution to GNSS vulnerability” in our November 2021 issue could be augmented with information not currently available on the proposed eLoran capability. This expert also questioned my statement that eLoran “does not have any common failure modes with GNSS” and pointed to potential common threats such as from cyberattacks, physical attacks, and space weather.

Matteo Luccio

Matteo Luccio

I welcome such feedback on the contents of these pages — and agree that in this case some hard questions are warranted. So, in the interest of further exploring the use of eLoran, I pose some questions, hoping that its advocates will provide answers. I know that at least some of them will not shy away from this challenge.

Please note that I wish to keep the discussion on positioning, not the easier question of timing, because that was the primary focus of my article. I also wish to address long-term outages (weeks or months), which would have a greater impact on the United States.

Some of these questions have been addressed, at least in part, in various studies and proposals, most of them now more than a decade old. So, it would be helpful to update those answers and consolidate them in the pages of this magazine.

1. Accuracy specifics. While my November article stated that eLoran would have a two-dimensional accuracy of “better than 20 meters, and in many cases, better than 10 meters,” is that RMS, 95%, or some other statistic?

2. Performance standard. GPS provides a commitment to users in a published performance standard. What specific measures of positioning accuracy, integrity and continuity would you recommend the proposed eLoran system be committed to provide (using the architecture described in the answer to Question 6)?

3. Coverage. Would you recommend this eLoran positioning performance hold for the entire United States (including Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and other territories), only for the “lower 48” states, or only parts of these 48 states?

4. Current users. By number of users, the predominant common current civil uses of GNSS for positioning are consumer devices (mostly cellphones). By contribution to the U.S. economy, the predominant uses are high-precision applications. For what fraction of these uses would eLoran positioning be adequate? Could an eLoran receiver and antenna fit in today’s consumer devices?

5. Future uses. Emerging civil uses of GPS for positioning include autonomous ground and air vehicles, navigation to space and in space, and lane-accurate car navigation. Which of these could be served by eLoran?

6. Architecture. To maintain accuracy during a prolonged GPS outage, eLoran would require reference stations to calibrate time-varying propagation errors, as well as a certain number of transmitters for good nationwide geometry and for redundancy, ensuring service even if a transmitter is attacked or is taken off-line for maintenance. What architecture would you recommend to achieve this?

7.  Infrastructure cost. What would be the cost of installing the required transmitters, power supplies, reference stations, communication links and control system for the architecture described in the answer to Question 6? Can you reference a recent and independent estimate? To a ballpark figure, what cost fixed-price contract would you accept to implement it? Similarly, what would be the annual costs for operating and maintaining this infrastructure?

8. Impact. eLoran transmitters are large and high-power. Providing positioning across the United States could require building some of them from scratch or significantly reconstructing old Loran sites. What issues — such as environmental, aviation safety and security — would this raise, and how would you recommend they be addressed?

9. Receivers. Assuming all the above were achieved, it would accomplish nothing unless eLoran receivers were widely purchased, installed and used. How much would that cost? Who would pay? Should we assume that “if we build it, they will come”?

10. Alternatives. Given the widespread development of other positioning technologies over the past decade, much has changed since the earlier recommendations for eLoran. How do we know that eLoran is the right investment — or even a needed part of the solution or needed system in a system of systems — for the future of U.S. PNT?

Common threats to GNSS and eLoran could include the following:

1. Cyber attacks. Given that GPS’s OCX is said to be the most cybersecure system built by the U.S. Department of Defense, how would eLoran’s control system be even more cybersecure than OCX, to avoid a common cyber-vulnerability?

2. Physical attacks. Given concerns about possible physical attacks on GPS satellites, which move at multiple km/sec 20,000 km from Earth, would it not be easier to physically attack eLoran transmitters, which are stationary, terrestrial, in remote locations, and hundreds of feet tall and require massive power sources?

3. Space weather. GPS is potentially vulnerable to severe space weather that could damage satellites or temporarily hinder signal propagation from space to Earth. However, severe space weather could also damage the power grid upon which megawatt eLoran transmitters rely. How would eLoran service be protected from the effects of severe space weather, such as a Carrington Event?

Send me your thoughts at the e-mail address below, with “eLoran” in the subject line.

Matteo Lucio | Editor-in-Chief

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