GPS to get terrestrial backup system

December 5, 2018  - By
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On Dec. 4, President Trump signed the Frank LoBiondo U.S. Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2018. Included in that bill was the National Timing Security and Resilience Act of 2018.

The act tasks the Secretary of Transportation with establishing a terrestrial backup timing system for GPS within two years.

Further, the bill ensures the availability of uncorrupted and non-degraded timing signals for military and civilian users in the event that GPS signals are corrupted, degraded, unreliable, or otherwise unavailable.

The law requires that, to the maximum extent possible, the backup system be:

  • terrestrial
  • wireless
  • synchronized to UTC
  • difficult to disrupt
  • able to penetrate underground and inside buildings
  • capable of deployment to remote locations
  • expandable to provide position, navigation and timing (PNT), and
  • able to work in concert with similar systems such as eLoran.

It also has provisions for the government to be able to establish the system through a commercial entity should it elect to do so. In such a case, it establishes several provisions that such a contract must meet.

Image: @SENTEDCRUZ

Image: @SENTEDCRUZ

Timing a critical area. Timing has been an area of increasing focus and concern for both industry and government.

The U.S. Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions (ATIS), the standards body for the wireless industry, has cited GPS timing as a point of failure for wireless systems. Last year ATIS wrote to key senators, encouraging them to establish an eLoran system to provide a second and much more resilient timing source for America.

In 2015 and 2016, the U.S. National Institutes of Standards and Technology issued reports that said America’s timing infrastructure was insufficient to support the growing internet of things (IOT).

The bill was sponsored by a broad coalition in the House led by Congressmen John Garamendi (D-CA) and Duncan Hunter (R-CA). Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Ed Markey (D-MA) led the effort in the Senate, where the bill passed with an overwhelming majority.

U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) issued the following statements. “Establishing a reliable alternative timing system to GPS satellites is crucial to the national and economic security of the United States,” Sen. Cruz said. “If the current system were disrupted for even just a few hours, there would be an immediate threat to the American people, the economy, and our very way of life. Thankfully, Congress recognized the importance of addressing this issue. I am grateful for Sen. Markey’s leadership, and commend President Trump for signing this bill into law.”

“The nation’s banking, communications, electricity, and transportation sectors rely on the precise timing provided by GPS,” Sen. Markey said. “We cannot allow this vital system to be imperiled by natural phenomenon like solar flares or coordinated attacks like jamming. I am so proud that President Trump has signed this important bill into law, and I thank for Senator Cruz for partnering on policy that will enhance the resilience and reliability of this critical infrastructure.”

Defense attempt. Similar legislation that would have placed the responsibility for a terrestrial GPS backup system with the Department of Defense was introduced in 2015. While this was done with the acquiescence of senior DOD leadership, when the department later determined it did not want the responsibility, the measure failed.

While this new law is not a funding bill, Congress provided $10M for a technology demonstration in 2018. Also, having a law in place requiring the system paves the way for funding in future appropriations bills.

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