GPS problems? Boaters last!


I think that the Google news search above, and those 397 articles you can click through to, mostly indicate that the US General Accounting Office accomplished its goal: Light a fire under the collective butt of the U.S. Air Force, which has apparently been slow at deploying two billion dollars to upgrade the GPS satellite system (GAO report here).  I’ve gotten several notes of concern about the situation, but I think boaters are about the last user group that needs to worry about it.  We almost invariably use GPS in almost ideal conditions, puttering along at a relatively slow speed with a wide open sky view. And we don’t care beans about altitude (except for going negative)!  We were about the first to get into GPS because it was useful on the water before the full constellation of satellites was in place, and, if the system truly does break down, we may be the last.  But we surely do value electronic positioning a great deal.  So here’s my question:  If we’re having trouble keeping GPS fit on a two billion dollar budget, why the heck is the government even considering saving a tenth of that by shutting down eLoran, a viable backup system?

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Ben Ellison

Ben Ellison

Panbo editor, publisher & chief bottlewasher from 4/2005 until 8/2018, and now excited to have Ben Stein as very able publisher, webmaster, and editing colleague. Panbo is going to the next level in 2019 and beyond.

7 Responses

  1. Tim Flanagan says:

    I tell you, Ben, I’m confused as heck about Loran and eLoran. All the research I’ve conducted and written about recently at Navagear still leaves me mostly confused!

  2. Tim says:

    Sailors managed fine before GPS, they will again if it breaks down. Just have to dust off the sextants, learn how to read radar ranges and use the compass to take bearings again. Maybe time to create an electronic sextant?

  3. Carl says:

    I think LORAN is grossly undervalued. When people talk about LORAN as a backup to GPS, I think they imagine it kicking on in the highly remote case of a complete GPS shutdown. But the eLORAN infrastructure, as I understand it, should also be able to regularly transmit additional data to improve the overall system even under normal conditions.

  4. Adam says:

    Yes, these headlines are all chicken littlesque in the extreme. Do we really think that legislators are going to allow material degradation of a system that millions of consumers and tens of thousands of businesses rely on daily? For re-election reasons alone that’s unthinkable.
    And as Tim Flanagan noted today in a quote on Navagear, the current system could lose a full 22% of its operable satellites without degrading service.

  5. El Baraday says:

    If the Iranians are using GPS for their solid fuel missiles, count on some form of permanent “degradation” in GPS’ not too distant future.

  6. Jim Hebert Jim Hebert says:

    Another irony of LORAN v. GPS:
    The GPS system is global, and while the United States pays for it, the whole world gets to use it for free.
    LORAN is only useful in the United States. We pay for it, we use it. And it is much less expensive to maintain.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Some things to consider about GPS
    Civil Users outnumber military users by a factor of hundreds — but the program is run by the military. Civil devices similarly outnumber military devices. This has been true for more than a decade now.
    More users use GPS for timing than for position finding — and the timing customers often don’t even know it because the signal comes from a wire or a fiber. Guess where the time sync in the cellular system comes from. Did you know banks charge each other for the time value of money based on GPS timing? Why? Because it is a global standard.
    Since 1973 the USAF has persistently used the GPS program (and any other space programs except missile warning and AFSATCOM) as a program bill payer for things more central to the Air Force mission. It was never enough to break the program — just insidious nibbling. This was at its worst in the early ’90’s. What we had to do to make GPS viable in the Gulf War would make you cry or swear or both. The lesson was never learned and the nibbling continued.
    Several times OSD has considered taking GPS management authority away from the AF — as it did on MILSTAR in the early-90s. But because the OSD staff is not equipped to manage any program, and no other DOD agency would do any better, things have been allowed to stumble along.
    While we rely on the Army Corps of Engineers for critical civil infrastructure such as The Ditch, dikes, and levees, it isn’t clear why we have left GPS core system management in the hands of an agency that has no civil mission and is conflicted about funding GPS even within its own service. Until you realize how bad to non-existent the program management cultures of the other cabinet agencies are. Would you really want Commerce or Transportation creating, maintaining, upgrading and sustaining GPS?

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