A money-saving measure with important consequences
The Legislative and Executive Branches of the United States jointly decided several years ago that LORAN was outmoded. In a budget-cutting effort, funding for the program was deleted and the US Coast Guard was required to cease transmission of LORAN signals and to decommission all of its LORAN stations. From a very narrow perspective, this made sense. After all, LORAN was basically World War II technology. It was manpower intensive. Its range of about 1,200 nautical miles left certain areas, particularly in the polar regions, with inadequate or no coverage. Newer global navigation satellite systems (GNSS), such as the Global Positioning System (GPS), provide worldwide coverage and higher accuracy than did LORAN. The major problem with GNSS is that it relies on low-power radio signals from the various constellations of satellites. These signals are regularly subject to interference, sometimes of solar origin, sometimes of human origin. Most of the human-origin interference is accidental, but some is intentional. Regardless of origin, the impact on the user is the same – a useless or inaccurate reading. LORAN utilized a much stronger signal, largely impervious to interference. It thus provided a vital backup to GNSS. That backup is now history. The government decision to terminate LORAN is similar to a city having an older firehouse and a newer firehouse and deciding to shut down the older one to save money. What happens if there are more emergencies than the new firehouse can handle? The government decision also ignored the development work underway on enhanced LORAN or eLORAN, which promised to both improve accuracy and reduce the manpower requirements. We have now put all of our eggs in one very fragile basket.