Friday, December 29, 2017

S 2220 Introduced – Alternative Timing System

Earlier this month Sen. Cruz (R,TX) introduced S 2220, the National Timing Resilience and Security Act of 2017. The bill would require the Secretary of Transportation to establish a land-based alternative to the GPS timing signal. The new system would be designed to{§2(a)}:

• Reduce critical dependencies and provide a complement to and backup for the timing component of the Global Positioning System (in this section referred to as ‘‘GPS’’); and
• Ensure the availability of uncorrupted and non-degraded timing signals for military and civilian users in the event that GPS timing signals are corrupted, degraded, unreliable, or otherwise unavailable.

Procurement Requirements

Section 2(b) of the bill would require the Secretary of Transportation, in consultation with the Homeland Security Secretary, to establish procurement requirements for the alternative timing system. Those requirements would be based upon the study required by §1618 of the FY 2017 NDAA (PL 114-328; 130 Stat. 2595). Those requirements would include in the design criteria that the system would {§2(b)(2)}:

• Be wireless;
• Be terrestrial;
• Provide wide-area coverage;
• Deliver a precise, high-power 100 kilohertz signal;
• Be synchronized with coordinated universal time;
• Be resilient and extremely difficult to disrupt or degrade;
• Be able to penetrate underground and inside buildings;
• Be capable of deployment to remote locations;
• Take full advantage of the infrastructure and spectrum of the existing, unused government long-range navigation system (commonly known as ‘‘LORAN’’);
• Be developed, constructed, and operated incorporating applicable private sector expertise;
work in concert with and complement any other similar positioning, navigation, and timing systems, including enhanced long-range navigation systems and Nationwide Differential GPS systems;
• Be made available by the Secretary of Transportation for use by other Federal and non-Federal Government agencies for public purposes at no cost;
• Be capable of adaptation and expansion to provide position and navigation capabili12
• Incorporate the recommendations from any GPS back-up demonstration program initiated and completed by the Secretary, in coordination with other Federal agencies, before the date specified in subsection (c)(1); and
• Incorporate such other elements as the Secretary considers appropriate.

Implementation Plan

Section 2(c) of the bill would give the DOT Secretary a 180-day requirement to report to Congress on the plan to develop, construct, and operate the back-up timing system. The DOT would have two years from the enactment of this legislation to have the system in operation. And, the system would be required to be operational for at least 20 years.

LORAN Facilities

The bill envisions that the timing system would incorporate some or all of the existing, but now essentially unused LORAN navigation beacon stations. Section 2(d) of the bill would require the Coast Guard to transfer any of the necessary LORAN real property or radio frequencies to DOT.

Moving Forward

Both Cruz and his cosponsor {Sen. Markey (D,MA)} are members of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee to which this bill was referred for consideration. This means that it is very likely that the two would have the necessary influence to have the Committee take up the bill for consideration.

The fact that these two particular senators that agree on very little would cosponsor this bill would seem to indicate that there should be bipartisan support for the bill. Unfortunately, there is one major impediment to the bill, the unspecified cost of the development and implementation of the timing system.


There are a couple of interesting things buried in the language of this bill. First the bill requires the DOT to consult with DHS on designing the system, but the report for establishing the system requirements was written by DOT, DHS and DOD {§1618(c)(2)}. The failure to include DOD involvement in the system design and implementation was probably done to exclude the Senate Armed Services Committee from also being assigned consideration of the bill. This would seem to indicate that Cruz (who is a member of that Committee) expects significant opposition to the bill in that quarter.

Secondly, this bill only touches on GPS timing issues, not the additional positioning or navigation problems that would arise if the current GPS system was spoofed or blocked. Two bills in the House, HR 2515 (§411) and HR 2825 (§5411), contain similar requirements for DHS to establish a land based backup system for all three GPS components. And both of those bills also envision using the existing LORAN facilities. It would seem to me that the incremental costs of adding location and navigation information to a land-based signal for timing would be relatively low.

Finally, the requirement in this bill for DOT to be the lead agency for this backup timing system, is a tad bit odd. I suspect that it is based upon the original ownership of the LORAN system by DOT since it was used as a navigation tool for maritime and air traffic. But with this bill being limited to the timing side of the system it would seem to me that the Department of Commerce would be the more appropriate agency for a timing limited system.

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