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Air Force, Space Force Considering ‘Mitigation Steps’ As Ligado 5G Plan Moves Forward

By Vivienne Machi | April 23, 2020
    Rendition of GPS III satellite. Photo: Lockheed Martin

    Rendition of GPS III satellite. Photo: Lockheed Martin

    The top officials of the U.S. Air Force and Space Force are looking at “different mitigation steps” to counter potential effects on GPS receivers that could emerge from the FCC’s decision to approve a new commercial L-Band network for 5G infrastructure.

    Two days after the FCC approved Ligado’s application to build a new low-power terrestrial network for nationwide 5G, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein reiterated that he was “very concerned” about the decision and how the new network could potential interfere with GPS signals.

    “We as a nation, and I would offer as a globe, rely on GPS to do so much, that affects far more than military operations,” he said in an April 16 teleconference hosted by the Defense Writer’s Group. “This is our quality of life. This is how we run businesses.”

    Goldfein and other Pentagon leaders have long sought to prevent Ligado’s application from being approved. He described the potential effects on GPS receivers as, “If you are trying to have a quiet conversation, and in the next room is a 500-watt speaker blaring music at you, that gives you sort of a visual of what potentially could be the interference with this GPS signal, that … absolutely has got to be pristine, and [that] the world relies on.”

    Gen. John “Jay” Raymond, who is currently dual-hatted as the Space Force’s chief of space operations and as the U.S. Space Command commander, would likely develop the mitigation plan that Goldfein would then support as the Air Force chief of staff, along with the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff before presenting to the secretary of defense, he noted. He did not reveal a timeframe for such a decision to be made, but emphasized that it is a “huge challenge.”

    Multiple members of Congress serving on the armed services committees have loudly criticized the FCC’s move to approve the Ligado application, with the four leaders of the Senate Armed Services and House Armed Services Committees writing an op-ed published Wednesday on C4ISRNET threatening to “clean up this mess” should the FCC not resolve U.S. military concerns about the decision.

    On Tuesday, two top Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee added their voices to the fray, with Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio), ranking member of the HASC Strategic Forces Subcommittee, and Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), ranking member of the Emerging Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee, issuing a joint statement calling the FCC’s decision “alarming and jeopardizes America’s national and economic security.”

    The two lawmakers criticized the commission’s vote to approve the application despite broad bipartisan and bicameral government opposition, stating that it was “unprecedented for the FCC to take such brazen action.”

    They also dismissed Ligado’s overall business plan as purportedly failing to enhance the United States’ 5G influence worldwide while compromising its GPS capability.

    “We have been extremely vocal on the need for America to regain our authority as a global leader in 5G and offer a realistic alternative to China’s Huawei,” the statement said. “However, Ligado’s plan does neither. America’s appetite for spectrum will only increase, and the FCC’s actions sets a dangerous precedent that may force Congress to revisit this issue.

    “We firmly believe that we must increase our investment in 5G, but through the implementation of dynamic spectrum sharing technologies that allow our military and commercial sectors to co-exist,” the lawmakers continued. “This alternative provides the only realistic path forward that protects our national security, recharges our domestic 5G industries, and presents a trusted, secure alternative to Huawei.”

    This article was originally published by our sister publication Defense Daily.