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Irish Lights backs terrestrial navigation despite 'obsolete' tag

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  • Irish Lights backs terrestrial navigation despite 'obsolete' tag

    Irish Lights backs terrestrial navigation despite 'obsolete' tag
    LORNA SIGGINS Marine Correspondent

    THE COMMISSIONERS of Irish Lights say they still support the idea of an alternative navigation system to satellite, in spite of the decision by the US coastguard to shut down its Loran-C network.

    Loran-C, a terrestrial navigation system which was the focus of a row over the siting of a mast on Clare’s Loop Head some years ago, was declared “obsolete” last year by US president Barack Obama.

    President Obama said that the ground-based network was no longer needed in an age when Global Positioning System (GPS) devices were practically ubiquitous in ships, planes and cars.

    However, the US-run GPS system is vulnerable to deliberate or inadvertent interruption, as experienced among car drivers here during the recent cold spell – and as experienced two years ago in California, when a US navy training exercise jammed GPS signals and interrupted mobile phone services for up to 10 miles inland.

    “We would still be very worried about the vulnerability of GPS at sea,” Commissioners of Irish Lights head of marine, Capt Kieran O’Higgins, told The Irish Times .

    The Irish lighthouse authority supports development of an enhanced form of Loran, known as e-Loran, as part of moves towards an independent European communications network.

    The EU has been working on a satellite network, named Galileo, that would complement the existing US-led GPS, and satellite systems run by Russia (Glonass), India and China. Galileo has a target date of 2013.

    However, e-Loran has been recommended by experts, including the US “father of GPS”, Bradford Parkinson, as a critical back-up for safety and security reasons.

    “We don’t want to be totally reliant on satellites, which are subject to error, and e-Loran is a very capable system,” Capt O’Higgins said.

    “It provides secure communications, secure navigation and secure charting.”

    The Government spent €1 million on its support for the original Loran-C system, following an agreement signed in 1992 with Norway, the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany and France to install it.

    However, local opposition to the siting of a transmission mast on Loop Head in Co Clare, over concerns about health and the environment, led to a legislative challenge.

    The issue went to the Supreme Court, which approved construction in 1998, and the Government agreed it would require special legislation.

    However, three years later Norway and Germany withdrew from the international system and the plan for the Co Clare mast was abandoned.

    The 219-metre (720ft) structure cost over €300,000 to store before it was returned to France.
    Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. Margaret Mead

  • #2


    • #3
      Loran is not fitted to many vessels any more, but there is an over reliance on GPS these days.
      Regardless of where I am working I still take a few sights a week, and azimuths, just to keep my hand in - and when teaching cadets you need to be able to impart that information fluently

      There is a professional obligation to be able to use all available means to determing position, course etc.

      Use of Radar plotting, bearing, index and DR etc. rather than just plodding along the GPS/DGPS red line on the radar/plotter is - to me - an important aspect of navigation.

      And in using a sextant - as in catching a wave while surfing - for me there is a great sense of personal satisfaction, and a connection to the oceans and nature when you can ascertain your position by use of the stars, moon and sun - and a sense of connection to people like Cook or Halpin, and those mariners before them - the great Navigators who went before us
      Last edited by simon; 19 February 2010, 22:09.


      • #4
        Watched a very interesting tv movie recently on the invention of the Chronograph, and how difficult accurate navigation was before it. It wasn't that long ago either, in the scheme of things.

        Catch-22 says they have a right to do anything we can't stop them from doing.


        • #5
          Originally posted by simon View Post
          there is an over reliance on GPS these days.
          Which can be turned off at any time should the US DOD decide.


          • #6
            Of course, there is always this scenario...

            China shoots down satellite, drawing protests worldwide
            Surprise test sets scene for possible space arms race

            By Marc Kaufman and Dafna Linzer, Washington Post | January 19, 2007

            WASHINGTON -- The Chinese military used a ground-based missile to hit and destroy one of its aging satellites orbiting more than 500 miles in space last week -- a high-stakes test demonstrating China's ability to target regions of space that are home to US spy satellites and space-based missile defense systems.

            The test of anti satellite technology is believed to be the first of its kind in two decades by any nation and raised concerns about the vulnerability of US satellites and a possible arms race in space.

            China's action drew sharp protests from other nations with satellite programs -- a predictable response that experts said dramatically illustrates Chinese willingness to face broad international criticism when it comes to space, which Beijing considers a key part of the push to modernize its military and increase its ability to compete in high-tech warfare.

            "The US believes China's development and testing of such weapons is inconsistent with the spirit of cooperation that both countries aspire to in the civil space area," National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said yesterday. "We and other countries have expressed our concern regarding this action to the Chinese."

            A spokesman at the Chinese Embassy said he had no information about the anti satellite test.

            In addition to introducing a renewed military dimension to space, the destruction of the Chinese satellite created a large "debris cloud" that can seriously damage other satellites in nearby orbit, and possibly even spacecraft on their way to the moon or beyond.

            Analysts said that based on computer models, as many as 300,000 pieces of debris may have been created. While many would be very small, they said, hundreds would be large enough to create potentially serious problems.

            Both the United States and the former Soviet Union tested anti satellite technology in the 1980s, and the United States shot down one of its orbiting satellites in 1985. Partially as a result of the debris problem, both sides stopped the programs.

            The Chinese test, first reported online by the magazine Aviation Week and Space Technology, was conducted at a time of heightened tensions between the United States and China over space. China is leading an effort in the United Nations to set up an international conference to address what many consider to be an imminent space arms race. The United States has been the one space-faring nation to oppose the idea, arguing that it isn't needed because there is no arms race in space.

            The Bush administration nevertheless released an updated National Space Policy last fall that strongly asserted an American right to defend itself in space against any actions it considered hostile.

            The United States military is especially dependent on satellites for navigation, communications, and missile guidance.

            In addition, the American economy could also be broadly damaged by disruptions of satellites for communications, weather, and other uses.

            The United States retains the ability to destroy low-orbit satellites and has been conducting research on more advanced systems for years.

            Officials who have been briefed on the test said the Chinese ballistic missile reached as high as some US spy satellites are positioned. Other satellites positioned at the same altitude are part of the missile defense network the US military is assembling. Sources said a hit-to-destroy ballistic missile could knock out any satellites at that low orbit.

            Many sensitive communications satellites are much higher, at some 22,000 miles above earth, and officials said yesterday the recent test does not prove China has the capability to disrupt those systems. Still, US intelligence officers and administration officials fretted over the ramifications.

            "It's unfortunate that China is going down this path," said one administration official.

            "No one has done this in over 20 years, and in that time, international cooperation in space has come so far. It is a bustling commercial, scientific, and research arena. This sort of thing is such a throwback to the Cold War."

            The issue of possible hostilities in space became more real in August when Donald Kerr, director of the National Reconnaissance Office, told reporters that a US satellite had recently been "painted," or illuminated, by a ground-based laser in China. The United States did not make any formal protest then, but it did yesterday over the latest Chinese action.

            Johndroe of the NSC said Australia and Canada have already lodged protests as well, and Britain, South Korea, and Japan are expected to follow suit.

            He said that the Chinese satellite was shot down on Jan. 11 using a ground-based medium-range ballistic missile, which slammed into its target 537 miles above earth.
            'He died who loved to live,' they'll say,
            'Unselfishly so we might have today!'
            Like hell! He fought because he had to fight;
            He died that's all. It was his unlucky night.


            • #7
              Originally posted by Flamingo View Post
              Of course, there is always this scenario...
              Only 24 satellites are needed for full coverage. 31 are in place. 6-12 should be visible at any given time. 3 should be able to provide reasonable coverage in open ground and at sea, although more may be needed in close terrain.
              Last edited by Victor; 18 March 2010, 23:11.
              Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. Margaret Mead


              • #8
                Jammers were used a lot in Iraq in 2003 and the Americans were not impressed with Russia and Ukraine. I wonder were they first used in Kosovo when the Americans accidentally bombed I think Romania.


                Sat-nav systems under increasing threat from 'jammers'
                By Jason Palmer
                Science and technologyreporter, BBC News

                Technology that depends on satellite-navigation signals is increasingly threatened by attack from widely available equipment, experts say.

                While "jamming" sat-nav equipment with noise signals is on the rise, more sophisticated methods allow hackers to program what receivers display.

                At risk are not only sat-nav users, but also critical national infrastructure.

                A UK meeting outlining the risks was held at the National Physical Laboratory in Teddington on Tuesday.

                "GPS gives us transportation, distribution industry, 'just-in-time' manufacturing, emergency services operations - even mining, road building and farming, all these and a zillion more," David Last, a consultant engineer and former president of the Royal Institute of Navigation, told the conference.

                "But what few people outside this community recognise is the high-precision timing that GPS provides to keep our telephone networks, the internet, banking transactions and even our power grid online."

                Professor Last recalled the New Year's Day failure of a single satellite in 2004 and how it wreaked havoc with sat-nav readings.

                "Satellite failures, though dramatic, are not the main problem," he said.

                "The Achilles heel of GPS is the extremely weak signals that reach the receiver."

                Each satellite in a sat-nav constellation is putting out less power than a car headlight, illuminating more than a third of the Earth's surface at a distance of about 25,000 km.

                What that means, and what has brought this group of policy-makers, academics and industry figures together, is that the signals can be easily swamped by equipment back on Earth.

                Criminal intent

                This can be done unintentionally by, for example, pirate television stations, or with a purpose in mind.

                Military systems have been doing this "jamming" - flooding an area with a signal at the GPS frequency - for years in a bid to frustrate enemy navigation systems.

                But small jamming devices are increasingly available on the internet.

                Low-power, hand-held versions can run for hours on a battery and confuse sat-nav receivers tens of kilometres away.

                Higher-power versions can do far worse, and at both GPS and mobile phone frequencies.

                What is more, receivers can be "spoofed" - not simply blinded by a strong, noisy signal, but fooled into thinking their location or the time is different because of fraudulent broadcast GPS signals.

                "You can now buy a low-cost simulator and link it to Google Earth, put on a route and it will simulate that route to the timing that you specify," said Professor Last.

                "A GPS receiver overcome by it will behave as if you're travelling along that route."

                The approach still costs in the thousands and is the preserve of what Professor Last calls the "real techies", but he guessed that the tools could be in the hands of criminals within a year or two.

                One obvious reason to do the jamming or spoofing is that high-value cargo is tracked with GPS, as are armoured cars and many rental cars, so that confusing the tracking signal could spell a successful heist.

                Sat-nav-based pricing for toll roads and road usage charges could be spoofed, and a company's employees may even use the devices to block the tracking devices imposed on company cars.

                But jamming and spoofing, Professor Last said, were irresistible to the hacker type who did it for fun.

                "You can consider GPS a little like computers before the first virus - if I had stood here before then and cried about the risks, you would've asked 'why would anyone bother?'.

                "It's the same market as the hackers."

                But the hackers' fun poses a particular danger to ships, which have systems that increasingly use sat-nav directly but also feed GPS signals into other equipment.

                Some at the conference argued that with the growing maritime use of sat-nav, crews were less able to revert to classic methods of map-reading and "dead reckoning".

                Alan Grant of the General Lighthouse Authorities carried out an experiment in 2008 to assess the degree to which ships would be affected by a jamming signal.

                Using a relatively low-power jamming signal off the eastern English coast, he found that ships coming into the jamming area suddenly read locations anywhere from Ireland to Scandinavia - but with ranges depended on the ship itself.

                "The level of disruption depends on the ship - the make and model of the kit, how it's been integrated, and down to the strength of the jamming signal," he said.

                But he suggested the more dangerous case is that of a jamming signal causing only small errors that would not so obviously give themselves up as false information.

                The immediate solution to the problem is not clear, since the existing US GPS and Russian Glonas systems, and the forthcoming European sat-nav effort Galileo, are equally susceptible.

                Some at the conference suggested the relative security of the eLoran ground-based system that is already in place, but which existing consumer devices do not pick up.

                There is no reason to believe, however, that widespread adoption of eLoran or any other standard would preclude eventual jamming efforts to thwart it.

                "Navigation is no longer about how to measure where you are accurately - that's easy," Professor Last said. "Now it's all about how to do so reliably, safely and robustly."

                Last edited by Victor; 18 March 2010, 23:12.
                Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. Margaret Mead


                • #9
                  iIrish Lights

                  Maybe Irish Lights might also use some of their resourses to ensuring that Certain Port Authorities properly maintain the nav buoys on channels/fairways .Recently i reported 3 non op buoys to a harbour master to be told I shouldent be out at night without a pilot!


                  • #10
                    'Jammers' pose threat to naval navigation - expert

                    'Jammers' pose threat to naval navigation - expert
                    LORNA SIGGINS Marine Correspondent

                    “JAMMERS” WHICH can be purchased via the internet pose a security risk to GPS navigation systems on land and at sea, according to an Irish technology specialist.

                    Such “jammers” interfere with GPS receivers by broadcasting a competing signal on the same frequency. They can now be purchased for several hundred dollars on the web, GPS positioning consultant Gary Delaney says.

                    The prevalence of such illegal devices must give added impetus to moves to provide an alternative navigation system, such as the terrestrial-based eLoran, Mr Delaney says.

                    Internet and mobile phone systems are now so dependent on “GPS time” that these communication networks are very vulnerable to degradation.

                    Mr Delaney says that a one watt “jammer” could affect GPS sets, internet and mobile phone coverage within a 50km radius.

                    The Naval Service says that it is aware of the issue, but has not come across such devices during drug interdiction activities.

                    The US-run GPS system has long been known to be vulnerable to deliberate or inadvertent interruption.

                    Two years ago in California, a US navy training exercise jammed GPS signals and interrupted mobile phone services for up to 10 miles inland.

                    It is understood that a device capable of interfering with GPS systems was discovered on a yacht seized almost three years ago in these waters on suspicion of drug-related activities, but the device had not been activated.

                    The Commissioners of Irish Lights (CIL), which is responsible for lighthouses and other navigational warning equipment around this coastline, says it supports development of an alternative navigation system to satellite, despite last month’s decision by the US coastguard to shutdown its Loran-C network.

                    US president Barack Obama said that the ground-based network was “obsolete” and was no longer needed in an age when GPS devices were almost ubiquitous in ships, planes and cars.

                    The US decision has been criticised by navigational experts, and the “father” of GPS Bradford Parkinson has said that a terrestrial system like Loran has to provide a critical back-up for safety and security reasons.

                    The EU has been working on a satellite network, named Galileo, which would complement the existing US-led GPS, and satellite systems run by Russia (Glonass), India and China. However, the EU system is way behind schedule and as vulnerable, potentially, as GPS to degradation.

                    CIL endorses development of an enhanced form of Loran, known as eLoran, as part of moves towards an independent European communications network.

                    The lighthouse authority has said that it does not want to be “totally reliant on satellites, which are subject to error”, and Capt Kieran O’Higgins of CIL has described eLoran as a very capable system.

                    Mr Delaney said eLoran would not require many transmission masts, and he did not envisage one would be located in Ireland, given the security issues attached to such structures.

                    Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. Margaret Mead


                    • #11
                      I still have my old sun gun, used ocasionaly to show some kids how to do noon lats in the harbour .
                      mind you I think if I asked for sun run sun from any of my deck officers they would have a panic attack, not to mention stars or polaris , by the time i mentioned an ex merdian they would be in a coma.
                      astro nav is a skill which in the main is dead and gone from the sea lanes .


                      • #12
                        Spherical trig is only fun if you have a calculator that gives rad and tan in minutes.

                        Catch-22 says they have a right to do anything we can't stop them from doing.