The U.S. military will be looking to a once-outdated technology as a possible response to modern cyber threats.
The technology, formally called LORAN, or long-range navigation, is a radio signal-based navigation system first developed during World War II.
Nearly all of modern military and commercial navigation is done through the use of Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite signals, which have become targeted by both hacking and jamming efforts by potential adversaries.
In the modern age of cyber-warfare, GPS is a priority target in disrupting your enemy’s ability to operate. In addition to the military applications, 90% of the world’s commercial activity and trade occurs via seaborne shipping routes. Jamming the navigation systems of those ships would almost certainly cause global economic chaos.
Currently South Korea is leading the charge to revamp the LORAN technology. The development of their system, called the eLoran, has been partially motivated by an incident last year where hundreds of South Korean fishing boats had their GPS jammed, reportedly by North Korea. The U.S. Coast Guard reported a vessel having their GPS jammed as well in the Black Sea in June, and previously that unnamed U.S. ports in 2014 and 2015 had their navigation systems interfered with by a third-party.
Efforts to tap into systems with the eLoran have been ongoing in the United States for years, but have never caught on, largely due to a lack of motivation. Without a pressing need or threat, efforts by the Bush and Obama administrations never materialized in a secondary system to the GPS. That changed this year, when the House of Representatives passed a bill that called for the development of an eLoran system. The Director of National Intelligence listed the threat of counter-space weapons being used to jam dedicated satellite systems like GPS and Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) in this year’s worldwide threat assessment.
But an eLoran system would require a network of radio transmitters for use across the Atlantic Ocean, for example, and European countries have balked at the need for such transmitters. That means for the time being, an eLoran network would be limited to localized waterways.
Image courtesy of the U.S. Navy