Pentagon official: FCC decision on 5G threatens GPS, national security

Pentagon officials on Wednesday criticized the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) recent decision to allow Virginia-based satellite communications company Ligado to deploy a nationwide mobile network, saying that it could have adverse effects on GPS signals that are integral to the military's operations.

"GPS has also long been a critical technology that has supported the Nation’s public safety, law enforcement medical and medical responders. It literally saves lives," U.S. Space Force Gen. John Raymond told the Senate Armed Service Committee in a hearing that featured him and other Pentagon officials. "While Americans at home are typically not under threat of purposeful electronic attack, the GPS services they depend on every day for life and livelihood are also threatened if the GPS signal and its environment are not protected from disruption."

The Defense Department's chief information officer Dana Deasy told the committee that Ligado's proposed spectrum will have "unacceptable operational impacts and adversely affect the military potential of GPS."

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"Throughout this proceeding, the Department made it clear that approving Ligado’s plans would cause harmful interference to millions of GPS receivers across the country, both civilian and military," he added.

The chairman of the committee, Sen. James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeRepublicans fear backlash over Trump's threatened veto on Confederate names Senate rejects Paul proposal on withdrawing troops from Afghanistan Liberal veterans group urges Biden to name Duckworth VP MORE (R-Okla.), also chided the FCC for its decision.

"This is a complex issue, but it ultimately boils down to risk. And I do not think it is a good idea to place at risk the GPS signals that enable our national and economic security for the benefit of one company and its investors," he said in his opening remarks. "After extensive testing and analysis, experts at almost every federal agency tell us that Ligado’s plan will interfere with GPS systems."

In a letter to the committee regarding its hearing Wednesday, Ligado wrote: "In recognition of the importance of GPS and the concerns of the DoD, the FCC established a comprehensive coordination regime that requires Ligado to provide six-months advance notice before deploying; to have a 24/7 monitoring capability, a hotline, a stop buzzer or kill switch; to work directly with any federal agency with concerns about the potential for interference; and to repair or replace at Ligado’s cost any government device shown to be susceptible to harmful interference."

Since 2015, the satellite company has been working on a proposal for a network that would utilize the L-band spectrum. The L-band spectrum is used to transmit GPS signals as it can cut through obstacles such as clouds, fog, rain, storms and vegetation, which is why the Department of Defense has been wary of the company's plan. Ligado has said that a network based on the spectrum would allow telecom companies to deploy 5G networks.

Despite the Pentagon's concerns, the five-member FCC approved Ligado's proposal last month.