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‘National security at risk’: DoD officials ask Senate to reverse FCC’s 5G decision

5G Smartphone city graphic. (Christoph Scholz/Flickr)
May 08, 2020

Top Defense Department officials are asking the Senate to reverse a decision by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) allowing the a company develop technology that might disrupt the U.S. military’s use of GPS.

The officials appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Wednesday asking the committee to reverse the FCC’s decision. The FCC made a decision on April 20 to allow a communications company, Ligado, to set up the fifth generation of communications technology, also referred to as 5G, the Washington Examiner reported.

“We don’t want the warfighter to have to call an 800 number to report interference,” said Gen. Jay Raymond, Commander of U.S. Space Command, saying that the FCC proposed a solution if a GPS system failed in a tank, airplane, or weapon fails.

“GPS allows us to shoot, move, and communicate with speed, precision, and over great distances,” he added. “It is employed in every step of the kill chain to defeat our adversaries.”

Committee chair, Republican Senator Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma said the FCC decision was made amid a distraction caused by the deadly coronavirus. Covid-19, the disease caused by coronavirus, has currently infected more than 1.2 million Americans and 3.8 million people worldwide , according to Johns Hopkins latest tracking data. The FCC voted unanimously to allow Ligado to develop a 5G network using a ground emitter on a radio spectrum next to the mobile-satellite services band used to receive faint signals from space.

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Describing how loud Ligado’s ground-based signal would be, under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Michael Griffin said in his testimony that the disturbance from the 5G network would be akin to going from the sound of rustling leaves to 100 jets taking off at once.

“If zero decibels is barely audible and 140 decibels is a jet takeoff, then what we are trying to do with GPS is to hear the sound of leaves rustling through the noise of 100 jets taking off all at once,” he said. “We will have to redesign and redeploy equipment, and the cost will be hundreds of billions of dollars and decades of deployment time.”

Further emphasizing the importance of preserving the spectrum used for space signals, Griffin said the signals have to operate ina “noise pristine environment.”

“It’s recognized globally as a zone reserved for satellite signals coming from space, not for emitters operating on the ground approximately a billion times more powerful than the GPS signal. These ground emitters will interrupt, reduce the accuracy of, or jam the GPS signal,” he said.

Pentagon Chief Information Officer Dana Deasy didn’t say how much removing the GPS chips from millions of military assets, including highly classified systems, would cost. However, he noted that tests conducted by the Air Force in 2016 demonstrated interference at the levels suggested. Deasy also said the department will prepare a petition to reconsider the approval.

“It’s not like you can pull that asset out and simply install a new one that won’t cause interference,” he said. “FCC needs to reverse their decision.”

If the United States does not reverse course, it risks losing operation advantages to rivals including Russia and China, according to Raymond.