U.S. SPACECOM official on FCC Ligado decision: ‘I want to see the analysis’

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Brig. Gen. James: GPS links are vulnerable, which is “part of the reason we're concerned about this situation.”

WASHINGTON — The Federal Communications Commission insists that the vote to license spectrum to Ligado adjacent to the Global Positioning System was based on expert guidance. The commission said engineering studies show that Ligado’s terrestrial cellular network, contrary to Pentagon claims, will not interfere with GPS.

U.S. Space Command’s Brig. Gen. Thomas James said he is unconvinced.

“I would want to personally see the analysis,” James said April 24 during an online forum hosted by the Mitchell Institute.

James is commander of the Joint Task Force-Space Defense, a subordinate organization under U.S. Space Command.

The FCC on April 20 gave the go-ahead for Ligado to use electromagnetic spectrum in the L-band adjacent to the spectrum used by the GPS constellation.

In the days since the decision was announced, the Defense Department and congressional leaders have issued critical statements asking for the commission to reverse course.

James is the first U.S. Space Command official to voice concerns about the possibility that Ligado’s network could drown GPS signals.

“If this threatens our ability to use systems that we’re so dependent on, that’s a reason for me to be concerned,” said James. “That’s absolutely a concern across the DoD.”

James said GPS links are vulnerable to begin with, which is “part of the reason we’re concerned about this situation.”

Other federal agencies — the Departments of Commerce, Energy, Interior, Homeland Security and Transportation have sided with the Pentagon in opposing the Ligado license. The State and Justice Department supported the FCC vote as a key step in developing domestic 5G communications capabilities.

Also joining the chorus of criticism on Friday was U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Michael Guetlein, deputy director of the National Reconnaissance Office,

“GPS has permeated every element of our society, we use it for everything from 911 to locate citizens in need, it’s in every aspect of our transportation, it’s in our cars and our cell phones, in financial networks,” Guetlein said during the Mitchell Institute forum.

The FCC’s decision is “putting all of that at risk,” he said. “When you have eight federal agencies come together to strongly oppose something, you know there’s a big issue here. This is huge, to not only to the way we fight, but also the way we actually live day to day in society.”

In a statement April 22, FCC commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Geoffrey Starks said they were “compelled to support the expert technical analysis done by the Federal Communications Commission’s engineering staff.”

Commissioner Brendan Carr said “America’s economic and national security depend on the private sector building the strongest 5G platform in the world.”

To gain the FCC’s approval, Ligado made “significant modifications to its original proposal, including greatly reduced power levels, the addition of new guard bands to protect and provide even more spectrum separation to adjacent services, and reaching co-existence agreements with manufacturers of high-precision GPS receivers,” said Carr.

Carr said Ligado has agreed to perform 24/7 monitoring of transmit power levels and other measures to ensure GPS is not disrupted. “These firm commitments coupled with the FCC’s detailed review of numerous technical studies enabled our engineers to recommend that the Commission allow the private sector to put this spectrum to a higher and more productive use.”