Thank you Mr. Chairman.  I also want to thank the witnesses for appearing today.  This is a critical issue for the Defense Department and our nation and it is important that we hear from today’s witnesses.

We are holding this hearing in unusual circumstances.  There has been a great deal of discussion about whether we should be here in person, with risks not only to senators, but to all the support personnel who are needed to keep this institution running.  In addition, the compelling point has been made that if the Senate is in session, its predominant focus should be combating the pandemic. 

I want to commend Chairman Inhofe for establishing and holding a weekly call so that Committee members can be briefed by Defense Department officials and ask questions regarding the coronavirus.  The Chairman ensured that we were able to conduct oversight even in difficult circumstances.  But phone calls cannot replace a hearing, so when we plan future hearings, as consideration of the annual defense bill allows, I request that we schedule hearings to examine the pandemic’s impacts and the Department’s response.

I would now like to turn to today’s hearing about the decision by the Federal Communications Commission, or FCC, to permit the company Ligado to operate a land-based network, that by its own admission, will interfere with DOD GPS systems, as well as those in other federal agencies and the civilian sector. 

Over ten years ago, Ligado’s predecessor, Light Squared, applied to the FCC to permit a satellite-based 4G system with a secondary land based network in areas where satellite reception could not be obtained.  The application was denied because of interference with the GPS system, and Light Squared was forced into bankruptcy.

Light Squared and its spectrum license was then bought in bankruptcy and re-organized as Ligado.  In 2016, Ligado resubmitted an amended licensing application to the FCC to build a new ground tower only transmission system.  Ligado’s switch to a system of closely spaced, powerful ground tower signals threatens to interfere with GPS.  Despite jeopardizing GPS, and ignoring the scientific view of many federal agencies, the aviation industry, and GPS dependent companies, the FCC granted the license, without a public rulemaking, to change from a satellite based network to one that is totally land based.   

I believe the FCC’s decision to grant the license is problematic for several reasons. 

First, the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration is supposed to form a consensus among Executive Branch stakeholders like the Defense Department and FCC, an independent commission.  In this case, the Department of Defense, and other executive departments like the Department of Transportation, objected to the application because of the interference with the GPS signal, yet no consensus was reached before the license was granted. 

Second, the FCC license does not recognize the complicated nature of the Defense Department’s weapon systems.  Ligado maintains that DOD can simply replace affected GPS cards.  But there are hundreds of thousands of GPS chips embedded in DOD weapon systems, and each chip is not only tuned to GPS, but embedded with interconnected electronics, each tuned to each other.  Replacing a GPS card will also impact other features of a weapon system.  How many weapon systems are affected, how they can be fixed, and the time and cost of the remedy is unknowable at this point, but the process will be lengthy and expensive. 

For a sense of what the FCC’s decision could mean, we have a real life example.  In 1992, an FCC spectrum repurposing decision eliminated the B-2 radar band for DOD.   Moving that radar to a new band took 30 years and $3 billion due to depot cycle scheduling and operational demands. 

While the FCC order states that the onus is on Ligado to fix problems, in reality, the burden is actually on the Defense Department to find which weapon systems are affected, how severe the impacts are, and then negotiate with Ligado to get them fixed.  Clearly, such a process will compromise military readiness.

The Defense Department is working on a new set of hardened GPS chips called military grade user equipment, or MGUE, which are jam resistant to the power levels of the Ligado towers.  However, these chips sets will not be installed in our weapons system until the 2030s.  The best course of action for national security would be to stay the license application and periodically review it until such time as the MGUE chip sets can be installed in critical weapon systems.

Finally, I have only discussed the problems the Defense Department is facing as a result of this FCC decision.  I have not discussed the myriad of problems that will be faced by literally everyone who uses GPS.  I do not believe that the FCC’s decision to grant this license is in the best interests of our national security or our nation.  I look forward to today’s discussion about the issue. 

I again thank the witnesses and my colleagues for appearing at this hearing in these unusual times. 

Thank you.