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May 07, 2020

Inhofe Questions Witnesses About National Security Impacts of FCC's Ligado Decision at Hearing on DOD Spectrum Policy

In responses, DOD officials decry FCC process that ignored data, objections of senior defense officials, years of precedent and describe how Ligado plan would harm national security

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, questioned witnesses at a hearing on the Department of Defense’s spectrum policy and the impacts of the Federal Communications Commission’s Ligado decision on national security. In response, witnesses described a process that disregarded years of testing and analysis that led to the Department of Defense and nearly a dozen other federal departments to object to Ligado’s proposal. The witnesses also went into detail about how Ligado’s plan would impact national security, specifically warfighters on the battlefield.

Witnesses included: Dana Deasy, Chief Information Officer; Michael Griffin, Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering; Admiral Thad W. Allen, USCG (ret.); and General Jay Raymond, Chief of Space Operations and Commander, U.S. Space Command.

 Round One

Inhofe: Director Deasy, the reason I bring this up is this is the one thing that’s mentioned more than anything else when they’re trying to defend what happened and the actions of the FCC. So I would ask you even though it’s been touched on – can you describe the interagency process that caused the Department of Defense to conclude that Ligado’s proposal was likely to interfere with GPS? Did the FCC consult you or do you feel they took your concerns seriously?

Deasy: So, sir, the way I’d start that is when a company, in this case, Ligado, wants to repurpose spectrum, they submit that request to the FCC. The FCC in turn turns it over to the NTIA. Sometimes those go through what’s called the Interdepartment Radio Advisory Committee, the IRAC, which has 19 members. In the case of evaluating Ligado’s request for repurposing the spectrum, it was turned over to the PNT EXCOM, which is made up of nine federal agencies. I co-chair that along with the Department of Transportation. The EXCOM, what they did is in turn ask the Air Force to conduct a series of independent studies and testing to determine whether or not the request Ligado had put forth was reasonable and could be accepted. The testing took place and was completed in about April of 2016. As I had mentioned in my opening remarks, what that testing did was take a number of commercial and military receivers, approximately 80, and they tested them over a long extensive period of time, and they tested them to determine the level of noise in which they would see interference. They used the requirements of what Ligado was specifying as acceptable, and in running those tests, they clearly indicated that the results of the test caused interference in all cases. So what was done with that information? In turn, that was turned back over in the form of a letter that I cosigned with the Department of Transportation in December of 2018. That letter clearly cited the testing that was done by the Air Force. In that letter, we say that it was unambiguous and unanimously agreed across nine federal agencies that this could not move forward. Given that there was still concern raised and the fact that our letter was not being acknowledged, we’d felt compelled to follow up with four additional communications. One was back in June of 2019 from then-Deputy Secretary Shanahan to the FCC stating the opposition. Secretary Esper in November of 2019 wrote a letter also stating our concerns and opposition. The IRAC sent to the NTIA on February 20 a letter from 12 agencies that were signed expressing concerns. Dr. Griffin and myself furthermore sent an additional letter to NTIA in March of 2020 and finally Secretary Norquist sent a letter in March of 2020 of which the final letter went from NTIA to the FCC on April 2020. Each of those letters made clear and cited the testing that was done by the Air Force that this could not be accepted nor should it be recommended to move forward, sir.

Inhofe: Then the second part of that question is, were you consulted by or asked by the FCC for your opinions and did they take them seriously?

Deasy: Sir, I will tell you historically we’ve had a very good working relationship with the FCC when it comes to collaboratively studying requests like this. In the case of this particular request, no, sir. There was not a give and take, a back and forth, that we typically go through, and at the end of the day we were completely caught off guard when over that weekend in April, the decision was taken by the FCC to go ahead and move forward.

Inhofe: Thank you, Director. Lastly, General Raymond, you did touch on this in your opening statement. Is there anything you wanted to add in terms of impacts on the warfighter?

Raymond: Thank you very much, sir. The way I couch GPS is it’s the DNA of our way of war. It’s systemic in everything we do. It is clear without question that putting a ground emitter in with the space signals will cause interruption, I think, that will increase risk to force and risk to mission, and I outlined in my opening statement the mission areas of homeland defense, our most critical mission, defense supports civil authorities and building a force, the training and readiness that we need. I think it’s a risk that we shouldn’t accept.

Round 2

Inhofe: I was going to ask – it’s already been adequately answered. But I do have two questions that have come from the Ligado spokespeople that I just would like to throw out to you, Director Deasy. The first would be they state that the NTIA submission relies on “irrelevant and misleading data to support their claims.” Could your respond to that?

Deasy: So for them to make that claim and suggest that the process that’s been used for a very long time on evaluating all repurposing requests is at fault and simply put, it is not. It is the process that has worked, it is the process we have used for years for repurposing, so I’m not sure why all of the sudden now, the process that has served the agencies well, the FCC well, the NTIA well, would suddenly now be in question.

Inhofe: The other question that’s come from the other side with some frequency is they state the FCC Order does not impact DOD or federal spectrum. Would you agree with that? This is what they have stated.

Deasy: No, clearly disagree by the fact that we’re sitting here today, and you have General Raymond here representing our military, would clearly suggest that it heavily impacts our military operations.

 Click here to watch Inhofe's opening remarks.

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