A high level delegation from the Pentagon visited the offices of the Federal Communications Commission Friday to make an in-person, classified case for why the Defense Department believes the commission’s approval of Ligado Networks spectrum plan will cause major harm to the Global Positioning System, C4ISRNET has learned.
The delegation was led by Deputy Secretary of Defense David Norquist, the department’s number two official. He was joined by chief information officer Dana Deasy, as well as Lt. Gen. Brad Shwedo, the Joint Staff’s head of C4 and cyber, and Lt. Gen. David Thompson, vice commander of U.S. Space Force, plus technical staff.
The group met with FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, as well as Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel. Because of FCC rules on what constitutes an open meeting, the classified briefing could not be presented to the entire five-person group of commissioners at once. Two more meetings are scheduled to brief the commissioners on Monday and Tuesday, although it is unclear if Norquist will be attending those as well.
The fact that Norquist traveled to the FCC’s office, rather than inviting the commissioner to the Pentagon, shows the effort the department is putting toward trying to change the commissioners’ minds following the unanimous 5-0 vote in favor of Ligado’s request, a government official familiar with the meeting said.
That official added that the discussion with Pai in particular occurred at the technical level. The discussions were described as non-combative, which represents a very different tone than the public statements from both sides over the last two months, during which the Pentagon and its supporters have accused the FCC of acting in secret to approve Ligado’s longstanding request to use L-Band spectrum.
The effort from the Pentagon coincides with legislative attacks on Ligado, led by Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., who intends to introduce new legislation next week aimed at imposing new costs on the company.
Asked to comment, Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Robert Carver said the department “remains opposed to the Ligado proposal. We will not comment on pre-decisional, interagency discussions.” A spokesman for the FCC declined to comment.
The FCC voted unanimously April 20 to approve the plan from Ligado networks to use L-Band, described as the range of frequencies between 1 to 2 GHz. L-Band is vital to GPS and other international navigation systems because it can easily penetrate clouds, fog, rain and vegetation. Ligado owns a license to operate the spectrum near GPS, which it says it will use to build a 5G network to boost connectivity for the industrial “internet of things” market.
However, opponents — including the Department of Defense and a number of non-defense industry trade groups — argue that Ligado’s plan would create wide ranging disruptions for GPS usage, hurting both warfighters and commercial ventures in the United States. Ligado has pushed back at those claims.
Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.