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Salient. Victoria University of Wellington Students' Newspaper. Volume 31 Number 15, July 9, 1968

What Omega is — Jim Mitchell (Right wing commentator)

page 9

What Omega is — Jim Mitchell (Right wing commentator)

A campaign of lies and distortions, directed by agitators who have relied on their fantastic and warped imaginations for their emotionally loaded "facts", has totally clouded the issue regarding the Omega global radio navigation system.

As a result of the totally unsubstantiated allegations made in Canta, a scries of protests, luckily involving little violence, but causing some damage to property, occurred in the main cities.

Since Canta appears to have played the most important part in disseminating fears of nuclear havoc, it becomes of interest to examine the validity of the allegations in "Special Emergency Edition Vol. 38. No. 9".

From almost the first paragraph of the main article. Canta's facts are wrong.

"However they (nuclear submarines) require constant Radio Communication to accurately establish their position and remain effective tactical weapons", states Canta. This statement is incorrect. Any cursory reference to a publication dealing with Polaris submarines would have established this.

The submarines are guided by Sins (inertial navigation systems), which require only infrequent checking by external aids. There are up to three Sins in a submarine, and they are correlated by a computer constantly checking for drift.

Submarines obtain their initial position fixes (accurate to within several yards) from the U.S. satellite system, and use this for checking the Sins, at intervals of several weeks. Thus in no sense can they be said to depend upon "constant Rado Communication".

It is later stated in Canta that the "outstanding factor of V.L.F. (very low frequency) signals is that they are the only communications system which will effectively penetrate water".

It is correct that the V.L.F. beacon signals, as used in an Omega transmission operating at full strength, will penetrate water to a depth of up to 40 feet. However, before accepting this as conclusive proof of villany, it would be wise to remember the history of the development of the Omega concept.

The prime significance of V.L.F. signals is their characteristic ability to follow the curve of the earth when transmitted over long distances—unlike higher frequency signals which are rapidly dissipated as they travel in approximately straight lines.

The second significance of the signals is the inherent stability of the wave-front, resulting in maintenance of accuracy over long distances. As Omega was developed, scientists found that the improved characteristics became strengthened as the frequency was lowered; and this is the reason for Omega using V.L.F.

At this point the myth of "involvement" should be dispelled. The New Zealand government has entered into no committment to build, or have built, an Omega station. The nearest we have come to any agreement is in that made public on November 29, 1967—which was to allow a small team of U.S. officials to survey for possible sites. According to the Secretary of External Affairs Department, Mr G. R. Lakng, the U.S. authorities have not yet even indicated whether any of the sites they have seen were at all suitable. So much for what Canta called "plans (which) were almost complete".

In the paragraph referred to above, a further question is posed: "why should the project be carried out by the United States Navy if it is for the benefit of non-military navigation?"

The sinister implications in the questions are dispelled, unfortunately for Canta, if one considers U.S. Government regulations. "Code ten" of the regulations demarcating areas of jurisdiction prescribes that the Department of Defence has responsibility "for the design and development of navibation systems".

"U.S. Code fourteen" authorises the U.S. Coast Guard—a civilian agency under the Office of Transportation—to operate navigation systems. It is as simple as that.

Canta claims that before Omega can be used by a ship, a position within seven miles must be known. The article then makes the ludicrous assertion in bold type, that:

"To achieve seven mile accuracy is beyond the precision of ordinary sextant and nautical calendar methods, therefore the system is useless for merchant ships." Any reference to a competent mariner would have established that the ordinary accepted accuracy of a sextant sight is less than half the figure stated so categorically as being "beyond the precision".

The same paragraph then refers to shipborne equipment for Omega use as being "of prohibitive cost". Reference to commercial catalogues would have informed Canta that Omega receiver costs range from $1200 to $30,000. $1200 is well below the price of most radar sets.

The statement that "the extra precision of Omega is necesary only to guide missiles", is based on litle more than inaccurate supposition. 'The extra precision" that Canta considers so suspicious is about 200 yards, using the most sophisticated equipment—but the satellite system gives position fixes to within a few yards only. This is, of course, the system used for establishing and checking the Sins in nuclear submarines and other units of the U.S. and some allied navys.

The reason it is not suitable for peaceful purposes is well known: the sophistication and expense of the required apparatus is beyond the abilities of most commercial and private carriers. Omega is an economically feasible system for both ships and aircraft It is, in fact, so suitable that the U.S. Federal Aviation Agency, which controls safety regulations in civil flying in the U.S.A., was reported, three years ago, to be considering making the use of the Omega receivers compulsory in civil aircraft.

Canta also suggests that another reason for the superfluity of Omega is the present Loran A network. It should be well known that there are already 83 Loran stations in operation, covering 15% of the globe. Even if Loran stations were established in the South Pacific, there would still remain vast gaps not covered by the system.

At an international pilots symposium, held at Rotterdam in 1965, the cost of an Omega system to provide world-wide coverage was estimated at being about $100 million. This is considerably less than that required to give full world coverage (as far as possible) using other navigational aids of similar accuracy. The symposium also commented on the fact that aircraft at present flying out of Hawaii, towards New Zealand, were unale to give accurate position fixes after about two or three hours flying time. The need for Omega was fully substantiated.

If there were a case for a potential enemy bombing Omega stations, and there is not, there is certainly no reason to assume that Christchurch would also suffer. Yet Canta seeks to frighten readers with maps, containing slanted information regarding likely deaths from bombing, that show Christchurch as the centre of destruction.

It has earlier been established that Polaris sumarincs do not need to use Omega. Omega does not give the accuracy attainable by other methods, already in use. There is certainly no point in including Omega bases in a pre-emptive strike against the U.S.A. by a possible enemy. The Polaris deterrent would not be in the least affected.

Purely as a matter of interest, nuclear missile strikes are one of the most inefficient methods of removing Omega-type stations. With aerials able to withstand the high winds of the Southern Alps, and being situated in a small valley (a necessary characteristic of an Omega transmitter) the accuracy of aim of a missile would indeed have to be great. As Mr Laking commented, "two blokes and a blonde" would seem to be the best method in this case! But then, as we have seen, why destroy Omega? To do this would certainly not aid the aggressor, or save him from any retaliation.

Reasons advanced by Canta for the bombing of Christchurch airport are even more tenuous. U.S. military and naval transport aircraft fly out of most airports in the Western world—no-one would suggest that these are a threat to a potential enemy. What does pose the threat is a base containing offensive and defensive aircraft and their support and maintenance teams; but none have been observed at Christchurch.

The reactions of some scientists may have seemed surprising, until it is remembered that most were using information which had been presented to them in such a way that only one conclusion was possible. Another "expert source" is actually a technician, while yet another source has been noted for his general readiness to believe without critical examination any allegations which seem to be likely to embarrass the New Zealand and U.S. governments.

Looking back at the way in which the "Omega scare" has developed, it can be seen that the damage has already been done. Scare headlines, irresponsible journalism, and blatant distortion of the truth, have led the various University Students' Associations into invidious positions. The unwillingness to check facts, or to act in a manner commensurate with their power to make trouble, ensures that much of the blame must fall upon the editors of Canta, and on the non-student agitators who deliberately presented an unbalanced picture of nuclear horror in an attempt to persuade students to protest.

It would be somewhat more fitting if those who, by their unparalleled immaturity and deceit, helped to lead student, opinion into this position, were forced to pay the costs incurred. The costs, it should be remembered, will be borne not only by those who have to pay fines for minor disturbances, but by those who appeal in the future for aid from the government and people of the country. This is the damage that matters.