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US Navy cuts ELF radio transmissions

Environmentalists welcome decision

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The US Navy has called time on all its Extremely Low Frequency transmissions, saying that improvements in technology means that the communications system is now unneccessary.

The Navy used ELF transmissions - defined as the band of frequencies between 0Hz and 300Hz - for secure communications with submarines. The very low frequencies mean that the signal can penetrate far below the surface of the sea, reaching the deeply submerged vessels. The thought behind the project was that in the event of a nuclear attack by the USSR the US would be able to instruct its nuclear fleet to retaliate, without having to wait for the submarines to surface.

First proposed in 1968, the original specifications for ELF transmitters called for the antennae to cover an area of 22,500 miles - bigger than Belgium and the Netherlands combined. This was scaled down considerably, thanks to advances in technology and an assemement of the impact such a large electric field could have on local animal, and human, populations.

The Navy ran two transmission sites: one in Wisconsin, the other in Michigan. The ELF transmitters are huge structures, composed of power lines that stretch through the forests for up to 28 miles each. Big, but still small fry compared to the original plans.

The project was almost cancelled in the late 70s, but President Reagan revived it and it became operational in 1989. It is widely regarded as a relic of the Cold War. Philip Coyle, former under secretary of defense, now with the Centre for Defence Information told Michigan Public Radio: "This is a Cold War system, and the Cold War is over."

The Navy says new technology means the ELF system is no longer neccessary, and that it will switch to using a combination of satellites and Very Low Frequency (3-30kHz) transmitters instead.

Local residents say the closure of the centres will mean the loss of around 60 jobs, but environmentalists and anit-nuclear campaigners have welcomed the decision. ®

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