Beidou v/s IRNSS – Where Did India’s Own GPS stand against Chinese?

Its an undeniable truth that India & China are locked in a race to further their domestic & international agenda using space technology. While India recently launched a successful mission to Mars, China has become only country after Russia and USA to launch a rover to moon.

The recent tussle between both the countries to dominate events happening in Asia is stretching their battle to space and it can be clearly discerned that India is lagging way behind China. While on one hand China has an independent space station, conducted manned mission to earth orbit, have tested an anti-satellite weapon and are pacing aggressively to use the space to augment both its domestic & international objectives while India has also launched  Mars Mission and also launched it’s own navigation system but still lag behind china in terms of manned Mission and space station launch. In a clear sign of pragmatism, China launched its alternative satellite system few years back to counter GPS (owned by USA) and GLONASS (owned by Russia). Called Beidou, this system is now being offered by China to Asian countries as a free service but as the saying goes “there are no free lunches”, this decision by China has also hidden dimensions. Once established, China could use Beidou system signals to track the critical infrastructure of concerned countries. Also, it could use this service to its advantage during hostile times.

India’s alternative to this system Indian Regional Navigational Satellite System (IRNSS) is now fully  functional.It is designed to provide accurate position information service to users in India as well as the region extending up to 1500 km from its boundary, which is its primary service area. An Extended Service Area lies between primary service area and area enclosed by the rectangle from Latitude 30 deg South to 50 deg North, Longitude 30 deg East to 130 deg East.

IRNSS will provide two types of services, namely, Standard Positioning Service (SPS) which is provided to all the users and Restricted Service (RS), which is an encrypted service provided only to the authorised users. The IRNSS System is expected to provide a position accuracy of better than 20 m in the primary service area.

India’s strategic requirements are regional and their initially investments are towards developing a regional system. India’s adversaries, like China and Pakistan, are nuclear weapons states and they also have a significant inventory of state-of-art missiles. Also, China has committed to provide Pakistan with a “military-quality” signal from its BeiDou system. Naturally, India needs to have a reliable and accurate space-based navigational system. Like any other space navigational system, IRNSS is also dual-use. The system has utility for terrestrial and maritime navigation, in agriculture and disaster management, and various other applications. It is expected that this system would have significant commercial benefits, too.

One question that always gets debated is whether India is trying to match China by making such investments. The basic issue is that India is modernizing its military owing to the nature of threats the country faces. It would be of no use to acquire fourth-or fifth-generation fighter aircraft and not have a compatible satellite-based navigation system. India could probably depend on GLONASS for the platforms and weapons of Russian origin. But, India also has military equipment from the US, Israel, and European origin, where GLONASS would have limitations. India had proposed to make significant financial investments into Europe’s Galileo program, but was denied the military rights of this system.

By 2006, India started articulating the need for the development of its own system for multiple uses. In the civilian domain, India has good commercial prospects. This is because there is a tremendous growth potential in the global navigational market. IRNSS would be compatible with some of the other systems, too. All this would allow India to develop a market for itself. India also proposes to offer the IRNSS signals to the states in its neighborhood, a novel way of using space assets for diplomacy. It appears that for India IRNSS is not about any competition, but instead a way to attain strategic parity.

While On Other Hand

China will use 14 satellites to complete the Beidou regional system construction to achieve a continuous coverage of the Asia-pacific region. The placement of 14 satellites in the orbit will increase the chances of setting up a global network by placing 18 satellites, which are scheduled to be launched by 2018.

In 2020, China will complete the 35 Beidou III satellite network, the Beidou’s navigation system will be greatly improved in the positioning timing accuracy, anti-interference, system capacity and other performance with the positioning, timing, message communication, and GPS wide area differential function.

Where India stands against Beidou

India will also get it’s own navigational system online by next year, named as NAVIC developed by ISRO. NAVIC will have seven satellites which will cover India and some of its surroundings. NAVIC will provide standard positioning service to all users with position accuracy of 5 meter to civilians and 10-20 cm for the encrypted/military purpose. The only advantage Chinese navigational system has over its Indian counterpart is the wide range of operation because of its more number of satellites. NAVIC will work with 7 satellites but Beidou will have 18 satellites.

India has centered its navigational system use for domestic use and self-reliance in navigational and positioning capabilities.

Indian system is not less than its Chinese counterpart at the regional navigational facility it just doesn’t have the global reach which it isn’t planned for the system. India’s elite space programs organization may have plans for extending the range of NAVIC at the global level.






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