China recently launched its own alternative to the US global positioning system, the Beidou Navigation Satellite System. This went operational on Tuesday and currently has 10 satellites being utilized for this system. The plan for 2012 is to send up an additional six into orbit to increase the accuracy as well as service coverage. This has both commercial and military implications.
The Beidou system is run by the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp., which is a state-owned contractor for the Chinese space program and controlled mostly by the military.
China started the Beidou system in 2000 in order to create is own global system with 35 satellites by 2020, called Compass. This would be the only other global system aside from America’s GPS, Russia’s Glonass system, and the European Union’s planned Galileo system (which is also planned to be completed by 2020).
This system now allows China to have reliable coverage of stationary targets and provides the ability to track vessels at seal. China says the system is “based purely on capabilities, with a space-based reconnaissance system as the backbone, China is clearly acquiring greater ability not only to defend against intruding aircraft carriers but to project force as well.” This will also enable China to have an alternative to GPS, which American could still deny access to the system in event of a conflict.
China also announced the developement of an anti-ship ballistic missile that is capable of hitting a moving aircraft carrier up to 1,700 miles off of China’s shores (About 2/3 the distance of the continental US). This missile, while utilizing the new system can be guided accurately to its target.
Not only does this new GPS pose as a military achievement for China, but now it challenges other commercial GPS systems. The first commercial system which was used by civilians in 2004 was very unpopular because it required large equipment, called terminals, to access the system. In 2007 it launched the second gen of the system which used cheaper and smaller terminals. Now over 100,000 clients in China use the system and the number of users continues to climb. This poses as a threat because not only is this saturating the Chinese market with GPS technology, given a couple more years it could start to challenge American companies such as Magellan.
The technology China possesses still has a long way to go before it comes close to America, but it can pose a threat to GPS companies nonetheless and it will be interesting to see how the global community reacts once they realize China has a toy that is bigger AND better than theirs.