By June this year, China will send its final two satellites of the Beidou network into space, thus making the navigation system fully operational. This will take the total number of Beidou satellites orbiting earth to 35, overtaking the U.S. GPS satellite network, which has 24 in orbit.
Back in 2017, a report by the U.S.-China Economic Security Review Commission highlighted three reasons why China was creating its own navigation network. “China has sought to field its own satellite navigation system in order to (1) address national security requirements by ending military reliance on GPS; (2) build a commercial downstream satellite navigation industry to take advantage of the quickly expanding market; and (3) achieve domestic and international prestige by fielding one of only four such global navigation satellite systems (GNSS) yet developed,” the report stated (Belt and Road News).
It warned that Beidou will have negative implications for America in economic, security, and diplomatic spheres. When complete, Beidou will be the only navigation system that will have eight satellites in geosynchronous orbits, meaning that they will be able to focus on one specific region and follow the Earth’s spin rate. The Chinese government may also be able to track all users of the Beidou network anywhere on Earth by deploying malware. This can become quite a problem once Beidou-equipped smartphones become prevalent in the U.S.
Beijing is trying to make countries participating in its Belt and Road Initiative commit to using Beidou and ditch the GPS. According to an estimate, China has exported Beidou Navigation Satellite System basic products to over 120 countries and is aggressively adding in more products and clients. According to an estimate, goods and services tied to Beidou will reach US$57 billion this year. China is also working with Moscow to synergize Beidou with Russia’s own navigation system GLONASS.
“Having such a large and robust satellite system could also add to the two nations’ predilection for interfering with international GPS signals over broad areas. Chronic GPS disruption by Russia and China in northern Scandinavia, the Black Sea, eastern Mediterranean, South China Sea, and elsewhere could become far more common and widespread as the Sino-Russo mega-constellation becomes more robust and the partners more emboldened,” according to National Defense Magazine.
China’s neighbor India is also developing its own regional navigation system called NavIC, which is expected to be finished this year. Designed by the Indian Space Research Organization, NavIC is comprised of seven satellites. “NavIC offers a navigation system which is claimed to provide an accuracy of better than 10 meters, giving it a prominent advantage over GPS which has an accuracy of 20-30 meters. Its primary range is also extended to 1,500 km outside our (Indian) borders, along with a wider Extended Service area,” according to Money Control.
NavIC will offer two types of services — a Standard Positioning Service (SPS) aimed at commercial use and a Restricted Service (RS), which is an encrypted service that will be offered to authorized users like the military. The government apparently has plans to extend the satellite network from 7 to 11. Qualcomm is working with ISRO to enable NavIC capability in its Snapdragon mobile chipset platforms. This is expected to accelerate NavIC adoption by other smartphone equipment manufacturers.