In­dige­nous GPS – What it means


[ By Lt Gen­eral P.C. Ka­toch (Retd)

P] rime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi, along with many awed In­di­ans, watched the suc­cess­ful launch of the In­dian Space Re­search Or­gan­i­sa­tion’s (ISRO) PSLV-C33 satel­lite launch ve­hi­cle liftoff suc­cess­fully from Sri­harkota at 12.50 p.m. on April 28, plac­ing the satel­lite IRNSS-1G in or­bit some 20 min­utes af­ter liftoff. IRNSS sig­ni­fied ‘In­dian Re­gional Satel­lite Sys­tem’. The first satel­lite of the se­ries, IRNSS-1A was launched in July 2013. Two more satel­lites were launched dur­ing 2014. In Jan­uary and March this year, ISRO placed the fifth and sixth satel­lites of the se­ries in space (IRNSS-1E and IRNSS-1F).

IRNSS-1G be­ing the seventh and fi­nal satel­lite, the seven satel­lite sys­tem which will be op­er­a­tional in two months from now, will pro­vide In­dia with its in­dige­nous Global Po­si­tion­ing Sys­tem (GPS), termed NAVIC, which can be used both in the mil­i­tary and civil­ian fields. With NAVIC (short for Nav­i­ga­tion with In­dian Con­stel­la­tion), In­dia joins the ex­clu­sive club of na­tions hav­ing their own GPS, oth­ers with op­er­a­tional sys­tems be­ing the US (GPS), Rus­sia (GLONASS), France (Doris) and China (BDS). The satel­lite sys­tems of US, Rus­sia, France and China have be­tween 28 to 35 satel­lites be­cause they have been de­vel­oped for global cov­er­age. In­dia’s NAVIC has seven satel­lites since it has been de­vel­oped for re­gional cov­er­age, which can al­ways be ex­panded later, as re­quired. It will cover a ra­dius of 1,500 km with In­dia as the cen­tre. NAVIC is an­other re­mark­able achieve­ment of ISRO that has made the na­tion proud. Con­grat­u­lat­ing ISRO on this mile­stone, Prime Min­is­ter Modi said, “We used to be de­pen­dent on oth­ers for nav­i­ga­tion, to­day we have be­come in­de­pen­dent”, adding, “the new tech­nol­ogy will not only ben­e­fit our peo­ple, our fish­er­men, but can also help the SAARC na­tions”.

Pak­istan of course be­ing fully un­der the Chi­nese shadow has said that she is not in­ter­ested in NAVIC. With Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army (PLA) al­ready de­ployed in PoK-Pak­istan and China rais­ing three ad­di­tional di­vi­sions for pro­tect­ing the CPEC, Pak­istan would nat­u­rally bid for China’s BDS.

From the mil­i­tary view­point, hav­ing an in­dige­nous GPS is vi­tal be­cause with­out this, the ser­vice provider can feed wrong in­for­ma­tion any­time, par­tic­u­larly dur­ing crit­i­cal time in dur­ing op­er­a­tions. Al­ter­na­tively, the GPS can even be switched off by the ser­vice provider, un­der guise of tech­ni­cal fault or even oth­er­wise, which can be dis­as­trous par­tic­u­larly for naval ships and ves­sels on the high seas. Ad­di­tion­ally, en­crypted pre­ci­sion is around 0.1 me­tre (as avail­able to USSF and Spet­z­naz) but it is ex­pen­sive and may not be pro­vided by for­eign ven­dor. NAVIC will pro­vide ac­cu­racy of about 20 me­tres com­pared to 5 me­tres by Amer­ica’s GPS or Rus­sia’s GLONASS, but it will cer­tainly re­duce de­pen­dency on for­eign satel­lite sys­tems within the cov­er­age area of NAVIC.

A ma­jor task, how­ever, re­mains in how to pro­vide the NAVIC fa­cil­i­ties to the users – the pub­lic at large, the mil­i­tary and all other se­cu­rity forces. For this, ISRO has de­vel­oped a coded chipset that can be in­cor­po­rated with an ex­ist­ing re­ceiver of a smart-phone or any po­si­tion­ing sys­tem de­vice on ve­hi­cles, ships, he­li­copters or air­craft to com­mu­ni­cate with the satel­lite for ob­tain­ing po­si­tion­ing in­for­ma­tion. ISRO has also been con­duct­ing meet­ings with nav­i­ga­tion de­vice man­u­fac­tur­ers and mo­bile phone man­u­fac­tur­ers to demon­strate how IRNSS could pro­vide ac­cu­rate in­for­ma­tion on par with the Amer­i­can GPS.

The chal­lenge is not only im­prov­ing ac­cu­racy but also mass pro­duce ISRO’s coded chipsets de­vel­oped for in­cor­po­ra­tion in ex­ist­ing re­ceiver. In­di­vid­ual re­ceiver hand­sets for the mil­i­tary and se­cu­rity forces may have to be pro­duced, if the ISRO de­vel­oped chipset can­not be in­cor­po­rated into ex­ist­ing GPS hand­sets. The over­all num­bers re­quired, both for civil and mil­i­tary ap­pli­ca­tions, would be gi­gan­tic, in mil­lions, con­sid­er­ing ris­ing In­dia’s pop­u­la­tion and the pace of digi­ti­sa­tion. This would also have to be done speed­ily con­sid­er­ing NAVIC would be op­er­a­tional in next two months. Mul­ti­ple as­sem­bly pro­duc­tion lines un­der ‘Make in In­dia’ would per­haps be the right an­swer for the mil­i­tary and se­cu­rity forces, if the chipset can­not be given the pace at which ISRO is sur­pris­ing In­dia, and the world, it can per­haps be taken for granted that ISRO would be al­ready work­ing dou­ble time to im­prove the ac­cu­racy of NAVIC, es­pe­cially en­crypted pre­ci­sion so vi­tal for mil­i­tary ap­pli­ca­tions.

With the PSLV C34 launch slated from Sri­harkota next month, in­ject­ing an in­cred­i­ble num­ber of 22 satel­lites (18 for for­eign agen­cies) si­mul­ta­ne­ously in space from a sin­gle rocket, ISRO would her­ald an­other great leap. This may be the pre­cur­sor for NAVIC go­ing global with bet­ter pre­ci­sion in a fu­ture time frame.

Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi wit­ness­ing the suc­cess­ful launch of IRNSS-1G in New Delhi

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