With the deployment of the seventh and last unit of the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS), India has joined the small group of nations with their own satellite navigation systems. The US GPS was the trailblazer with a global footprint, followed by the Russian GLONASS and French DORIS. The European Union’s Galileo and China’s BeiDou satellite arrays will be globally deployed by the end of the decade. Currently, BeiDou is a more restricted system, like Navic — which is the human-utterable name of IRNSS. With a resolution of 10 metres, the new Indian system’s footprint extends to 1,500 km beyond Indian borders, and is expected to be operational by July. However, the array of seven satellites is bound to expand over time, opening up wider possibilities for commercial applications.
For the moment, the chief beneficiary of Navic is the military, which now has access to an encrypted and completely secure service. The forces will no longer have to depend on the US service, a weakness that was exposed during the Kargil conflict of 1999, when accurate GPS data on the region was not forthcoming in real time. The geopolitical imperative to develop an indigenous system was immediately obvious and today, it is almost ready to roll. The forces use GPS for the guidance of smart artillery shells and bombs, besides ballistic and cruise missiles. Of course, the most routine uses of GPS remain traditional — finding targets, marshalling troops, executing manoeuvres and conducting search and rescue missions.
Apart from an encrypted service for the military, Navic will offer public access to an unsecured service for civilian applications like logistics, transportation, vehicle automation, robotics, disaster management, prospecting, the tracking of vehicles, people, pets and the Internet of Things. This could trigger a boom in GPS applications tuned to Navic. Manufacturing capacity would be a decisive factor, since a critical mass of GPS receivers would be required. In turn, this could provide an occasion for hardware manufacturers to turn protectionist and urge government to force manufacturers of GPS products to patronise the Indian service. However, public access GPS has traditionally been an open system and should remain so. In applications that do not have security implications, users should have the choice of switching to whichever satellite system they find convenient. Such issues with commercial implications will develop over time. For the moment, Navic brings peace of mind to the military.
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