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Thursday, May 16, 2024

Why Pakistan’s military switched over from the US-owned GPS to the Chinese BeiDou navigation system?

For a long time, all the three defense services of Pakistan were using the US-owned and controlled GPS system for the military applications mentioned above. Keeping in view the vulnerability of our military assets, planning, and operations due to the unreliable nature of the Pak- US relationship, the Pakistan military had been contemplating for quite some time to switch over from GPS to a more reliable navigation system.

A satellite navigation system uses satellites to provide autonomous geospatial positioning. It gives information helpful in navigation or for tracking the position of something fitted with a receiver (also called satellite tracking). US military was the first to realize the need to have an independent military navigation capability as early as the 1960s. As a result, in 1964 it deployed the world’s first military satellite navigation system known as NAVSAT.

The system was based on the Doppler Effect and provided location information and navigation to missiles, submarines, and surface ships. NAVSAT was also used for hydrographic and geodetic surveys by the US Navy and Army respectively.

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The importance of satellite navigation

Presently, militaries all over the world rely on satellite navigation for information gathering on the enemy deployment with a view to facilitating greater accuracy in the employment of their own weapon systems for targeting the enemy’s land, air, and naval assets. Satellite navigation includes gathering information about enemy ground forces, artillery gun positions, tanks, aircraft, ships, submarines, etc.

This also helps in quick re-deployment and switching over of own forces from one area to another to counter the quickly changing scenario in a fluid battle. A satellite navigation system provides the coordinates of these enemy targets for engaging and destroying them.

Satellite navigation also provides a real-time ground awareness picture of the enemy movement to plan and track the movements of convoys and in operations of search and rescue of injured soldiers. To cut it short, such a system ensures a considerable response time reduction.

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Currently, four Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) are operating worldwide.

These are: 

  1. GPS (US).
  2. GLONASS (Russia)
  3. Galileo (EU).
  4. BeiDou (China).

Additionally, there are two regional systems:

  1. QZSS (Japan).
  2. IRNSS or NavIC (India).

The Global Positioning System (GPS) started operating in 1978 and was made global in 1994. With time, the GPS was opened up for public use. Currently, GPS has a 33 satellite constellation, out of which 31 were  in orbit and operational in 2019. It is maintained by the US Air Force and is committed to maintaining the availability of at least 24 operational GPS satellites. Till May 2020, GPS had launched 72 satellites.

BeiDou is the Satellite Navigation System of China. BeiDou-1, also known as the first-generation system, was a constellation of three satellites. It became operational in 2000 and offered limited coverage and navigation services, mainly for users in China and neighboring regions. BeiDou-1 was decommissioned at the end of 2012.

BeiDou-2, also known as COMPASS, is the second generation of the system

It became operational in 2011 with a partial constellation of 10 satellites in the orbit. BeiDou-3, having a 35 satellite constellation, is the next generation of this system. The first Beidou-3 satellite was launched in March 2015. As of 23 June 2020, the 35th (final) satellite of Beidou-3 was launched. BeiDou-3 became fully functional by the end of 2020.

The Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS), which was later given the operational name of NavIC or Navigation with Indian Constellation, is the regional satellite navigation system of India. Launched and operated by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), IRNSS covers India and nearby regions extending up to 1,500 km. With the launch of the last satellite on 12 April 2018, all the eight satellites in the constellation are in orbit.

For a long time, all the three defence services of Pakistan were using the US-owned and controlled GPS system for the military applications mentioned above. Keeping in view the vulnerability of our military assets, planning, and operations due to the unreliable nature of the Pak- US relationship, the Pakistan military had been contemplating for quite some time to switch over from GPS to a more reliable navigation system.

Read more: Pakistan military sets high standards for other institutions to follow

Their decision was based on the following apprehensions:-

  • In the past, the US provided India satellite access to some sensitive telephone conversations. These conversations took place when the Kargil war was going on. RAW was thus able to tap the phone call and record the conversation between General Musharraf, and Lieutenant General Muhammad Aziz, the COAS and CGS Pakistan Army respectively in 1999. Later on, RAW, released the information to the world media, causing great embarrassment to Pakistan.
  • Our ground forces, computer-aided artillery guns, fighter aircraft, AWACS, drones, cruise missiles, surface ships, and submarines were all dependent on GPS for accurate designation and launching of their weapons, as well as for navigation. In a future war, the US, India’s strategic ally, would likely decide to jam the GPS signals, rendering our military assets completely blind.
  • In a future war, both India and the US will have the capability to use GPS in conjunction with cyber and electronic warfare to assist in inserting malware into Pakistan’s power, telecommunications, financial, and banking grids, breaking down and eliminating these critical nodes. A Covid-19 of another kind, this will cease all governmental, economic, and military functions in the country. The war will end even before it starts.
  • BeiDou GNSS, in conjunction with Huawei 5G, for which the infrastructure is already being laid in Pakistan, will further enhance the Pakistan military’s information gathering and utilization capabilities.

On certain metrics, the latest version of BeiDou is better than GPS

According to Jefferies Financial Group Inc, on average, BeiDou signals are accurate down to 0.41 meters versus GPS’ 0.5 meters.

Huawei 5G is the fifth generation of wireless communications technologies supporting cellular data networks. The system has a very broad bandwidth which implies that a lot of information and data can be transferred instantly and at very high speeds. The combination of BeiDou and Huawei 5G will exponentially enhance the cyber and electronic warfare capabilities of Pakistan’s defence services.

 

 

Saleem Akhtar Malik is a Pakistan Army veteran who writes on national and international affairs, defense, military history, and military technology. He Tweets at @saleemakhtar53. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.