Wednesday, October 18, 2006

India's own Eye in the Sky - GPS Navigational System

India's speak of withdrawal from the EU backed Galileo Global Positioning System (GPS) project must have come as a surprise or even evoked concern among most of my peers who have been keeping tabs over the rise of India as a global power.
Understandably so, because the European developed GPS system was supposed to
  1. Provide huge technology prowess to a marching India: The GPS system is expected to be so precise that it can zero in on a vehicle, ship or a herd of cattle and help distinguish and locate objects just 1 meter in resolution. A true "eye-in the-sky", this system has applications for it that lie in many civilian areas with huge commercial potential like route-mapping, speed control and guidance, aid for the elderly and disabled, in justice systems for location of suspects and border controls besides search and rescue operations.
  2. Breakfree from the US backed GPS system: An opportunity to switch from a US military operated GPS that has been opened up for free for commercial use across the world. You don't expect US to keep its GPS system open for the general public in case of a event that threatens its own sovereignty.
However India recently cited security concerns and planned to pull out of a project that has been the cynosure of most European Union (EU) powers as well as India's backdoor neighbour China. The reason put forth were security related. What framework does Galileo GPS system have in place to prevent one country's data from not not falling into another country's hands? India definitely is concerned at this stage given the enormous interest and investment that China is pouring into the essential services in India like infrastructure, telecom, ports.

India however has backup plans just in case the plan to partner with EU based Galileo GPS system falters. One, India is pouring money into GLONASS (Global Navigation Satellite System), the Russian constellation of GPS satellites which Moscow is trying to renew and bring back to life.

The other option that should come as a surprise to most of us, is the fact that India has drawn up board plans and conducted preliminary tests to come up with its own GPS satellite navigation system spanning the globe called GAGAN (GPS Aided GEO Augmented Navigation). At a cost of Rs. 30,000 crore, it will be ISRO's (Indian Space Research Organization) most ambitious project after plans to reach out for moon (Chandryaan project). This would serve more than one purpose as spill offs from this single major milestone would bolster developments in other fields.
  • Underline India's advanced technology provider capability
  • Make India free from dependence on US and European systems
  • Civilian projects would massively benefit from the system ranging from aircraft/ship based navigational systems to extending reach of law enforcement authorities
  • Unlimited flexibility for India's defence forces in their seek and destroy operations
GAGAN if completely deployed and operational by end of 2007 as is being speculated would be a massive leap for India in more than one sphere of progress. Withdrawing from Galileo project does not sound that bad, right now, does it?



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