When it comes to positioning systems, U.S. has GPS, Russia has Glonass and EU – Galileo.
Now China, began offering its own satellite navigation system to users, as an effort to move away from the nation’s reliance on the U.S.-built NAVSTAR GPS network.
The system is reported to be compatible with the GPS, Galileo and Russia’s Glonass platforms.
Ten satellites which form the Beidou “constellation” have been launched since 2007, with six more launches scheduled for next year to provide extended coverage for the Asia-Pacific region. By 2020, the Beidou constellation will comprise 35 satellites.
According to China Daily, the Beidou system is currently operating as a free trial and offers positioning accuracy to within 25 m (82 ft).
But this is set to improve to an accuracy of within 10 m (33 ft) next year when six more satellites are put into orbit and the system is officially launched for Asia-Pacific customers.
A 2004 study by Geoffrey Forden, a researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, US, suggested that Beidou could be used to target cruise missiles against Taiwan if a war broke out over the territory. Having its own system would protect China against the risk that the US could turn GPS off.
“This will allow a big jump in the precision attack capability of the PLA,” said Andrei Chang, a Hong Kong-based analyst of the Chinese military and editor of Kanwa Asian Defense magazine.
Real-time satellite images and data can also be used to coordinate the operations of China’s naval, missile and strike aircraft forces in operations far from the mainland.
China’s plans to develop a satellite positioning system are thought to date back to 1983 when then-President Ronald Reagan announced plans to build space-based missile-defense systems in what became known as his “Star Wars” speech.