China’s Version of GPS Soon to be Fully Integrated With Its Military Weapons

April 3, 2020 Updated: April 6, 2020

News Analysis

China’s military, officially the People’s Liberation Army, expects to fully integrate and enhance its weapons with its global navigation satellite system, the BeiDou-3. The system’s final satellite is scheduled to launch in May.

China went live in 2018 with its own global positioning satellite network in a bid to rival the United States’ GPS, Russia’s GLONASS, and the EU’s Galileo commercial navigation systems.

But with the launch of the 33rd BeiDou-3 (BDS-3) satellite on March 9, China is within two satellites of achieving a fully integrated military and civilian global navigation satellite system that could rival America’s highly accurate GPSIII.

The BDS-3 global service system is rated 95 percent for availability with horizontal by vertical positioning accuracy of 10 meters; velocity accuracy of 0.2 meters per second; and time accuracy of 20 nanoseconds. Accuracies for Asia-Pacific positioning are an extremely competitive 5 meters horizontally by 5 meters vertically.

With 24 satellites in orbit by the end of 2019, BeiDou announced that over 70 percent of Chinese smartphones in 30 nations with 400 million users were accessing satellite navigation through BDS-3.

In addition, Chinese state-run media Xinhua reported that BeiDou receivers have been integrated into over 6.5 million buses, trucks, and taxis.

China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI, also known as One Belt, One Road) has launched commercial partner uses for BDS (BeiDou Navigation Satellite System) in 90 nations.

BDS has been used in various fields, including validation of land rights in Indonesia, surveying in Uganda, construction in Kuwaiti, agriculture planning in Burma (also known as Myanmar), offshore property rights in the Maldives, logistics in Thailand, drone coordination in Cambodia, airport control in Pakistan, and power network inspections in Russia.

Xinhua forecasts that with BeiDou’s leadership, its domestic satellite navigation industry revenue will exceed $57 billion, or 400 billion yuan in 2020. The rollout of Huawei 5G equipment promises to leverage China’s cloud server and data transfer dominance.

But the biggest beneficiary of the BDS-3 constellation will be the rapidly expanding People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force (PLARF) that jumped from 29 to 40 missile brigades since 2017, according to Popular Science. The units are being equipped with new expanded-range intercontinental ballistic and hypersonic glide missiles.

China’s 2019 Defense White Paper states that “the PLARF is enhancing … nuclear deterrence and counterattack, strengthening intermediate and long-range precision strike forces.”

The new 644 Brigade was specially given the title “New Generation 1st Dongfeng Brigade” in recognition as the first unit to deploy the DF-17 that carries the DF-ZF hypersonic glide vehicle. Eight of the new brigades appear to be equipped with the nuclear tipped DF-31, DF-41 intercontinental ballistic; while the two new brigades are equipped with dual-use DF-26 and DF-21C missiles that can carry nuclear and conventional warheads.

The PLA has already integrated BDS into advanced army, navy and air force weapons guidance systems. Military units down to the squad level have used portable BDS terminals for encrypted satellite messaging during foreign deployments.

After Pakistan and China strengthened their ties with an “all-weather strategic partnership,” Pakistan’s armed forces were granted unrestricted access to the BDS-3 navigation version used by the PLA. Pakistan intends to purchase BDS-3 enabled Chinese weapons systems, including the 50 advanced JF-17 BlockIII fighters.