Satellite navigation breakthrough for aircraft and weapons - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Saturday 1 September 2012

Satellite navigation breakthrough for aircraft and weapons

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 2nd Sept 12

A crucial breakthrough by a small high-technology company drew a personal salute from the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) chief, Dr VK Saraswat, in Bangalore today. The SME, Accord Software & Systems, handed over to the DRDO chief a high tech satellite navigation system --- a tiny box, two inches across and a quarter inch high --- that will go into aircraft and tanks, telling them exactly where they are, accurate to 3 metres.

Satellite navigation has been around since the 1990s. The US Pentagon’s Global Positioning System (GPS) is a constellation of some 30 satellites, which tell users their location, altitude and time. The GPS has a commercial signal that is accurate to about 30 metres, which is available to anyone with a GPS receiver. It also has a military signal, accessible only through a secure “precision code,” that is accurate to just one metre. That signal navigates high-precision US weaponry, like the Tomahawk cruise missile, which finds its way across hundreds of kilometers to a particular room in a specified house, flying in through a designated window.

Since the closely guarded GPS “precision code” is available only to the US military, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has found a way to improve the commercial signal. Called GAGAN, the acronym for “GPS And Geo-Augmented Navigation”, this uses ISRO satellites to augment the GPS commercial signal, allowing users to determine their position with an accuracy of 3 metres.

Now Accord Software has packed the power of GAGAN into the pint-sized chip that it handed over to the DRDO today. This will power into the navigation systems of indigenous military systems --- including tanks, infantry combat vehicles, aircraft, helicopters, and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) --- that India is developing.

The G3OM, as Accord Software calls its tiny 17-gram module, also harnesses the power of GLONASS, a Russian version of the GPS. The G3OM picks up signals from GPS, GLONASS and GAGAN satellites, integrating all three into an accurate readout. It is built with two antennae so that even when a tank or a UAV is moving, at least one antenna is receiving satellite signals, allowing unbroken navigation signals.

“The G3OM module that Accord developed meets all the specifications that we laid out. It is small, light, rugged enough for military use, and consumes barely any power. Accord has made it to DRDO requirements, but the core technologies are Accord’s,” says Satheesh Reddy, the DRDO scientist who heads its navigation division.

Reddy is confident the G3OM will also be snapped up by ISRO, Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), the three services, and will break into selected export markets. He believes private sector companies that are developing systems like the Future Infantry Combat Vehicle, will find the G3OM crucial while developing its land navigation system.

When GAGAN becomes fully operational next year, it will be a boon for civilian airliners over the Indian landmass. Other Space Based Augmentation Systems (SBAS) like GAGAN are functional elsewhere. Over the United States, commercial airliners navigate with the help of a Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS), developed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which provides an accuracy of 3 metres. Similar augmentation systems are operational over Europe and Japan. When GAGAN is fully operational it will provide an equivalent system over India.

India has been involved in extended negotiations with Russia for obtaining the “precision code” for its GLONASS system, an alternative to GPS. This would provide Indian weapon systems with the navigational accuracy that US and Russian systems enjoy. But the Russian system has been mired in delay. Russia’s economic crisis in the 1990s prevented that country from launching enough satellites needed for the GLONASS constellation. Only last year, after Prime Minister Putin’s personal push, was the full constellation established.

But Russia remains unwilling to provide India with the “precision code”, although the two countries have signed joint statements about working together on GLONASS. MoD sources tell Business Standard that the matter remains “under discussion”.


  1. Nice. I've been looking at the version of GAGAN, which is being adopted by the AAI for civil air navigation. Should also make a significant difference in terms of fuel consumption for civil aviation.

  2. if the US or Russia decide to shut down their commercial version for some political or military reason, where does this leave this new equipment.

  3. Col. Shukla,
    Thank you for this informative article! I wish that you would have covered how China's Beidou system and India's IRNSS system are related to this, though.

  4. GPS signals will certainly be switched off or be made innacurate when convenient. One truly needs one's own global system of 1 m accuracy.

  5. Wow. Thats very good. No need to worry about Russia,some more R&D and we will get a better system then Russia/USA within sometime.

  6. GAGAN will be a lame duck in case GPS goes SA again - meaning if GPS signals are shut off over the Indian subcontinent or random errors are introduced. Since GAGAN is pure augmentation, with GPS behaving erratically it will be useless. GAGAN does not augment Glonass, nor will it augment IRNSS.

    We need independent 1m positioning. IRNSS must be enhanced for that.

  7. Ajay Ji,
    Very good and informative article.
    I have few questions though....

    You have mentioned...that
    >But Russia remains unwilling to provide India with the “precision code”, although the two countries have signed joint statements about working together on GLONASS. MoD sources tell Business Standard that the matter remains “under discussion”.

    Q1: Has USA shared the similar Military Grade GPS secure code with India ? As US says it wants to become strategic partner of India ? How much pain they are willing to take in terms of sharing latest technologies and GPS military grade signals with Indian Armed Forces ?

    Q2: How safe is the GAGAN/IRNASS signals? i.e. The same signal/security can not be broken by China or that Chinese and Paki missiles do not get access to these accurate signals to precision strike Indian locations ?

    Especially since Pakistan's ISI is infiltrating in Indian High tech Defense Research and Production companies using their brainwashed cells and Then technologies/tools/systems developed here are finding it's way to Chinese Military Research companies..thru these Paki channels...?

    US had been very worried & skeptical about this problem in India and has so far not agreed to Transfer any Latest/Complex technologies to India as yet.


  8. Finally, one good news in otherwise scam and corruption infested times. Good work done by our private sector and DRDO, kudos.

  9. While using... GPS based GAGAn... will the G3OM... act as a homing device instead...

  10. There is noticeably a bundle to know about this. I assume you made certain nice points in features also.but great to see your post and i getting such a nice information about how to navigate breakthrough for aircraft and weapons.

  11. I know this is a late reaction but I think still relevant -

    Selective Availability for the GPS system was turned off in May 2000 globally. So now the accuracy GPS signal is the same for both civilian as well as the US military i.e. about 20m. However what the US has is the ability to selectively switch off the GPS signal where ever they want globally.
    So now that the GAGAN system is dependent on the GPS have we gotten into any agreement with the US that guarantees GPS coverage?
    If not, then dependence on GAGAN for navigation and weapon guidance would be foolhardy as the US could pull the rug from under our feet whenever they please.
    Yes, there always GLONASS from our old allies the Russians, but the GLONASS system is an untested entity and considering their current economic condition depending on it for day-to-day navigation let alone a military conflict would not be wise.

    Old Crow

  12. While this is good for the time being, GAGAN simply piggy-backs on existing system that are operated (and can be switched off) by other parties. The way to go forward will be to work with the GLONASS system while conucting one's own research. Eventually India needs to have its own system in place with regional coverage while dove-tailing with existing sytems for coverage elsewhere.

  13. Wondering where this new technology will go if ever they decide or plan to shut down their political or military forces for a certain reason.


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