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Implications of BeiDou explored in US congressional report

January 25, 2017  - By


The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission has issued a staff report titled “China’s Alternative to GPS and Its Implications for the United States.”

The report examines the objectives behind Beijing’s decision to develop the system as an alternative to GPS, its efforts to build an industry around the system, and the effects this might have in security, economic and diplomatic terms for the U.S.

“The system’s primary purpose is to end China’s military reliance on GPS, although China’s associated industrial policies will likely affect U.S. firms operating in China’s market. Industry professionals assess there are no inherent risks to products such as smartphones receiving data from BeiDou.”

China’s BeiDou is projected to achieve global coverage by 2020.

The commission was created through a congressional mandate in October 2000, and is responsible for monitoring and investigating national security and trade issues between the United States and People’s Republic of China.

Beidou constellation

Key Findings

  • China has sought to field its own satellite navigation system in order to (1) address national security requirements by ending military reliance on GPS; (2) build a commercial downstream satellite navigation industry to take advantage of the quickly expanding market; and (3) achieve domestic and international prestige by fielding one of only four such systems yet developed, cementing China’s status as a leading space power and opening the door to international cooperation opportunities.
  • Industry professionals assess there are no inherent risks to products such as smartphones receiving data from Beidou. While concerns have been raised that malware in devices could allow China’s government to track users, experts (1) are not aware of ways to feasibly transmit malware through a navigation signal and (2) assess that manufacturers will be unlikely to include Beidou’s unique messaging function due to cost factors. Restrictions on technology purchases from China by U.S. government and military users can help guard against malware being physically installed.
  • Beidou is of foremost importance in allowing China’s military to employ precision-guided conventional strike weapons—a central feature of Beijing’s efforts to counter a U.S. intervention in a potential contingency—if access to GPS is denied.
  • GPS and Beidou signals are both provided for free and are not in “competition” for market share. Also, the satellite navigation industry is trending toward “multi-constellation” receivers that work with all systems. This means that the U.S. firms that currently dominate the downstream satellite navigation industry will likely be able to incorporate Beidou functionality and continue to compete, although prospects in the China market may narrow.
  • China plans to expand Beidou coverage to most of the countries covered in its “One Belt, One Road” initiative by 2018, indicating it sees the system as playing a role in its economic diplomacy efforts. China has also sought to incentivize countries in Southeast Asia and the Middle East to begin using Beidou, and seeks to build a network of ground stations throughout Asia to improve the system’s accuracy.
  • In response to these developments, the United States can consider allowing government and military users to take advantage of multi-constellation devices, while continuing to monitor the industry to assure that security threats do not materialize; promote interoperability to ensure its firms remain competitive; and continue to invest in maintaining its leadership in space.

Current coverage of BeiDou constellation
(from report).

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1 Comment on "Implications of BeiDou explored in US congressional report"

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  1. William K. says:

    The one cause for concern about China’s military not needing GPS is that if GPS is taken out they can still know where they are exactly, while we would be stuck. And we know that GPS can be jammed and spoofed, and also the satellites could be destroyed, and that would be the end of GPS for many months. Are they planning a hostility? Or just being prepared for Russia? Or that Korean nut job who wants to fight everybody.