The indigenously developed Navigation with Indian Constellation (NavIC) system, built as an alternative to the Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) system of the United States of America, has proven itself to be a more robust navigation system designed to meet the needs of all strategic users in India, including the Indian Armed Forces. However, this system does have some fundamental problems when it comes to its full-scale implementation, such as the low number of satellites in orbit and saturation of the American GPS system in our daily technology usage, among many others. Nevertheless, the NavIC system needs to build a strong case for its introduction in the country. Moreover, this system will not only highlight the strengths and achievements of the concept of ‘Atmanirbharta’, but will also highlight the contributions that the private sector can bring to the nation as a whole.
This article thus explores the many ways the private sector can work on developing and implementing the NavIC system for India’s civilian services and the military sector, thereby promoting the urgent need for India to move away from foreign technologies.
In today’s day and age, the domain of space has become a field of fierce competition and all countries are working towards placing their own assets in space for their national development. Earlier, this was a domain exclusive for nations who made heavy investments to develop their military infrastructure, to seek advantage over their adversaries; however, the world today is witnessing many countries wanting place their assets in space. There is also the emergence of private corporations in all stages of space asset creation and use, who are intent on using space as a domain for providing the general public with essential services. From determining which areas are currently experiencing heavy traffic, to sending classified and sensitive information through military networks, the domain of space can be said to be impacting people from all walks of life.
The use of space, particularly for navigation, has been a cornerstone of many space programs. Every major space faring nation has taken up the challenge of having seamless and detailed navigational capabilities by deploying their own satellites to provide requisite capabilities. From the invention of the first navigation system in 1986, by the USA, known as the Global Positioning System (GPS), many nations have undertaken the task of creating indigenous navigation solutions to reduce their reliance on the GPS system. India is no different, as one can see with the development of the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS), colloquially known as the Navigation with Indian Constellation (NavIC).
An indigenous system for India
The NavIC system, built and operated by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has been developed and made operational since 2018. The aim is to give India its own indigenous navigational capabilities for needs ranging from navigation, to mining and law enforcement. From creating space components, to building ground stations for collecting and processing said data for use, each part of this system has been developed within the country. This would prevent any possible manipulation of real time information during combat situations. This system also addresses some of the major drawbacks of the GPS system, such as its unreliable coverage over the earth’s equator, as its components have been created to specifically address this problem.
The NavIC has the potential to increase the efficiency of all sectors of the Indian economy and public life. From its applications in improving the logistical capabilities of various sectors of the economy, to providing accurate and real-time information related to natural disasters, this system is versatile in its navigational capabilities. It also ensures that any sensitive data, is kept safe from prying eyes.
While the NavIC system is receiving continuous upgrades, both hardware and software, there remain many problems with the proliferation of the system. Primary among these problems is the fact that any phone created worldwide does not presently have the requisite chipsets to be able to access the system by itself. The NavIC system uses S-band frequencies for military purposes and the lesser used L-5 Band frequencies for civilian appliances. However, devices made today are still manufactured with chipsets used to connect L-1 band frequencies that supports GPS. This lacuna leads to under-utilisation of the NavIC system.
Current Round of Solutions
As the system’s compatibility issues have been recognised, some quick and varied steps have been undertaken to negate them. The primary step is the introduction of new hardware at all ends of the system to ensure its operability on all devices. This has been done through the launch of the latest generation of NVS satellites, carrying payloads capable of transmitting data through the L-1, L-5 and S Band frequencies used by other systems across the world. This generation of satellites also carry an indigenously built atomic clock for accurate timekeeping. The government has also undertaken measures to indigenise the production process of critical components such as chipsets and semiconductors, giving credence to the fact that the only way a truly indigenous system can be made is if every link in the supply chain of the system is indigenous by itself.
The Civilian Sector and the Future of NavIC
It is simply not enough for a government to shoulder the entire responsibility of research and development of any technology, no matter how singular its application. Therefore, for the NavIC system, a joint approach between the government and the private sector is of paramount necessity. This has been realised, with the private sector participating in the fabrication of the IRNSS-1H.However, the participation of the private sector, despite this exception, has been limited only to the manufacturing of components and eventual launch of the satellites. This may serve as a disadvantage to the government as it is denied the enormous pool of talent utilized by private companies, leading to lack of influx of new ideas to innovate and build from.
The government needs to ensure that the private sector becomes a sizeable player in the development and upkeep of the NavIC system, with there being many avenues for such partnerships to take place. While many companies are already in the process of creating indigenous components required for making the current generation of devices compatible with NavIC, this participation needs to be given a greater impetus. This will ensure participation of more companies with their own unique solutions, thus accelerating the implementation of the NavIC system.
The contributions of the private sector do not simply end at the development and launch of the satellites which form the backbone of the navigation system. As this system is being updated to be made available to the public in the near future, it becomes necessary to involve these companies in all facets of the system. From the gathering and storage of data generated through use of the system, to analysing data for the required sectors to use, the private sector can be an indispensable player in the entire ecosystem. This will undoubtedly help the latter craft unique solutions to the problems of their respective sectors, be it agriculture or mining or defence, and give them the necessary motivation to innovate further, ensuring that we do not have to rely on obsolete technologies for our daily functioning. Also, given the increasing nature of technology and its applicability in a dual-use sense, working with the private sector can also help the government bridge any shortfalls in the protection of this system to ensure the security of our data.
The NavIC system has the potential to be a piece of indigenous innovation and development, capable of transforming the efficiency of all sectors of the Indian economy. While the government has taken some strong measures to ensure that the private sector plays a role in this innovation, the latter is capable of providing even greater amounts of assistance in developing this system. It is thus essential to ensure that the synergy between the private sector and the government is sustained for continuous national development. This can help showcase the fact that the ambitions and objectives of private corporations can coincide with the requirements of the government. Working together will enable a combined pool of resources for the development of this system and therefore make it more economical. Additionally, the private sector can help the government advertise the advantages of such a technology, not only within its borders but to other nations within the Indo-Pacific region. It will, therefore, help show the world that our system can be of use to nations within and outside the continent. Thus, India is poised to make giant strides in space asset utilisation with all the measures enumerated hitherto.
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