China is building a military-grade navigation system called BeiDou-3  that will have global coverage through more than 30 satellites, according to an academic speaking on the sidelines of the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China.

In 1995, China started to develop its first BeiDou Navigation Satellite System as an alternative to the Global Positioning System in use by the United States, Dr Wang Feixue, a professor at the College of Electronic Science and Engineering, National University of Defense Technology, said at a media briefing on Sunday evening.

“Our satellite program kicked off 20 years later than foreign countries’. We have not yet achieved full global coverage at the moment,” Wang said. “There is still a long way for us to go.” 

As China only had the resources to launch six satellites two decades ago, its scientists could only use two satellites to track an object, he said. However, they faced a problem with “fast capture”, a key technology for navigation, he said.

“At that time, my team and I were interested in taking the challenge, and finally tackled the problem by using some new technologies,” he said. Based on their achievements, China now has BeiDou-2, which can connect to more than 10 satellites, and is developing BeiDou-3, he said.

“Even if our satellite system can achieve full global coverage by 2020, we should not slow down, as technology is improving every day,” he said. His team will continue to help equip the People’s Liberation Army with new technologies.

Born in 1971, Wang was granted admission to the National University of Defense Technology in 1988 and gained a PhD in 1998. He is the leader of the research team that developed China’s second-generation satellite system, BeiDou-2.

BeiDou, which literally means “Northern Dipper”, the Chinese name for the constellation known in the West as the Big Dipper or the Plow, is a huge engineering project jointly established by hundreds of government departments, and it has already been applied for civilian uses, Wang said.

Previous media reports said BeiDou-3 would be able to achieve an accuracy “within millimeters”, 10 times as precise as GPS.

China will continue to increase the quality and efficiency of its army in order to achieve basic automation by 2020, President Xi Jinping said in his opening speech at the 19th Party Congress last Wednesday. It will upgrade its army and weapons to achieve basic modernization of its national defense by 2035, he said.

By the middle of this century, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) will become a leading army in the world, he said.

At the same media briefing where Wang spoke, Liu Fang, a staff officer of the Office for International Military Cooperation of the Central Military Commission, said that over the past five years during Xi’s first term in office, the PLA’s “circle of friends” had been growing.

“We have established military relations with many foreign powers and also developed different kinds of military cooperation with our neighboring countries,” she said.

The PLA has been proactively contributing to the United Nations’ peacekeeping actions and setting up information-exchange channels with other countries, Liu said.