The state-owned China Shipbuilding Industry Corp said this week it had helped upgrade the nation’s indigenous BeiDou satellite navigation and positioning system to guide submarines and underwater drones.

The BeiDou, dubbed China’s GPS, had proven reliable in underwater positioning tests in waters off Lianyungang in eastern Jiangsu province, according to CSIC and Xinhua. This was a new dimension for the application.

It is believed that BeiDou has two subsystems and one for professional users, including a tailor-made version for the People’s Liberation Army. These are expected to get a boost from the addition of undersea and deepwater navigation.

CSIC said the tests showed the BeiDou system was capable of sending tracking and positioning feeds and signals from underwater vessels and drones to onshore and surface stations. But it was not revealed if BeiDou’s positioning accuracy and response time is compromised when guiding underwater objects, or the system’s effective depths and ranges underwater.

The South China Morning Post noted that the advances would help Chinese submarines and underwater drones improve their ability to track other vessels and mount precision stealth strikes, in sensitive waters like the East and South China Seas.

Maritime surveying, seabed mapping and underwater mining in these waters are also set to benefit from the breakthrough.

The BeiDou is currently putting together a global network of coverage as new satellites are due to be put into orbit over the next two years, on top of an existing constellation of 35 satellites circling Earth.

The new BeiDou satellites will emit stronger navigation signals, not only to end receivers on Earth, but also to other satellites to coordinate each other’s position and trajectory.

BeiDou’s positioning accuracy is also set to get a boost to 2.5 to 5 meters, leveraging more satellites in orbit as well as ground stations across China and in other countries. The ultimate goal is “centimeter-level accuracy in navigation and positioning”, provided an end user has the latest receiver.

The standard accuracy of GPS services is 3.5 to 5 meters. New GPS receiver devices using the L5 frequency launched in 2018 are expected to have a much higher accuracy than before and a device can be pinpointed within 30 centimeters, according to the California-based semiconductor behemoth Broadcom, which makes mass-market GPS chips.

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