China has its own GPS now—and it's better than yours

China is now one step closer to become the top economic and military superpower in the world: their Beidou geo-positioning system is now fully armed and operational.

Why is this important?

Accurately knowing where you are on planet Earth is one of the most powerful technologies any country can have.

Beidou cuts China's dependency of the American GPS system completely. It means that they would be able to launch any attack and move their forces around the world without any US interference. Right now, the United States can deactivate their Global Positioning System so nobody can use it in certain areas. That includes enemy armies. After Beidou, however, this will be impossible.

How accurate is Beidou?

Civilian transports would be able to know where they are within a range of 10 meters. They would also be able to record speed with a 0.2 metres-per-second error margin and synchronize their clocks with an accuracy of 0.02 millionths of a second. This is way better than the United States' GPS system, which has an accuracy of 20 meters (66 ft). Garmin claims that their receivers are accurate to within 15 meters on average, which is worse than the accuracy claimed by the Chinese.

Like GPS, however, Beidou has two modes: civilian and military. The Chinese military will have even more accuracy. They haven't disclosed by how much.

The US military and other agencies use augmentation systems that provide higher accuracy. GPS.gov claims that "these enable real-time positioning to within a few centimeters, and post-mission measurements at the millimeter level." Right now, the Air Force and Lockheed Martin are working on GPS III. It will greatly increase accuracy while giving a stronger signal, harder to jam and capable of penetrating areas in which the current GPS doesn't work.

What does it cover?

Right now they have ten geo-positioning satellites in orbit covering China. By 2012 they will have 16 to cover most of Asia and, by 2020, they will cover the entire world with 35 satellites. That means that their navy, airplanes and land troops would know where they are in any part of the world without depending on the American GPS.

How can they use Beidou?

China will be able to move their civilian transport ships and airplanes all over the world without being dependent on any other country. Their military would also use this system to direct their ships, combat airplanes, drones and land forces in battle.

They would also be able to use Beidou to target any kind of weapons with great accuracy, including cruise missiles.

Who benefits from this?

Apart from the Chinese military, their economic system will have a big boost thanks to Beidou. According to the head of the project talking to China Daily, it "will create a market as big as 400 billion yuan ($61.54 billion) by the end of 2020." The Chinese government is investing $25 billion on it.

Is it compatible with GPS?

According to Beidou, their system will be compatible with the American GPS, the Russian Glonass—which is also fully operative—and the European Galileo. [Beidou and China Daily via BBC, GPS.gov, Lockheed Martin]