India Aboard Galileo Project

People’s Democracy

Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 48


Aboard Galileo Project: India-EU Summit




aspects of the recent India-EU Summit are noteworthy for their long-term
geo-political significance. The most striking, of course, is the very thrust and
main agenda of the Summit, namely the forging of a “strategic
partnership” between the European Union (EU) and India as a landmark in
their evolving relationship. The jointly released statement at the end of the
first day of the Summit announced agreement between India and the EU on Indian
participation in two high technology Projects of strategic importance which are
the focus of this article namely, the Galileo Satellite-based Navigation Project
and the programme to develop a nuclear fusion power-generation reactor, ITER
(International Thermo-nuclear Energy Reactor).  


at a time when the Indo-US dialogues on the “Next Steps in Strategic
Partnership” (NSSP), despite all the friendly rhetoric from both sides, are
floundering on old US suspicions, neo-colonial attitudes of technology denial
and new hegemonic arrogance. The US is still very reluctant to part with
high-tech dual-use (military and civilian) technologies and continues its
tactics of harassment and blackmail by imposing sanctions on two Indian
scientists for alleged proliferation-linked activities in Iran whereas one of
them has never visited that country and the other went as a representative of
the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)!


may appear that the US-India relationship is being dragged in needlessly. Yet
the comparisons are inevitable, not just due to the divergences in pursuing
“strategic partnerships” but because of the very nature of these two
Projects and the role that India envisages for itself in them. 




Galileo Project, a collaborative venture of the European Union and the European
Space Agency, is an ambitious and daring programme to develop and deploy an
international navigation system which would rival the USA’s famous Global
Positioning System (GPS) which, today, is the only truly global system available
to institutional and even individual users, the other available system being the
Russian GLONASS which, however, has limited reach and commercial acceptability.  


readers may be aware, satellite-based navigation systems such as GPS enable
users virtually anywhere in the world, with just a small simple radio-frequency
receiver, to receive signals from satellites which would give users their exact
position. Superimposed with other Geographical Information Systems (GIS) such as
maps, users can find their way around or can be tracked with unprecedented
precision. The operational principle is essentially quite simple: satellites,
fitted with an atomic clock that measures time very accurately, emit signals
carrying the precise time and a signature of the transmitting satellite. The
receiver on the ground, say on a mobile phone, is pre-programmed with
information on the orbits of all the satellites and, by recognising the
transmitting satellite, its position and time taken to receive the signal, can
determine the exact location of the receiver provided it receives such signals
from at least four satellites simultaneously.


from its obvious military uses, for example, by US aircraft and precision-guided
munitions in the Balkans and extensively in the recent and on-going Iraq war,
GPS is presently utilised in a variety of applications. GPS is used to monitor
and manage cargo and freight movement, for safety and guidance of air, sea and
road transport, for assistance to sailors and adventure travellers and for
route-location by taxis and even by tourists with hand-held GPS-based
instruments with digital maps. 


Galileo Project has been designed to operate with 27 functional satellites and 3
spares poised to step in case of any damage or accident, compared with the
24-satellite GPS. Galileo’s satellites would be placed in mid-earth orbit in
such a manner that they would provide coverage upto 75 degrees latitude, that is
almost anywhere on earth except the polar ice caps, and with resolutions down to
1 metre, unprecedented for civilian satellite data. The satellites would be
supported by two Ground Control Centres, twenty Sensor Stations to cross-check
and synchronise times with ground clocks, and 15 up-link stations all positioned
around the globe. Besides the reach, resolution and stand-by systems which make
for high accuracy and reliability for safety-dependent systems such as air
traffic control, the Galileo Project also has other features making it superior
to GPS such as provisions for a feedback signal which, for instance, can inform
a distress caller that his signal has been received and help is on the way.


biggest difference between the Galileo system and GPS, however, is that GPS is
fully owned by the US military which can provide or turn off access at its own


Galileo system, in contrast, is to be fully civilian owned and managed. With the
first trial run scheduled for 2005, the Galileo system is expected to be fully
operational by 2008.




the EU has been at great pains to stress that the Galileo Project is not meant
to challenge the US-owned GPS, there is no escaping the fact that Galileo system
is not merely a commercial rival but also a geo-strategic one with EU officials
confiding to anyone interested that they want to put an end to the US monopoly
and promote its own Europe-centred multilateralist vision.


Galileo Project is envisaged as having dual signal capability, that is,
receivers would be able to simultaneously access signals from GPS and Galileo.
EU talks along similar lines with Russia have made substantial progress. While
the US has finally agreed to inter-operability between GPS and Galileo, US
concerns including possible conflicts with its military-only frequencies and the
public regulation of the Galileo system are issues still awaiting resolution.
The EU, while emphasising complementarity rather than competition, consciously
strives to establish single global standards which, besides being intrinsically
positive, also undermines existing and future US monopoly. The EU has also
consciously adopted a multilateral approach to the entire Galileo Project and
has brought on board a large number of countries not only from within Europe but
elsewhere, with a stated goal of building capabilities in other countries and


of this is not just altruism, of course, and the EU has good political and
business reasons for building such partnerships worldwide.


EU’s markedly different multilateralist approach has already earned it much
friendship among partner countries with large emerging markets and growing
political clout such as Russia, China, India, Brazil and Mexico. Ukraine with
its excellent Soviet-inherited space capabilities and infrastructure is a
valuable technical ally as is Israel even though the amounts they contribute may
be relatively small.


Galileo Project is estimated to cost a massive 3.7 billion dollar (approximately
Rs 18,500 crore) and the EU is keen on partners to share the financial burden
since only a few European countries are likely to bring large sums of money to
the table. The market for satellite navigation services is also likely to be
enormous with some analysts predicting that it could take off much like personal
computers or cellular phones. The EU presently estimates the likely market as
around 3 billion (300 crore) receivers in diverse applications and revenues of
about 300 billion dollar (approximately Rs 15,00,000 crore) per year by 2010
worldwide along with the creation of more than 150,000 high-paid jobs in Europe



EU has long had India in its sights as a potential partner given its huge
market, presently very small compared to its potential. India, however, had
always wished to come on board not just at the user end of the spectrum but as a
more equal partner involved in different aspects of development and management
of the Project. At the previous India-EU Summit attended by then prime minister
Vajpayee, the Indian delegation had made its intentions clear by merely agreeing
to come on board and continue negotiations.


the time of the present Summit, the EU and Indian positions clearly appear to
have converged to a considerable extent.


is one of just 6 countries along with the US, Canada, Russia, Japan and China,
with which the EU holds regular summits. By raising the level of these dialogues
to that of a “strategic partnership” for which a document is being
prepared, the EU has indicated that India is gaining in real importance for the
EU, again for both geo-political and economic reasons. An EU official at the
on-going Summit told a news agency on grounds of anonymity that “before we
looked more to China and saw India rather as a leader in the developing world.
Now it’s an equal partner.” Some of this is surely plain flattery, which
India is known to susceptible to and also prone to be taken in by such grandiose
terms. Clearly this has been the case with the Indo-US “strategic
partnership” with the US leading India by the nose, especially under the
over-eager and pliant BJP-led government. But perhaps there is also some
substance this time, especially given the aggressive unilateralism of the US in
recent times particularly under president George W Bush which has upset the EU
and seen it consciously trying to develop its own linkages with a more
multilateral leaning. 


are other factors too. China had signed on to the Galileo Project more than a
year ago and had pledged about 220 million dollar (approximately Rs 1100 crore).
However, due to US political and military concerns and pressure behind the
scenes, Chinese involvement was limited to development of applications and user
equipment, whereas China had wanted involvement covering the whole range from
launchers to spacecraft. Despite the EU-China agreement and the EU pressing it
to commit itself to substantial equity participation, India had been holding out
wanting a greater role than that of a mere customer or minor sub-contractor.  


has now agreed to contribute about 350 million dollar (approximately Rs 1,750
crore) to the Galileo Project. While the exact details of India’s involvement
are yet to be worked out, it appears that some advances have been made as
regards Indian interests.


emanating from the Indian delegation at the Summit put a favourable
interpretation of India’s gains and suggest that the EU has recognised that
India’s expertise in cost-effective space and information and communication
technologies could bring both technical value and price competitiveness to the
Project. EU officials too have stressed the value of India’s “very mature
space programme” and the “technical capability in niche areas”
that India could bring to the table, as well as the history of collaboration
between the European Space Agency and ISRO which is still under US sanctions.
The Draft Statement also states that there would be “equitable [Indian]
participation in Galileo space, ground and user segments” with Indian
officials interpreting this to mean that India will be involved in both
development and operational aspects of Galileo.


to the Galileo Project, India’s major concern is access to the encrypted codes
of the Publicly Regulated Service (PRS) which remains a sensitive issue for the
EU. Indian officials were quoted as saying that “if we are putting in 300
million Euros we must have a say in the control of the satellite”. India of
course is also looking to showcase its technical capabilities through such a
high-profile programme and also to obtain lucrative contracts. The EU is holding
out the carrot of collaboration in the Galileo Project opening up possibilities
of further collaboration in high-tech areas.


however, the depth of Indian involvement and actual partnership in the Galileo
Project would be determined by the geo-political considerations of both India
and the EU. In the present world scenario, it would appear that both sides have
something to gain.