India Abroad Galileo Project: India-EU Summit

SEVERAL 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).

This 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)!

It 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.


The 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.

As 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.

Apart 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.

The 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.

The 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 choosing.

Europe’s 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.


Although 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.

The 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 regions.

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

The 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.

The 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 alone.


The 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.

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

India 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.

There 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.

India 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.

Reports 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.

Specific 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.

Ultimately, 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.