The Indian government has approved spending 14.2 billion rupees ($316 million) to develop an independent regional satellite navigation system that would launch starting in 2008 and reduce the nation’s dependence on the GPS system operated by the U.S. Department of Defense.

The seven-satellite constellation would be a stand-alone system and is independent of an Indian project to enhance GPS signals in the region.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s cabinet has given the task of creating the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System to the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), which originally proposed such a system in 2004.

In a May 9 announcement, the Cabinet Office the said the system “will provide an independent, indigenously developed constellation of satellites to provide satellite-based position, navigation and timing service for critical national applications.”

Development and deployment of the satellite constellation and ground infrastructure, plus system verification and testing, is expected to take five to six years, the announcement said.

In an interview, ISRO spokesman S. Krishnamurthy said that while the project only now has received formal cabinet approval, a sum of 4.4 billion rupees was allocated for the effort in ISRO’s budget for 2006-2007.

An ISRO performance report released in March 2006 said “considerable progress” already had been made in design of the ground system and that work was under way “for realization of navigational satellite system series of satellites.”

The nominal U.S. GPS constellation consists of 24 satellites for full global coverage. Krishnamurthy said ISRO’s planned seven-satellite system will be enough to cover the Indian subcontinent.

He said the satellites will be built by ISRO’s Satellite Centre in Bangalore and launched aboard indigenously built Polar Satellite Launch Vehicles. The first launch is scheduled for 2008 and the entire constellation is expected to be in place by 2011, he said.

Krishnamurthy said ISRO is fully aware of the huge cost involved in creating and maintaining a national satellite navigation system and added that the decision to make that investment was prompted by the need to have a system that is fully under Indian control.

He said the project is independent of India’s plans to join Russia’s Glonass and Europe’s planned Galileo satellite navigation systems.