Stellar Conversation

India Needs a Military Space Doctrine and Strategy

By Commodore JS Shergill (Retd), NM


India’s Anti-Satellite Test on 27 March 2019 amply demonstrated the Nation’s capability to primarily defend/protect its assets in the Outer Space, if so threatened. The Space based assets are ready to embrace new horizons. It needs no elaboration that India has always advocated peaceful use of Space and is a signatory to all the major international treaties and continues to abide by them in ‘letter and spirit’.

In India, Military is comparatively a late entrant in the arena of Space due to ISRO’s dedication to the civilian sector. The non-military stakeholders are well conversant as to what and why the nation needs to enhance private participation in Space activities, especially concerning civilian applications, architecture, etc. However, due to the confidential nature of the military domain, their requirements in Space (including Near Space – an even lesser familiar area) are not fully grasped by the private players/commercial operators. Furthermore, the newcomers and start-ups, post liberalization of the Space Economy in India, are quite zealous but need mentorship in military use cases and specifications to research and manufacture mil-standards. This mentorship falls short even though ISRO has opened the labs for incubation of high and deep tech companies.

The nomenclature used by the Military and doctrinal tenets are relatively unknown to the private/commercial industry and therefore can hinder their work/delivery leading to an inordinate delay in the privatization of players in the Military domain such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX in support of US and western militaries. Considering that Space, the fourth domain of warfare has emerged as a “game changer” in warfare, the current processes/procedures must evolve/adopt for which a “Military Space Doctrine” is considered essential for formulation, jointly by the three Armed Forces and placed in ‘open domain’ for use of Military Space Industrial Complex at an early date. This will go a long way in understanding the Military Space objectives, concepts/tenets/principles, interests in space, application of space power, international treaties/laws, glossary of terms used, etc.  This should be linked to Multi-Domain and Mosaic Warfare concepts applicable to the three domains as also integrating tri-service needs.   Such a capstone document in the ‘open domain’ will assist in research, innovation, technology development, safe operations, maintenance, etc. so that the developments in the Private sector work in tandem with the Military. This document will also spur scientific curiosity amongst youth and encourage them to look towards academic pursuits in STEM as per Prime Minister’s Vision. The document will also assist the policymakers, scientists, industry, military personnel, academia, diplomats, etc in understanding the nuances of Doctrinal tenets and fundamentals.

Having understood the Doctrine, which would have then provided a “bedrock”, the document shall make way and act as a pre-cursor for the “Military Space Strategy”. The Strategy will be an actionable document leading to a “plan of action” envisaged to achieve the Military Space Objectives by developing/building requisite capability and capacity within a defined roadmap in a cohesive manner within budgetary allocations. Unlike a Doctrine, a Strategy will bring out solutions/remedies to enforce net-centric operations depending on the threat perception in real-time. The private players will have a crucial role to play.  Even while Strategies are usually in a “closed domain”, in the case of Space, a generic Strategy document is recommended to be placed in ‘the open domain’ considering our exploits in this multi-domain would need a ‘Whole of Nation’ approach. Certain capacities can be made available to friendly foreign countries who can access our global outreach in Space. It may be noted that the Indian Navy’s “Maritime Military Security Strategy” issued in the year 2015 is in ‘open domain’.

Needless to state, Space is the new Frontier which is rapidly changing the rules of the game in warfare. It is incumbent upon us to remain prepared to meet the ensuing challenges in our relentless pursuit to use the “Space for Security” as well as “Security of Space” in consonance with the existing international treaties that India respects.

The upcoming second edition of the DefSAT Conference, Expo and Exercise from 07-09 February 2024, in New Delhi could not have come at a better time.  This Conference will provide us with an ideal platform to brainstorm for formulating the “Military Space Strategy” duly aligned with the Prime Minister’s Vision /Policy Statements of the Government of India in order to provide the ‘right direction’ to the space stakeholders. This assumes even greater importance considering our pursuits in using Space for a Military role have been rather limited in comparison to the private/commercial sector since the inception of Space research activities of more than six decades.

The esteemed presence and inputs of the decision makers, scientists, space lawyers, uniformed fraternity, technocrats, private players, academia, etc., ‘under one roof’ will indeed immensely contribute to the drafting of the “Military Space Doctrine” and “Military Space Strategy” in a comprehensive and cohesive manner.


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