Stellar Conversation

Militarisation of Indian Space


 In 2019, India’s DRDO knocked off a Low Earth Orbit Satellite as a technological demonstrator announcing the nation’s ability to kill a space asset through precision targeting, using a missile. Codenamed Mission SHAKTI, this operation was an ASAT (Anti-Satellite) or Direct Ascent hard kill Kinetic attack; signalling that India had a counter space capability and was moving towards militarization of space.  The same year, India commenced raising the Defence Space Agency (DSA) along with Cyber and Special Forces assets. Recently, on 27 April 23, India also held its first Industrial Space Wargame, as part of the DEFSAT 2023 held under the aegis of SIA-India, to test the readiness of the Indian Space Industry to manufacture the space assets in India to fulfil the Indian Defence needs; recognizing the role of Indian private space players. As the conductor of the exercise, I realized the value of close cooperation between the Civil-Military and commercial enterprises.

Outer Space opens beyond the Karman Line (100 Km from the Earth) where the gravitational pull of the Earth is negligible and can be nulled through the orbital speed. In orbit, a satellite moves freely over the globe and inherently looks down vertically into the space of any country on its journey. A satellite can achieve a relatively fixed position over the earth at Geostationary orbit (approximately 36000 km). Security concerns arise when foreign satellites are stationed or traverse over a nation's territory.  The satellites carrying the payload of high-resolution cameras and sensors capture details, transfer data or establish communication and navigational services globally. This gives the ability for one nation to establish Space domination over other nations. Outer space, a global common, has been established as the fourth frontier and the cyber as the fifth frontier of the contest.

In the recent, Russo-Ukraine conflict, the private Space sector has played a significant part in providing ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) and communication support as part of foreign collaboration. US military and NASA have shifted their dependency on the private sector such as Elon Musk’s SpaceX which in turn has ventured into global space operations such as Ukraine. In line with privatization, India created INSPACe, an autonomous body that would work as a regulator and a facilitator to act as a catalyst to accelerate the space economy and technology. India has recently announced India’s space policy, which does not cover India’s military space aspect. The policy is aimed at allowing the civilian space sector to grow more collaboratively with the Department of Space and ISRO playing a guiding role. Given that many space technologies have dual applications, for instance, the American GPS, which serves as a Position, Navigation, and Time (PNT) system, can readily be adapted for military purposes. Incidentally, the US denied the Indian Army's use of GPS during the 1999 Kargil conflict, forcing India to launch an indigenous PNT satellite constellation called the NaviC or IRNSS programme. Similarly, remote sensing satellites with military-grade resolutions,   secure communications and cyber applications can be put to strategic use. The Defence Space Agency has put out 75 challenges for the Indian Industry to meet the Defence needs indigenously.  Many private and international players are providing ‘Data as a service’ (DaaS) or even Intelligence as a Service (IaaS) for which space diplomacy becomes an essential component of Military diplomacy. SSA (Space Situational Awareness) is a significant part of intelligence.  It is also necessary for India to plan for capabilities of data services during the military operational surge, therefore ‘Rapid Response’ needs attention such as ‘Launch on Demand’ (LOD) of satellites and rapid activation such as Activation on Demand (AOD) would be factored into Military Space Capacity Development.

The Indian Air Force has recently published an Aerospace doctrine declaring Air space and outer space as a continuum. It is realised that drones, balloons and HAPS (High Altitude Platform Systems) need more attention as part of the aerospace domain.  Aerial Photography and drone cameras are reliable but have a limit to the range they can fly. During the recently conducted Industrial Space Exercise, certain technologies were discussed that make it possible to fly drones in tandem with satellites to beat the weather/cloud cover and /or amplify the pictures of satellites by terrain correlation. The swarm of surveillance drones can be made to fly the same swath of territory being covered in real-time by the satellite. Low-flying drones, captive to satellites, can bring excellent real-time results. Near Space with pseudo-satellites would create a new dimension within the aerospace domain.  This realm, located between 25 kilometres to 100 kilometres from Earth, presents a unique challenge, as neither conventional aircraft can operate within it, nor can traditional satellites be deployed into orbit. Nevertheless, this region remains a constituent part of a nation's sovereign airspace.

The Space Wars are a reality today, the rendezvous satellites with their RPOs (Rendezvous and Proximity Operations) are keeping close surveillance over the opponents’ satellites and can neutralize them temporarily or permanently at will. Nations with big budgets can invest in Space Situational Awareness to keep an eye on space threats. The space-aspiring nations must depend on space collaboration and diplomacy. The Counterspace and Counter-Counter Space arena has triggered another race. The space not only is being militarized but also weaponized with incremental research and investment in ASAT technology, both in hard and soft kill options.  The other challenge is the overlap and juxtaposing of Space and Cyber domains in the Electromagnetic spectrum defined as CEMA. The space and cyber-attacks are synergistic, where space assets can attack the cyber-based critical Infrastructure and vice-versa. The world is quickly moving to Quantum Technology to secure these networks to prevent such attacks or interference. The Chinese are ahead of the US in the use of quantum networks in space.

The reports of China testing a new missile system, known as the Fractional Orbital Bombardment System (FOBS), have fuelled concerns. The flight tests conducted in July and August 2021 saw a rocket launched into orbital flight, which later re-entered the atmosphere and released a manoeuvrable glide vehicle travelling at hypersonic speeds. Long-range missile systems like this can carry nuclear or non-nuclear warheads. With no official explanation from the Chinese government, some American commentators were quick to assume the worst – a new Chinese ability to bombard the United States from outer space even with nuclear weapons.

Technological deterrence is the new security assurance benchmark to be achieved synergistically in integrated theatres. In this scenario, the Indian security infrastructure should uphold a cutting-edge technological advantage to deter potential adversaries from launching attacks out of concern for potential retaliation.

The edge should dissuade the adversary from military or destructive action by building ‘Science and Technology’ superiority to act as a deterrence. This would include the employment of a physical Force, powered by uncompromising technological capability. Technological power should be the main component of Comprehensive National Power (CNP) as it alone provides technological deterrence.

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