Exclusive Opinion Piece: Bolstering India’s National Security Space


National Security

By Vidya Sagar

India is taking dedicated steps to acquire space assets that can safeguard its national security and enable it safeguard global commons as a responsible leading power. Even as the existing capabilities were able to deliver during critical times, there are certain urgent requirements to be fulfilled. A dedicated roadmap could be developed for this purpose in addition to signalling to the adversaries that India is prepared to protect its space assets.

India had successfully launched another satellite in the Cartosat-2 series recently. This adds to the existing series of earth observation satellites providing operational pictures in different ranges that can be used for national security purposes. India placed in orbit dedicated communications and remote sensing satellites for defending its borders and maritime areas from impending threats. However, it is yet to secure certain space capabilities for ensuing foolproof national security.

India continues to face a range of conventional and sub-conventional threats. It fought four major wars with Pakistan and China, which have already occupied parts of India’s territory. Pakistan has resorted to the use of terrorism given its inferiority in conventional means. The growing bonhomie between China and Pakistan is strengthening the latter’s military apparatus, which is abetting terrorism against India.

In addition, India also has taken responsibility to safeguard the sea lines of communication in the Indian Ocean. Indian Ocean is the central medium connecting West Asian resources to East Asian manufacturing centres and helping transport finished goods from thereon to Europe. It is the responsibility of the Indian Navy to protect sea trade in the Indian Ocean from emerging threats such as maritime terrorism and piracy.

The diversity and varying sophistication of these threats requires India to install a superior and robust Communications, Command, Control, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C3ISR) system. Terrestrial sensors that are part of this system have their limitations in terms of range, mobility, robustness and cost. Sovereignty and territorial jurisdiction issues also limit the ability of these sensors to peer deep into adversaries’ territories. In addition, terrestrial sensors are more prone to spoofing and counter-intelligence attacks.

On the contrary, space assets are free to scan all parts of the globe irrespective of national jurisdictions, allowing them to provide operational picture from a higher vantage point. Since the dawn of space age, satellites have been used extensively for military purposes. The 1990-1991 Gulf War had unleashed the full potential of integrated battle networks enabled by satellites. The 

Tomahawks opened the era of stand-off precision strikes which are guided by space based global positioning and navigation satellites. Various remote sensing satellites help maintain stability during peacetime by detecting underground nuclear tests, providing maritime domain awareness, monitoring movement of terrorist groups, gathering intelligence on illegal weapons shipments etc. Communications satellites help network all the military assets to proper command and control structures.

Given the efficiency and sophistication of satellite technology, India also began deploying space assets for national security purposes. Radar Imaging Satellites (RISAT 1 and 2) provide radar images which are not distracted by day/night or weather variability. RISAT-2 was launched in 2009 to remove vulnerabilities in India’s maritime domain awareness as revealed by 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks.

Cartosat satellites are able to provide scene-specific images in visual range with a resolution better than 60 centimetres. They can also capture a one-minute video of the designated areas for planning critical missions such as the recent cross-border surgical strikes. With technological advances, the resolution would be improved to better than 25 centimetres enabling India to detect specific objects and movement of personnel on the ground. India is also planning Geo Imaging Satellite to acquire near real-time images of the entire Indian subcontinent and the Indian Ocean from the geostationary orbit.

In addition to earth observation satellites, India also possesses communications satellites for strategic purposes. The Indian Navy acquired its dedicated communication satellite GSAT-7 in 2013 while GSAT 6 launched in 2015 could provide secure communications for all strategic users. India also placed in orbit its own regional positioning and navigation satellite system that can help military personnel and weapons guide themselves accurately to their targets.

However, India is yet to obtain certain critical space capabilities. Foremost amongst these are early warning sensors to detect and defend against missile attacks. Signals intelligence (communications intelligence + electronic intelligence) should also be a priority area. The regional positioning and navigation satellite system should be strengthened and expanded to cover extended neighbourhood as well as strategically important areas. It has been found that 

timers on one of these satellites have failed which could have a cascading effect on military operations.

India has been planning to setup a space command for which measures are underway to bring up a dedicated cadre for planning and executing military space operations in the future. Still, New Delhi could announce satellites as critical infrastructure. It has deterrence effect on India’s adversaries which are honing their anti-satellite weapons and might be tempted to target national space assets during war. This also requires India to demonstrate certain capabilities to signal to its adversaries that it is willing to respond in kind if deterrence fails.

India is taking dedicated steps to acquire space assets that can safeguard its national security and enable it safeguard global commons as a responsible leading power. Even as the existing capabilities were able to deliver during critical times, there are certain urgent requirements to be fulfilled. A dedicated roadmap could be developed for this purpose in addition to signalling to the adversaries that India is prepared to protect its space assets.

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