Here comes Rukmini, Indias first military satellite

Written by Huma Siddiqui | Updated: Sep 16 2013, 07:44am hrs
If you have seen Syriana, the 2005 geopolitical thriller film on petroleum politics and the global influence of the oil industry, or Black Hawk Down, a 2001 American war film in which elite US soldiers drop into Somalia to capture two top lieutenants of a renegade warlord and find themselves in a desperate battle with a large force of heavily-armed Somalisyoull recall the strategic importance of satellites in the US military operations. And, who can forget their important role when on March 19, 2003, US President George Bush and UK Prime Minister Tony Blair sent coalition armies, air forces and navies to liberate Iraq. Guided by GPS space satellites thousands of miles overhead, cruise missiles opened the war with a jaw-dropping attack from warships in the Red Sea and Persian Gulf, while stealth fighters dropped precision bombs, also guided by GPS satellites.

Around 300 dedicated or dual-use military satellites are orbiting around the earth, with the US owning 50% of them, followed by Russia and China. Indias maiden dedicated defence satellite Rukmini was launched by an European rocket recently, giving a boost to the Indian Navys modernisation push to improve space-based communications and intelligence gathering over a wide oceanic region including the countrys landmass and tracking the movements of the enemy across our borders.

Conversely, each of the ships in the naval fleet would have a comprehensive digital map to locate the ships and communication between naval ships is facilitated by this satellite. Similarly, the Indian Army will get vital inputs about stealthy movements over the land too and enhance the ability of our armed forces for a swift attack. It has greater potential of integrating the warships, submarines and aircraft through a highly encrypted data network.

With this launch, India has joined the club of the top five countriesUS, Britain, Russia, China and Francewhich have a satellite customised for defence communication. Custom-made for the Navy by the Indian Space Research Organisation, the advanced multi-band GSAT-7 is the most advanced communication satellite capable of providing a wide range of service spectrum from low bit rate voice to high bit rate data communication. Designed to modernise communications among naval ships as well as intelligence survey, Rukmini will also help the Navy keep a hawk-eye over both Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal. From Persian Gulf to Malacca Strait, it will help cover almost 70% of the Indian Ocean region (IOR) where China is increasingly expanding its strategic footprint, as well as on troop movements, missile silos, military installations and airbases across land borders, an ISRO official informs.

Expected to be operational by September-end, the countrys first exclusive satellite for military applications, would give a major push to the maritime security. The over-the-sea use 2,625-kg Rukmini satellite, with UHF, S, Ku and C-band transponders, is to be followed by GSAT-7A with the Indian Air Force and Army sharing its over-the-land use bandwidth. The Navy has been pushing for such a satellite for close to a decade now to shorten its sensor-to-shooter loopthe ability to swiftly detect and tackle a threatbut the delay in the indigenous GSLV rocket to carry satellites and other factors have been the stumbling blocks.

With GSAT-7 which would give it an integrated platform, the Navy would be able to overcome the limitation from line of sight and ionospheric effects, among others, that it currently faced as far as space-based communications were concerned. ISRO does not officially admit GSAT-7 as a naval satellite, but navy officials confirmed it as being the first naval platform in space. The satellite is meant to link up various naval warships and submarines pushing the navy closer to network centric operations.

Earlier, satellite communication was through Inmarsat satellite of UK-based Global Mobile Satellite Service Company. India, of course, has been a lateand somewhat reluctantentrant into the military space arena despite having a robust civilian programme for decades. Without dedicated satellites of their own, the armed forces were relegated to using dual-use Cartosat satellites or the Technology Experimental Satellite launched in 2001, apart from leasing foreign satellite transponders for surveillance, navigation and communication purposes.