For India, China is considered as a dormant adversary, but it has come a long way since the last shots were fired in hostility during the Indo-China 1962 border conflict.
China has strategically increased its overseas investment to emerging as an influencer in the world dynamics, while maintaining an aggressive stand closer to its borders, like in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait. Closer home, China’s realization of 99 years lease of Hambantota Port in Sri Lanka against the debt money owed to it, is disconcerting for India. In the Space sector, China’s missions have been remarkably successful and have reached a potential to grow as a primary adversary against US Space Command.
Militarization of Space
In a recent article, US-based Theresa Hitchens of Breaking Defense News says “Space warfare shall be extending to the Moon, Mars and beyond in the near future.” In her article she has said that “the space between Earth and Moon is going to be the new ‘high ground’ of warfare on Earth.’’
“Space plays a critical role in today’s daily life and is an essential dimension for every nation’s growth. While the Space-based advanced solutions like PNT (Position, Navigation and Timing) services are key for the economic prosperity of a country, militaries round the world have started exploiting Space for achieving success on Earth,” says Milind Kulshreshtha, C4I expert.
In today’s warfare the land-based assets are highly trackable from space, leaving very less chance of achieving surprise or deception. The latest generation hypersonic missiles are known to achieve their lethality during the re-entry phase and such high kinetic energy weapons falling from the sky are difficult to intercept.
India’s Security Concern
“Any military utilization of Space to safeguard India’s interest shall be an inevitable part of its Space programme. A formal Space Command within the ambit of Chief of Defence Staff shall surely give an impetus to counter regional threat emanating from China’s advancements in Space” opines Kulshreshtha.
According to him, “India requires a proactive security approach; so as to safeguard its Space-based services and assets. Any plans for military usage of Space have to be made much in advance. Each rocket launch is part of a long-drawn engineering design and development challenge as Space missions have a close to zero error margins.”
“The science of achieving a perfect rocket launch, a precise space transit and an accurate operation in Space usually borders the limits of human technology existing in any era. Hence, for Indian Space dreams to catch up with China’s effort, the ever-widening gap between the two in Space technology is required to be narrowed. The government has to create a well-funded research and Space expansion plan for Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO)” the C4I expert observes.
China’s Space Silk Road
China plans to establish the Space Silk Road and has achieved definite advantage over Indian effort in the same field. As early as 2003, it had success with the first manned Space mission, which was followed with a second mission in 2005. In 2008, a three-person crewed space flight also included the maiden spacewalk by a Chinese Taikonaut. A successful Space Station programme in 2011 resulted in the first crewed Space Station docking in 2016 and established the long term Space presence for China.
The US and Russian manned flights earlier have established that the military usefulness of humans operating on Spacecrafts is very low, especially when mostly all the military purposes are effectively achievable by an uncrewed satellite, or, when required, by humanoids.
China tested an anti-satellite (ASAT) weapon in 2007 and in January 2019, Chinese lunar rover was successfully placed on the dark side of the Moon, a technically difficult mission. And has managed to carry out its space activities under the dual-use technology ploy so as to avoid any undue military attention. China is in the process to set up a new space station, a Moon base and undertake multiple missions to Mars.
India’s Space Missions
Defence satellites, like GSAT-7 for the Indian Navy or GSAT-6, have been operational in the Low Earth Orbit and have few dual-purpose satellites like RISAT-2BR1 in an Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) roles. An Integrated Space Cell has been created in 2010, which is operated jointly by the three services, the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and ISRO (India’s Space Research Organisation).
In 2019, India test-fired a missile from Earth to shoot down one of its own satellites, demonstrating a strategic capability in space and this technology now allows it to essentially to ‘blind’ an enemy by destroying its space-based Communication and Surveillance satellites.
Two Lunar missions — Chandrayaan-1 and Chandrayaan-2, have been launched. Mars Mission was successfully launched in 2014.