India’s growing clamour is space and why the country needs a separate Space Force

Published: August 2, 2019 1:14:12 PM

Naturally, it could be in order to debate the rationale for undertaking ASAT and formation of DSA before arguing for the necessity of evolution of new structure to address issues concerning space security.

The far-reaching outcome of this exercise is that ‘a specialist cadre needs to be formed to address issues concerning space warfare.’ (Representational Image)The far-reaching outcome of this exercise is that ‘a specialist cadre needs to be formed to address issues concerning space warfare.’ (Representational Image)

By Dr Ajey Lele

During July 25-26, 2019 India’s newly established Defence Space Agency (DSA, April 2019) conducted a table-top first-ever space war exercise called ‘IndSpaceEx’. As per the media reports along with the serving officers from Army, Air Force, and Navy, scientists from DRDO & Defence Space Research Agency (DSRO) and few other experts had participated in this exercise.

One of the main purpose of this exercise was to evolve strategies which could help to develop a doctrine for space warfare. The broad idea behind this brainstorming for two-days was to work towards preparing the country for future space wars. The far-reaching outcome of this exercise is that ‘a specialist cadre needs to be formed to address issues concerning space warfare.’ This exercise took place at the backdrop of India’s ASAT test and the formation of DSA. Hence, these aspects become a start point for the development of any future space architecture. Naturally, it could be in order to debate the rationale for undertaking ASAT and formation of DSA before arguing for the necessity of evolution of new structure to address issues concerning space security.

India needed to conduct an ASAT test mainly for two reasons: Deterrence and Disarmament. Currently, India has got around 50 operational satellites in space. Obviously, based on the threat assessment, India realized that there could be some danger to these systems and decided to be proactive in this regard. Conduct of ASAT was meant to give a signal about India’s counter-space abilities and particularly Kinetic ASAT was preferred for the purposes of “optics”. On the other hand, the history of non-proliferation negotiations demonstrates that states have an advantage if they have proven technological superiority. Today, ASAT capable India can negotiate from the position of strength in various norms/treaty building processes either at multilateral platforms or at various UN forums. The experience in global negotiations on nuclear weapons shows that the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) is essentially about a group of five nuclear weapons states coming together and deciding the policies for the rest of the world. Essentially, NPT does not allow any state to hold nuclear weapons except the group of five. India realized that on the lines of NPT there exists a possibility that the US, Russia and China could come together and decide on the treaty mechanism favoring them. But, now being an ASAT power, India would not allow these states to dominate during any process of rulemaking for space domain.

Around the period 2008-2010, the Indian government established the Integrated Space Cell (a tri-service agency), mainly for ‘effective exploitation’ of the space capabilities acquired by the country, for military purposes. Although space cell was established during 2008 when the actual demand from armed forces was for a separate Space Command to cater for ever-increasing space requirements for all three services. This demand also got rejected during the 2018/2019 period and by April 2019 the government established the Defence Space Agency (DSA). Actually, DSA is an agency which is in between Space Cell and Space Command (Command could have been led by an Air Marshal level officer, however, DSA is headed by an Air Vice Marshal). Now the question is, ‘should DSA (as a long-term policy) should be entrusted with the responsibility for Space Warfare’?

Before addressing this query, there is a need to have some clarity about two important concepts: The Militarization of Space and Weaponization of Space. The militarization of space amounts to the use of space assets (satellites) for the purposes of reconnaissance (earth observation), communications and navigation. In addition, militaries use satellites for the purposes of gathering meteorological information and for electronic/signals intelligence gathering. Particularly, after the 1991 Gulf War (which demonstrated the military advantages of satellites) various modern militaries in the world are found effectively using satellites for operational purposes. The militarization of Space does not involve the breaking of any globally accepted legal structures. While Weaponization of Space is about intentionally damaging or destroying the space assets of the adversary. India is against the Weaponization of Outer Space. Indian ASAT is about space deterrence and not for pushing space weaponization. At the same time, India is well within its rights to remain prepared for any possibility of space warfare being inflicted on them.

DSA’s mandate, in the long run, should get restricted towards military aspects only. This agency needs to look at the requirements of all the three forces chiefly in the areas of meteorology, reconnaissance, commutations, and navigation. With Indian forces modernizing, the dependence on satellites is also increasing. DSA needs to concrete on various issues which require immediate attention. These issues range from a shortage of satellite systems to compatibility aspects to training. Globally, major powers have their own Space Commands and broadly they address issues only related to the militarisation of space.

Matters related to space security (and warfare) include methods to acquire Space Situational Awareness (SSA), development of Counter-space technologies, Space-based weapons, On-orbit servicing, Debris removal techniques, Space traffic management, and few others. IndSpaceEx has demonstrated that the expanse of space warfare is enormous. If India wants to be a serious player to address various challenges of space security, then it needs to establish its fourth military arm called Indian Space Force.

(The author is Senior Fellow, IDSA, New Delhi. Views expressed are personal)

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