Indian Army’s Growing Dependence on Space

Inaugurating the Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS) seminar on the “Indian Military in Space” on June 16, 2008, the Army Chief, General Deepak Kapoor, noted with concern the recent developments in India’s neighbourhood, including China’s ASAT (anti-satellite) test in January 2007, when it had successfully shot down an ageing satellite with a ground-launched missile. The Army Chief said, “The Chinese space programme is expanding at an exponentially rapid pace in both offensive and defensive content… There is an imperative requirement to develop joint structures in the Indian armed forces for synergising employment of space assets.” The seminar was attended by a large number of serving officers and members of the strategic community.

The COAS highlighted the reality that space is an emerging arena for important military applications and is increasingly being recognised as the ultimate military high ground for battlefield dominance. The advent of space-based capabilities has indeed added a fourth dimension to modern warfare. The COAS brought out that amongst the league of space-faring nations, India is an exception whose space programmes have progressed primarily in the civilian domain and that the choice of the subject of the seminar, “Indian Military and Space” rightly symbolises and highlights the Indian Army’s commitment towards giving space-based military applications their due importance. The COAS underlined that the Chinese space programme evolving at an extremely rapid pace with both offensive and defensive content. A nation which has dominance in space will have an asymmetric advantage over others, as space-based applications are ideally suited to compliment and optimise defence capabilities in future conflicts. The COAS commended ISRO for having achieved a robust and mature capability in peaceful space applications, ground operations and launch systems and remarked that we now need to build on these capabilities for military use of space. He stressed the need to evolve the Army’s agenda for exploitation of space as the modernisation programme takes shape.

Delivering the Keynote Address, Lt Gen H S Lidder, CISC, HQ Integrated Defence Staff, highlighted that space has emerged as a separate medium in addition to land, sea and air, with which national defence can be prosecuted better. He brought out the urgent need to enhance awareness amongst officers of the three Services regarding specific space issues and said that utilising space is a tri-Service requirement. Moreover, since space capabilities come at a huge cost and require highly trained manpower, there is a need to set up tri-Service organisations for different functions at various levels with tri-Service Space Command as the apex organisation.

In Session I, Dr. Amitav Mallik, ex-Director DRDO Laser Laboratory, spoke on “Military Applications of Space with special reference to US Capabilities”. He  brought out that recent technological advances and increasing integration of outer space capabilities in security and war-fighting doctrines have changed the nature of warfare leveraging space superiority and the following statistics justify this reality: today there are over 800 Satellites in low earth orbit (LEO) with over 80 per cent operated by the US; in addition, the US, Russia and China have proven Laser ASAT capabilities; R&D on ASAT capabilities is being conducted in 15 other countries including India, Israel, France, Germany, Japan and Canada. He underlined Advanced Tactical Laser (ATL) as a key application which is an innovative concept for airborne ultra-precision strike missions. Operated from ground, sea or airborne platform, ATL offers the ability to place precisely calibrated energy (100-300 KW) on a target, for dwell times of up to 5 seconds, as required for typical Cruise Missile Defence.

In Dr. Mallik’s view, the US policy push for space control includes: the US Joint Vision 2010, which postulated space power being increasingly leveraged to close the widening gap between diminishing resources and increasing military commitments and crucially to gain “full spectrum dominance” by 2010; the inclusion of kinetic energy (KE) and directed energy (DE) weapons that would prove to be essential for Missile Defence to which the US is committed with US BMD Programme receiving $ 8 billion/year; in addition, USAF is seeking $ 30 billion for a project to launch 30 space-based Lasers by 2012; and, the US aspiration to retain “sole superpower in space” status and plans to deploy missile defence and US policy of “full spectrum dominance” as a means to achieve the above objectives.

China’s capabilities are crucial for India vis-à-vis the arms race in outer space. In January 2007, China tested an anti-satellite weapon against its own ageing weather satellite orbiting at 500 miles (850km) above the earth, thereby outlining two main concerns: vulnerability of space assets is a matter of increasing concern to US and other space faring nations; emphasis has now shifted from using outer space to help stabilise deterrence. The Indian defence and security planning process must awaken to these changes not only to preserve national interests in outer space, but also to leverage outer space technology to play its rightful role in military doctrine. All in all, information superiority is needed for mission capability and this reality needs to be addressed at the earliest.
Dr. Geeta Varadan, Programme Director, Special Projects, ISRO, gave an overview of “ISRO’s Capabilities and Future Programmes”. She identified four stages of evolution in Indian space: 1960s till 1970s – Initiation Phase, including scientific quest, capability build-up and international cooperation; 1980s – Experimental Phase, including experimental missions, end-to-end capability and proto-typing; 1990s – Operational Phase witnessed operational missions, wide user base and national services; and beyond 2000 – Expansion Phase, including consolidation, innovative missions, newer services and mechanisms for partnerships, global outreach and commercial solutions. Specific achievements of ISRO include: during a span of 50 years, 26 launches were carried out from India; 50 Indian spacecraft missions, two satellite constellations were presented; remote sensing satellites with high resolution imaging and multiple payloads; the usage of GEOSAT applications in broadcasting services such as television broadcasting, direct to home (DTH) and TV and radio networking, communication applications such as speech circuits, trunk routes, and VSAT connectivity; applications in the meteorological field such as meteorological imaging, data collection platform and disaster warning; and, satellite aided search and rescue systems.

Dr. Varadan provided a detailed account of various ISRO launchers such as SLV-3, ASLV, PSLV and GSLV and of Space Capsule Recovery Experiment in providing a platform for micro-gravity experiments in space and demonstration of technology for recovery of space capsule. The future endeavours of ISRO were highlighted including: India’s first Lunar Mission, Chandrayaan-1; Indian Deep Space Network and Communication Satellites such as the GSAT-4 and GSAT-5; Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System IRNSS, GSLV-Mk III designed to launch 4 tonne class satellites in geosynchronous orbit and a large ground segment, 3 satellites in GEO and four in GSO; these would have continuous visibility with Indian control stations with coverage of 1500 km and beyond with the first satellite expected by June 2009, the system would be fully operational by 2012; and, remote sensing satellites with sub-metre multi-spectral imaging capabilities, imaging-on-demand facilities, high agility and intelligence re-configurability.

In session II, Brig Abhay Kumar, Commandant, DIPAC, spoke on “Military Applications of Space including Usage in Recent Conflicts”. He brought out that space systems consist mainly of three segments: the space segment containing satellites; the ground segment that controls the system operations; and, the electromagnetic links that connect the space segment to the ground segment. Military Application of Satellites include the usage of satellite images to: understand enemy activity; plan attack strategies; support covert ground reconnaissance; find enemy sites producing nuclear, chemical and biological weapons; monitor the flanks of deployed troops; watch the shorelines; and, lookout for terrorists and locate the sources of intercepted signals.

Military applications of space include: intelligence preparation of the battlefield (IPB); obtaining information superiority; conduct of precision strikes; and bridging the deficiencies in response times, surveillance and target acquisition, navigation and weapon guidance, command, control and communications, logistics and troop movement. During conflicts, satellites usage includes: IMINT satellites for target acquisition; meteorological satellites (Metsat) for weather forecasting; GPS satellites for target location; communication of target, weather data and strike decision to and from HQ to launch sites (SATCOM); operational planning; operational and logistical movements; command and control; navigation and guidance of munitions, missiles & aircrafts; and, battle damage assessment or BDA.

Control of space by the military gives a nation dominance over: global communications, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, navigation, weather monitoring and missile warnings. This was amply clear from the bandwidth utilisation in the following conflicts: Op Allied Force (Yugoslavia, 1999) used twice the bandwidth used in Op Desert Storm (Iraq, 1991), Op Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan, 2001) used seven times as much and Op Iraqi Freedom (2003) used 42 times as much.

Brig V M Kalia, DDG (Technology and Weapon Systems), Perspective Planning Directorate, focussed on the “Evolution of Space Applications in the Indian Army”. He said that the US is the current leader in space competitiveness with Russian space power being resurgent and China emerging gradually as a major space power. As many as 14 countries operate dedicated or dual-use military satellites with 292 such satellites in space. Most of these are owned by the US. India is poised to be a major player in space and is already a global leader in remote sensing. The first initiative for satellite imageries in India was taken by the National Remote Sensing Agency (NRSA) when SARPAD, a tri-Services organisation was established at Delhi in 1987.

The Indian Army’s concept of exploiting space is to: enable exploration of space-based capabilities to optimise operations at tactical and strategic levels; integrate C4I2SR systems with weapons platforms through space assets that would facilitate battle field transparency and informed decision making through “Network Centric Warfare”; and, enhance communications by linking remote areas through point-to-point bridges and other networks, connectivity to Indian contingents on various UN missions, satellite overlays for static communication network and logistics nodes.

The Indian Army’s space initiatives so far include: the issue of Army Space Vision 2020; interaction with ISRO to ensure incorporation of Army’s requirements in space-related civilian projects; conducting of courses in conjunction with HQ IDS and space organisations; creation of a pool of officers at Army HQ and Command HQ level to handle space apparatus; enhanced representation in various space-related committees; installation of satellite monitoring software at Command IITs; and, the establishment of Space Cells in Command and Corps HQ.
While delivering the Valedictory Address, the VCOAS brought out that the Indian Army has recently taken various initiatives for the optimum exploitation of space-based applications including the formulation of Army Space Vision and the establishment of the Army Space Cell. The VCOAS accepted that future success of ground forces will be critically dependent upon the effective utilisation of space assets and capabilities across the spectrum of conflict. The advent of space-based systems has added a fourth dimension to modern warfare and it is imperative that the exploitation of space is done concurrently at appropriate levels, so as to achieve the desired operational capabilities in a compressed time frame.

Space has clearly emerged as the ultimate high ground and is now a crucial element in C4I2SR for all three Services. Among the Services, the Indian Army is the largest user of space-based military applications. The general consensus in the seminar was that increasing realisation is needed that military applications must keep pace with civilian advances in space in the Indian context. The ability to harness “space power” will be critical to victory on the future battlefield, especially as information dominance becomes more pervasive in the ensuing evolution of network centric warfare. The time has now come for India to spell out a clear space doctrine and put in place a transparent space policy for military and civilian purposes. 

There is an imperative requirement to develop joint structures for synergising employment of space assets concurrently at the Command /Corps/ Division HQ level. A tri-Service Space Command is now an inescapable operational requirement for persistent surveillance and rapid response in the future, with a specific focus on special areas of space applications, to enhance India’s combat capabilities at strategic, operational and tactical levels. There was broad agreement among the participants that exceedingly high costs, political considerations for international norms and consequences of action-reaction effects by other space-faring and powerful nations are the crucial impediments today to the overt “militarisation of space”. 

(Brig Gurmeet Kanwal (Retd) is Director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS), New Delhi; Dr. Monika Chansoria is Research Fellow, CLAWS.)