Readying Up the Fourth Dimension, Quietly: A Status Report
Lt Gen (Dr) V K Saxena (Retd), PVSM, AVSM, VSM, Distinguished Fellow, VIF

Last year in April and June respectively, it was reported in the media that the Government has taken two important decisions related to space domain. If this is true, the same will have far reaching strategic importance for the nation.

This article flags the importance of the above decisions and follows the trail of activities in the aftermath of the same. In doing that, it brings the reader up to date on the current status and presents some reflections for the future.

Revisiting the Twin Decisions

Defence Space Agency (DSA)

Open sources reported that the NDA Government in April 2019 has given approval to set up the DSA. The DSA is to amalgamate the two erstwhile agencies dealing directly or indirectly with space based military capabilities. These agencies are Defence Imagery Processing and Analysis Centre (DIPAC) located at Delhi and Defence Satellite Control Centre (SCC) located at Bhopal1.

The DSA could possibly have a mandate to develop capabilities to protect India’s interests in outer space and build adequate deterrence structures and capabilities that may dissuade threats to our space-based assets. As reported, the DSA is also to set up a Defence Space Research Organisation (DSRO).

It was reported that the DSRO is to be headed by a senior defence scientist who will lead a larger team of scientists to carry out R&D activities related to building systems and tools for protecting our assets and interest in space from external threats.2

If the above two decisions take shape as reported, it will have a far-reaching impact. Some points:-

  1. Till date, our space endeavours have moved along three identifiable verticals. One - efforts to harness space technology to drive many a facets of national development (communications, navigation, remote sensing, warning and control systems, education, agriculture, digital economy, oil exploration, defence and more) . Two- pursuing pure space science R&D for planetary exploration for India (Chandrayan, Mangalyaan, Aditya…). Three - providing launch facilities to other countries.
  2. In the above matrix, the aspect of building capabilities in space to specifically guard against threats was not specifically mentioned. This will probably change in the light of the decisions on DSA and DSRO.
  3. Also, in the current set up the DIPAC provided imagery processing and analysis support and the SCC provided control functions related to defence satellites; all these were stand alone verticals coming together on need based assignments. These activities will probably be now controlled by the DSA.
  4. It may be relevant to highlight here very briefly, certain details reported in the media about Chinese space activities:-
    1. China tested an anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons way back on 11 January 2007.
    2. Reported development of direct ascent satellite kill missiles, co-orbital kill satellites and non-kinetic laser and Electro- Magnetic Pulse (EMP) based ASAT weapons.
    3. Professing a doctrine that calls for destroying/ damaging/interfering with enemy’s reconnaissance and communication satellites and blinding other satellites.
  5. The above should be seen in the context of our steady growth (read vulnerability) in value and importance of our space-based assets (as of 2017) the value of India’s space programme was valued more than 2.3 billion dollars only counting the assets in orbit. This figure would jump to a whopping 37 billion dollars if ground infrastructure and services are counted3.
  6. It is for ensuring the safety and security of these assets against a possible threat from the adversary that a body such as the DSA was the felt need.

  7. Also by creating the DSRO as a separate entity, it has been ensured that research activities are separated from security functions. In that, while the DSA is to deal with the space threats per se, DSRO is entrusted with the task taking up R&D to develop suitable capabilities to be placed in the hands of DSA to perform its assigned task4.
  8. It is hoped that over a period of time, the National Space Doctrine would get formulated. This indeed will be a strategic level document that will address macro issues. In the sense of the author, some of these issues could be as under:-
    1. India’s national interests in space.
    2. Strategic relationship of India with other space-faring nations.
    3. Guidelines to build defensive and offensive capabilities to protect our assets in space.
    4. The thrust of R&D activities in launch vehicles, satellites, ASAT weapons and more.
    5. Position on international treaties related space aspects.
    6. Institutional arrangements for budgetary support.
    7. Space education – way to go.

Developments in the Aftermath of the Decisions

New Opportunities for Private Sector

Nearly a year after the reported decision on DSA and DSRO, a major change in policy was announced by the Govt. Some details5:-

  1. It was reported in the media that the Govt. on 24 June 2020 approved a number of reforms that were aimed to boost the participation of private sector in the entire range of space activities.
  2. The Govt. set up an organization called Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Center (IN-SPACe) which is tasked to facilitate, hand-hold, promote, encourage and guide the Indian private sector industries to partake in the entirespectrum of space related activities6.
  3. In addition to IN-SPACe, the Govt. also created a public sector enterprise called New Space India Limited7 which will act like a commercial arm of ISRO and try to convert the supply driven model of space activities to a demand-driven one where huge revenues will get generated in executing space-work demands of multiple players8.
  4. In doing the above the Govt. probably eyes to boost the Indian Space economy internationally, currently pegged at 7 billion USD which is only about 2% of the world space economy9.
  5. In the above context it was nice to hear the news about an Indian Space start-up Agnikul Cosmos signing a deal on 01 October 2020 with Alaska Aerospace USA, to test launch its ‘Agniban rocket’ from the company’s Pacific Spaceport complex Alaska US.10
  6. ISRO Chairman announced sometime in Aug 2020 that a Space Activity Bill which was under preparation for some time is going to be finalized shortly. It will be recalled that ISRO had sought comments from the stakeholders on the Draft Space Activity Bill - 2017 sometime in Nov 201711.
  7. IN-SPACe is likely to address several issues. These may include ensuring a level playing field, ease of entry by private players, processing and approval of their requests for participation in projects, R&D investments of ISRO in private sector, rules regarding procurement by ISRO through spacestart-ups12 … the list can go on .
  8. It was recently announced in the open media that initial details of India’s Space Policy 2020 have also started to emerge. That such a policy will provide answers to many of the above points, is the hope.

Suffice to say, the Govt. has reportedly taken a big policy step, it is for the stakeholders (ISRO, DoS, Private industry and more) to make it happen.

This is as far as the historic changes go in the aftermath of the establishment of DSA and DSRO in the year gone by.

What about the core functions of the DSA and DSRO of building capabilities to deter or delete the threats to our critical assets in space?

Here is a brief rundown of important activities.

  1. IndSpaceEx
  2. It was reported in the media that a simulated space warfare exercise codenamed IndSpaceEx was conducted in Jun 201913

    This event conducted as a table-top wargame by HQ IDS on 11 June 2019, and brought together various stakeholders (military, scientific community, civil hierarchy.) ona single platform.

  3. One more thrust area of development has been to enable the forces to use the space capabilities in furtherance of their operations through satellite/space-based enablement like remote-sensing, navigation, imagery, space based sensors and weapons, co-orbital weapons and space-based battle management command and control (BMC2) system.
  4. In terms of the development of space-based weapons, besides the kinetic kill through catastrophic collision as in Mission Shakti, it is the sense of the author that following other possible areas may be under active research ( details not available):-
    1. Directed energy weapons (charged particle beams, high power microwaves etc).
    2. EMP pulse based weapons.
    3. Laser kill weapons based in space.
    4. Co-orbital killers.

ISRO Support to Defence Forces

ISRO has stood with the armed forces in a rock-like support. A journey of this enablement is covered briefly.

  1. The baby steps in the ISRO’s support to the armed forces were taken way back in the seventies, when Services started to request for basic sensing and imaging support as a spin off from the ISRO’s satellites launched for multiple civilian uses.
  2. One of the major gains from this spin off happened when Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, the then Project director of Satellite Launch Vehicle -3 ( SLV-3) programme brought with him the solid fuel technology ashe donned the hat of the Project Director Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP). The successes of IGMDP were for the whole world to see – Prithvi, Agni, Akash….
  3. As ISRO embarked upon its INSAT series (1A, 1B,1C, ID) of multi-purpose geostationary satellites and achieved the distinction of building the largest domestic communication satellite series in the entire Asia Pacific, the services of telecommunication (TELCOM), broadcasting, MET and remote sensing services started to get selectively provided to the forces on as required basis.
  4. This support increased with the launch of the series of 11 Remote sensing satellites (IRS) making it the largest constellation of RS satellites in the whole world.
  5. It was on August 13 when the ISRO launched geostationary satellite (GSAT) -7 also called INSAT 4F or Rukmini, dedicated to meeting the communication and surveillance needs of the Indian Navy. This multiband military communication satellite provide real-time communication and networking between fleet-at-sea, aerial systems, sub-surface vessels and shore-based assets. Only an year into its launch, GSAT 7 in the then conducted naval exercise TROPEX in 2014, networked some 60 ships and 75 aircrafts across 2000 nautical miles14; incredible indeed! Its successor GSAT 7 R with more advanced networking capabilities is likely to be launched by year end15.
  6. Post GSAT7, another service-specific advanced military communication satellite GSAT 7A was launched for the Indian Air Force (IAF) on 19 December 2018. The satellite also provides some 30% of its capability for theuse of Indian Army. For the IAF, it links its airborne sensors with ground radar stations on multiple air bases providing Air Force network (AF Net) on which rides the Integrated Air Command and Control System (IACCS). For the Army, GSAT 7A enables real-time network communication enabling aviation operations and unmanned operations.
  7. Before GSAT7A, another satellite (GSAT 6) was placed in orbit in August 2015. Besides applicability across multiple digital platforms, the satellite also has uses in surveillance, communication, observation, positioning for defence forces. Its 6 m antenna produces 5 spot beams covering the Indian mainland with sub-meter accuracy.
  8. In February 2017 a new era of high precision imaging dawned with the commencement of the launch of cartographic series of satellites (Cartosat 1,2,2A,2B,2C,2D…).For instance Cartosat 2A provided accurate imaging of high precision to armed forces (swath 9.6 Km, accuracy 80cm). In fact Cartosat 2C has the distinction of being the first satellite in the world to hit an accuracy mark of 65 cm.
  9. Continuing the Cartosat legacy, it is reported that Cartosat 3 will achieve new benchmark. This agile satellite equipped with a high resolution panchromaticcameras (high signal-to-noise ratio, high spatial resolution16) will achieve a resolution of 0.25 m!
  10. Other very useful satellites for the armed forces have been the radar Imaging Satellites (RISATs). Their signature feature is their very high resolution X band Synthetic Aperture radar (SAR) providing sub-metric accuracy. RISATS find great use in defence forces for tasks like earth observation, tracking hostile ships, tracking enemy movement etc., besides host of civilian applications like flood/cyclone warning, disaster management and like. RISAT 1 and 2 are already up, two more RISAT members. RISAT-2BR2 and RISAT 1A are planned in the coming months17.
  11. Another capability worthy of note as regards defence forces are Electronic Military Intelligence Satellites (EMISAT) capable of detecting electronic signals on ground, giving vital clues to the hidden enemy radars or communication systems or electronic warfare weaponry. EMISAT is a very powerful tool of collecting electronic intelligence (ELINT) on a global look-see mode. DRDO made EMISAT (Kautilya) is planned for launch in near future18.
  12. Continuing with special-purpose satellites, the Hyper-spectralimaging satellites ( HySIS) already made operational by ISRO will be anideal tool for several specific requirements of the armed forces (like detecting land-mines/IEDs, carrying out coastal surveillance etc.) besides many civilian applications.
  13. Also on cards are geo-imager+geo- mapper satellites called GISATs (1 and 2) slated for launch this year. These satellites based on Cartosat accuracy and resolution will provide the capability of accurate imaging and mapping with high degree accuracy.
Some Reflections

Here are some reflections:-

  1. The reported decisions of the Govt. form DSA and DSRO if true are truly milestone events which will have far-reaching implications.
  2. A fresh new wave of inclusiveness has dawned ever since the space got opened to the private sector. In fact, it has opened the floodgates of new opportunities, new possibilities and new capabilities.
  3. The country has come a long way on the road of providing dedicated satellites to the forces. Thanks to the enviable front-rank status of the ISRO in the world, our armed forces are actually utilising the cutting edge of space technology and space-based capabilities.
  4. Building requisite capabilities in space is imperative considering our ‘huge assets’ and hence ‘huge vulnerabilities’ and keeping in mind that we have a ‘not so friendly’ northern neighbour.
  5. That apart, the combined might of ISRO with a burgeoning private sector is free toembark on new opportunities taking our space economy to the next higher level.
Endnotes
  1. “India to launch a defence-based space research agency,” at www.defencenews.com. Accessed on 25 Sep 20.
  2. ibid.
  3. ‘Creation of a defence space agency :A new Chapter in exploring India’s space security, at www.orfonline.org.Accessed on 26 Sep 20.
  4. “Defence Space Research Agency…” at www.indiatoday.in. Accessed on 26 Sep 20.
  5. “Cabinet approves reforms promoting private sector participation in space,” at www.theweek.in.Accessed on 28 Sep 20.
  6. IN-SPACe structure –ISRO,” at www.isro.gov.in. Accessed on 07 Oct 20.
  7. “Union budget 2019:ISRO to get new commercial arm , NewSpaceindia ltd,” at www.theweek.in. Accessed on 28 Sep 20.
  8. “Unlocking India’s potential in space sector,” at www.isro.gov.in. Accessed on 07 Oct 20.
  9. “New space policy is a momentous step…,” at www.financialexpress.com Accessed on 28 Sep 20.
  10. “Indian space startup Agnikul Cosmos signs deal with Alaska Aerospace for test launch of its Agniban rocker,” at www.swarajyamaag.com. Accessed on 01 Oct 20.
  11. “Seeking comments on Draft Space activity Bill 2017 from the stakeholders/public,” at www.isro.gov.in
  12. “This is how Govt plans to bring together, ISRO, private players to boost India’s private sector,” at www.theprint.in. Accessed on 28 Sep 20.
  13. “India to hold first simulated space warfare exercise next month,” at www.timesofindia.indiatimes.com. Accessed on 29 Sep 20.
  14. “Navy validates massive exercise under country’s first military satellite’s gaze,” at www.timesofindia.indiatimes.com. Accessed on 29 Sep 20.
  15. “ISRO to launch satellite worth 1589 Crs for Indian Navy,” at www.economictimes.indiatimes.com. Accessed on 30 Sep 20.
  16. “Panchromatic,” at www.eos.com .Accessed on 01 Oct 20.
  17. “India makes progress in space-based military capabilities,” at www.defencecaptal.com. Accessed on 01 Oct 20.
  18. Ibid

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>


Image Source: https://www.jagranjosh.com/general-knowledge/isros-space-program-timeline-1562938305-1

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Very encouraging and uplifting article. We have the capability and are literally reaching the sky. I love my India.

 

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