Space Edge in India’s National Security

For maximisation of national security, a nation must be able to effectively utilise various domains of national security such as land, air, ocean, cyber and space (Paleri, 2010). Nation’s ability to operate in all these domains contribute to safeguarding the nation from various external and internal challenges. While land and airspace are being used by almost all nation-states. Maritime domain remains alluding for landlocked nations. Even for nations with a coastline, maritime offensive and defensive capabilities are varying. Similar is the case for cyber capabilities. Space remains for select nations who have developed capabilities to utilise spatial advantage.

Space acts as an integrator and aid for different terrains such as land air and ocean where most of the hard powerplay takes place in a conventional paradigm. In a connected world, land-based, aerial and surface maritime warfare systems are heavily dependent on space for communication and precision of their offensive and defensive capabilities. 

Intelligence agencies utilise special applications for suspicious movements, target identification, monitoring and geospatial intelligence. Geospatial intelligence provides a critical edge in national defence and pre-emption. It was satellite imagery of Pokhran that was used to monitor India’s nuclear test site and related movement in 1999 by the USA. India’s camouflage tactics and space expertise helped India evade eyes of geospatial analysts in the US.

Beginning of Space Race in the era of the Cold War

Spatial development has been largely attributed to the Cold War between the USA and USSR. From Sputnik to Apollo 11 and till space shuttle program, Cold War rivalry between these two diametrically opposite nations propelled rockets in the space. With very little room to fight in conventional terrains, these ideologically opposite nations chose space to showcase their power and technological superiority. Interestingly, space was also a terrain of cooperation for these rivals on projects like International Space Station (ISS). 

Competition and cooperation led to advancement in spatial technology. Eventually, space evolved into a domain of warfare with advancements in Anti-Satellite weapons systems. Today countries recognise space as terrain of warfare with few countries moving towards forming an independent space command as a separate military unit like navy, air force.

Space assets such as satellites are critical components of communication infrastructure and are fundamental in keeping nations, corporations and individual lives running smoothly.  Television broadcast, app-based transportation services or navigation systems for defence forces such as NAVIC (Navigation with Indian Constellation) all are space-dependent systems. 

These space assets, which provides strategic and tactical edge can be targeted by an adversary in wartime to cripple the critical military communication infrastructure of the defence forces. A rocket that can launch a satellite can also be configured to destroy a satellite in space. Direct Kinetic Weapons (ASAT, Direct & Co-orbital), Direct Energy Weapons (laser weapons), Electronic Warfare systems and Cyberweapons are already part of armaments of major military powers to destroy or limit war-fighting capabilities of an adversary.

China tested Anti Satellite capabilities in 2007 by destroying its weather satellite—the ‘FY-1C polar orbit satellite’ at an altitude of 865 kilometres. Along with China, the USA and Russia can destroy satellites in space. The United States can use Electronic Warfare systems for jamming of navigation systems. India demonstrated offensive ASAT capability in 2019 under Mission Shakti by destroying a low earth orbit satellite at an altitude of 283 kilometres.

Role of space is crucial in conventional national security paradigm. Furthermore, space has application for internal security, disaster management and in the delivery of governance for the people. Accuracy of Indian space system has saved thousands of lives in a situation like Cyclonic Fani.

In India’s most difficult war – Kargil, the nation was denied vital GPS data. It was an eye-opener for India. It led to development of its own navigation system.

Considering India’s security threats – terrorism, unconventional threats, difficult geography and need for a swift and precise response in a very short time makes space technology crucial assets for national security. Effectiveness of India’s space system has been proven in recent times in various precision surgical strikes conducted by India without losing a single soldier in such operations. Geospatial intelligence has played a major role in India’s Air Strike in Balakot to eliminate terrorist camps in Pakistan. India’s space advantage will help in saving the precious lives of our soldiers. For that, we must acknowledge the role of Indian space technology and our scientists in safeguarding the nation.

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