In recent times the world has witnessed how Space Power in dual use can overwhelm its adversaries and can act at a force multiplier for partners. Space domain being the global common is already dominated by an exclusive club of space faring nations.
Those who can brace up in these years shall occupy a respectable place in this club, while others shall be pushed into the proverbial “denial regime”. India has a certain edge being a space faring nation, she however needs to accelerate to catch up with the rapid development taking place around us, specially by her adversaries. Future Wars when fought on the ground shall be enabled and controlled from the space. Space assets therefore would be the prime drivers of security and in dual-use of economic growth.
Since the Peoples Liberation Army crossed the Indian claim lines (Line of Actual Control) in the Eastern Ladakh, the media went ballistic on making news and military assessments through the satellite pictures they would have got from commercial -grade satellites. More recently, Russia-Ukraine War has been in the Information domain due to use of space for surveillance of opposing forces from both sides. The western world led by US putting its military and commercial space assets at the disposal of Ukraine fighters has seen how the outcome of war can tilt in the favour of a smaller nation without putting the boots on ground in direct war effort.
The space sector has rapidly opened up to the private players, led by US, wherein such pictures, with good resolution are available in the open market. Google Professional was a pioneer in making satellite maps and pictures available on commercial terms.
While roughly 8500 satellites may have been sent to space, over 2000 of them are known to be active, others are counted towards near – lifeless or dead and considered as space debris. Those active and orbiting the world in different orbital planes and altitudes are being used for host of purposes- peaceful, experimental and military.
Depending on their purpose, Satellites would be launched having different sizes/weight categories, carrying varying payloads, made to traverse in different orbits and placed at different altitudes. Any country which has matured ballistic missile programme, is also capable of assembling rockets for launch of satellites. Such rockets can deliver satellites depending on the ranges of the missiles developed, over ranges of 200 Kms and up to and beyond 36000 Kms, depending on which orbit the satellite is intended to be placed.
Certain countries use facility of other countries such as India. ISRO prides itself in having the ability of providing launch services not only for their own satellites but also for friendly countries who want to launch satellites but do not have launch facilities.
Vision of ISRO is to harness space technology for national development while perusing Space science research and planetary exploration. India has a well-developed Missile Development Program that has given an edge to India in space launch technology. ISRO has established a world record of launching 104 satellites using a single rocket (PSLV-37) in Feb 2017 including of other countries. Earlier in 2016, it had launched 20 satellites using a single vehicle.
India became the seventh country to launch its own satellite using SLV-3 rocket in July 1980. Currently, India has two operational orbital Launch vehicles, the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) and the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV). With these two vehicles, India has built a capacity of seven launches a year. ISRO has carried out over 100 spacecraft missions and over 80 launches. The PSLV has launched over 52 successful missions. It has also launched around 300 satellites of more than 30 countries. Even though ISRO is largely engaged in peaceful space programmes; satellites can be put to dual-use with ease.
Space for more
There are many peaceful applications such as remote sensing, Weather, Photography, GIS (Geographical Information Services), Positioning services called the PNT (Positioning, Navigation and Time), Communication, Cable/ Dish TV, Tele-medicine and internet services etc. However, Military can use the same satellite platforms for Military Surveillance, Communication, PNT, cyber services etc. Military satellites can help run digital platforms such as IoMT (Internet of Military Things) and for actual Warfighting in the Tactical Battle Area (TBA) defined as the IoBT (Internet of Battle Things). Combination of Missile and space technology, makes a nation a relevant Space and modern Militarily Power.
One of the most important functions for Military satellites is the Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR). Acquiring pictures of the adversaries’ battlefield such as locations of guns, missiles, tanks and even Infantry is most significant part of Military Operations. Similarly, information of adversary’s terrain, military installations and infrastructure is equally important, which is an ongoing process. Such information can be used not only for decision making but also to neutralize or destroy enemy’s military assets through own Missiles, Air and Artillery.
Identification of the equipment and accuracy of their location is utmost important. This depends on the resolution of satellite sensors/transponders that can transmit clear pictures, provide electronic signatures, both day and night and in all weather conditions. Most of high-resolution satellites are Polar Orbit Satellites in the Low/ Medium earth Orbits with array of earth observation sensors mounted on them.
Such satellites are not static, but constantly moving over hemispheres. The host country captures the pictures from their satellites of the desired area of interest, download them to earth stations when passing over them. Since the same satellite continues to travel around the globe over areas that may interest some other countries; such pictures can be traded and downloaded to the desired earth stations and officially accessed. Such arrangements are usually made under formal agreements with countries, agencies or companies who sell idle satellite capacities.
The above process may appear simple, but isn’t. Due to the rotation of the earth, every time the same satellite passes through, it goes over different swath of earth. To obtain the picture of same area again (in case you need to make out the changes), either the satellite is ordered to tilt the camera or if another satellite is passing over that area can be tasked. Making comparison with earlier pictures need a specialist, who by matching Lat-Long grid can draw co-relation and decipher changes. Many times, either the cloud cover can hamper the pass or the target could move away. In such cases a repeat may be required.
Getting a repeat picture of the same area is a challenge, more so, in locating small or mobile targets. Space is an expensive club where high-resolution satellites pictures can be cost prohibitive. China is constantly upgrading China High Resolution Earth Observation System (CHEOS). The cameras are becoming smaller, lighter and of Higher resolution.
With a ten-meter resolution, one can only pick up big objects like terrain, buildings, roads, runways or highways etc. but not tanks or trucks or anything smaller. Typically, a military satellite would need a sub-metric resolution; desirably less than 30 cms to pick up relevant details. Anything higher than one meter can be best used for general applications.
Military Satellites also need PNT (Positioning, Navigation and Time) services. Commercially, such services are available in the world such as the Global positioning System (GPS) of US. Russia’s Global Navigation Satellite System (GLONASS) has now been revamped through restructuring and upgrades. Beidou, PNT satellite of China, has also been recently upgraded to cover the whole world by adding more satellites. This gives China independence from United States’ GPS constellation from Military and commercial applications.
China has also been providing access to Beidou system to its partners and allies, increasingly bringing them into their fold of dependency. India has recently launched indigenous IRNSS (Indian Regional Navigation satellite System) under the operational name NavIC (Navigation with Indian Constellation) comprising seven satellites with two additions of two satellites each.
This system provides regional PNT services which can extend services up to 1500 Kms outside Indian territory. It has a fairly good accuracy of one meter for public and 10 cm for encrypted use. These satellites can be used for navigation of planes, vehicles and infantry patrols as also for accurate targeting. In the forward areas though, such systems would need either cellular or satellite connectivity through base stations.
Satellites used for military application needs to be hardened. Transmission of data has to be reliable and secure for which encryption is necessary. Similarly, for application of Command, Control and smart systems algorithms got to be fully secured. For the purposes of such hardening, China is experimenting with new capabilities after launching first-ever Quantum communications satellite in 2016. Chinese have given Outer Space and Cyberspace a high priority in the strategic competition, designating both as important domains of warfighting.
In 2015 they raised Strategic Support Force (SFF) to manage Military’s Space, Cyber, and Electronic Warfare Missions. Given the growing belligerence of China against India, the Chinese space edge is not only detrimental to India’s space program but also poses challenge to the world in case of a Military confrontation.Strategists in PLA regard that ‘the ability to use space-based systems and deny them to adversaries as being central to enabling modern warfare under the conditions of Informatization’.
PLA Rocket Force which manages the nuclear arsenal, has the jurisdiction over the Anti-Satellite (ASAT) capabilities. It is assessed that Chinese counterspace programs are primarily designed to deter US strikes against China’s space assets and deny superiority to the United States and even attack US satellites.
It is assessed that China has at a time 30-40 satellites watching over the space of any country in the world. Similarly, soon every satellite in any orbit will be at risk from the Chinese ASAT weapons. China is building Co-orbital counterspace capabilities which serve dual-purpose of inspection and on-orbit servicing during peacetime and could attack adversarial satellites during war.
Chinese Military and technical papers often refer to ‘Directed Energy’ as important part of counterspace technology. They have been investing in the Electro-Magnetic (EM) spectrum and EM Pulse weapons for disturbing and attacking the Cyber, Space and Electronic fields both in Civilian and military domain. In 2018 alone, China tested most technologies in the counterspace categories.
US Military spends USD 35 billion every year on space. This amount is twice the NASA’s annual budget. US Military relies heavily on private sector to deliver space solutions. Most Government launches are carried out by SpaceX or the United Launch Alliance. SpaceX is planning to launch a global constellation of 4,425 satellites which will provide a total throughput of 23.70 Terabytes per second – a capability which will be leveraged by the US Military.
Tech to the rescue
Rapid miniaturization and cost efficiency of the civil space sector in the US has been picked up by the US Military. Project Blackjack under DARPA, for instance, envisages the use of multiple constellations launched and operated by the private sector to provide a resilient, persistent and reliable data network for troops and equipment on the ground.
There are rapid technology upgrades in every field of space taking place in the world. India needs to catch up which would not be easy unless ISRO focuses on closing this gap with private players as technology partners. India needs to strategically synergize with incubating technologies through the commercial domain such as startups into the ecosystem to overcome these emerging challenges. Due to these concerns and stiff competition in space, PM Modi, has recently brought in a major policy change in space domain by the introduction of IN-SPACe (Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre). It is a new autonomous body that would facilitate privatization of space on the lines of US.
The new IN-SPACe, will assess the needs and demands of private players, including educational and research institutions and explore ways to accommodate these requirements in consultation with ISRO. This would relieve ISRO from carrying the sole load of India’s space sector, as also would catapult India to becoming a relevant Space Power. In June 22, the PSLV Orbital Experimental Module (POEM) carried six payloads including two from Indian space start-ups — Digantara and Dhruva Space — enabled though IN-SPACe and NewSpace India Limited (NSIL), a demonstration of how privatisation of Indian space is accelerating the growth in the sector.
India has recently raised a Defence Space Agency with the DRDO actively engaged in supporting the sector through Defence Space Project. On 27 March 2019, DRDO tested Anti-Satellite Weapon during an operation code named Mission Shakti. The target of the test was an Indian satellite present in a low Earth orbit, which was hit with a kinetic kill vehicle. The ASAT test utilized a modified anti-ballistic missile interceptor code-named Prithvi Defence Vehicle Mark-II which was developed under Project XSV-1.
The Space now is becoming a rapidly contested global common. Space faring nations are increasingly concerned about securing their space assets. India needs to invest in hardening the satellites to match the challenges posed by Quantum technologies.
The test made India the fourth country after the US, Russia and China to have tested an ASAT weapon. It has been claimed that India does not want to weaponize the space or create harmful debris and therefore is unlikely to carry more tests. India has several medium range and ICBMs that have the capability to deliver a credible payload into the orbit. Indian space is vulnerable to exploitation by the global orbital slots.
The Space now is becoming a rapidly contested global common. Space faring nations are increasingly concerned about securing their space assets. India needs to invest in hardening the satellites to match the challenges posed by Quantum technologies. Space threat detection, Miniaturization of assets and counterspace kinetic and non-kinetic assets are significant steps to keep Indian space secure.
Increasingly Cyberspace and digital platforms are becoming space dependent and controlled. The Industrial Platforms and Military machines are turning digital and would run on AI engines, making military 4.0 compatible with the Industry. The Indian Defence Expo 2020 was rightly based on Digital theme. As development in space and cyber domains grow, we are headed to C5-I2-STAR2 cluster that brings Command, Control, Communication, Computer and Cyber in single domain as also brings Target Acquisition and Robotics as part of the same cluster as the I2SR.
The world space programs are growing at a very rapid rate and space is likely to get congested leaving no scope for the laggards to catch up. Space shall soon become an exclusive club and those who miss the slots in an earlier timeframe may face denial of slots later. Military and Industry have to find a co-relation, wherein Military must lead the industry by half a notch and prepare Military 4.5 programmes for industry 4.0 to pull and keep up with future Military needs. In the Military domain, Space and Cyber systems are clearly emerging as a leader. Indigenous Industry must invest in these domains to keep India ahead in the race.