India ready with agencies to counter rivals in cyber, space and special operations

File Photo: Indian soldiers from the army, navy, and the air force in formation at the India Gate in New Delhi.

New Delhi: With approvals from the Narendra Modi government, India’s armed forces have begun raising three key agencies that will secure India from inimical attacks on its critical cyber and space assets, apart from one for special operations such as the Surgical Strike carried out by the army in Sep. 2016 deep inside Pakistan territory.

While the Defence Cyber Agency (DCA) will be spearheaded by the Indian Navy, the Defence Space Agency (DSA) will be under the leadership of the Indian Air Force and the Armed Forces Special Operations Division (AFSOD) under the Indian Army. The raising of the three agencies began two years ago. While DCA and DSA are based in New Delhi, AFSOD will be in Agra.

However, all these three critical assets for both defensive and offensive capabilities for the Indian armed forces would be tri-services units, where personnel from the army, navy and air force would be pooled in to achieve jointness in the respective agency’s operations, people familiar with the matter said earlier this week.

The three agencies are a precursor to the end state of having independent tri-services military commands, on the line of the Andaman and Nicobar Command in Port Blair or the Strategic Forces Command in New Delhi, they said, asking not to be named in view of the sensitive nature of the matter.

While the three agencies are looking at a battalion-strength of around 1,000 personnel to initially raise and begin working jointly for a common cause and goal, these would be larger formations when the envisaged end state of optimal capabilities are achieved.

The three agencies, in particular the cyber agency, should become a national asset for both defensive and offensive cyber operations to protect Indian systems from attacks, especially from adversaries such as China.

The cyber agency team is going through training with the National Technical Research Organisation, a spying unit. The current focus of the cyber agency is to create assets for both defensive and offensive capability, the people, mentioned earlier, said.

India should both save its assets as well as neutralise attacks on its assets for which offensive capability is to be developed as a deterrent, they said, without elaborating.

India had last month faced a cyber attack on its nuclear facility in Kudankulam in Tamil Nadu. While India has an Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT), an office within the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, to tackle cyber attacks on civilian assets, the DCA, as the name suggest, is for the armed forces.

The Indian testing of an anti-satellite weapon came earlier this year, over 12 years after China had demonstrated its capabilities in this regard in 2007. This development in the neighbourhood had disturbed the military balance in the Asian continent, with India later focusing on building its space-based military capability. The DSA is an outcome of the concern that India had against the Chinese ASAT capability.

The 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks and the bitter experience of the special forces, both civilian and military, in coordinating their anti-terrorist operations during these crucial 72 hours had led to the realisation of jointness and the consequence of that experience is the AFSOD.

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