By Atul Kumar
Space is deemed the fourth dimension of military warfare after land, sea, and air, and it has been quickly advancing as the critical sphere for strategic advantage during war and peace.
As of today, no virtual action has ever materialised in space. However, four nations — the United States, Russia, China, and India — have shown the capabilities to militarise outer space.
Last year, with the success of ‘Mission Shakti‘, India has demonstrated its military and technological mastery in the fourth dimension.
Today, militaries around the world are heavily dependent on communication systems, reconnaissance and surveillance gears positioned in space.
Space-borne sensors are strategically vital for military forces due to battlefield transparency that facilitates a better situational awareness and intelligence mechanism in a multi-dimensional warfare scenario.
Countries like the US, Russia and China hold massive digits of space-borne sensors including military communication, electronic intelligence, infrared and electro-optical as well as radar satellites.
Chinese military alone operates dozens of spy class sensors that include Huanjing and Yaogan series satellites.
The Yaogan series fitted with electro-optical digital imaging and high-resolution synthetic aperture radar sensors are the primary space-borne reconnaissance and surveillance assets of People’s Republic of China‘s military.
Set side-by-side, the Indian military had not invested substantially in space-based assets. However, with the sufficient increase in space budget over the years, India has brought in substantial progress in its space-based capabilities.
Indian build-up in Space
After the successful development of indigenous navigation system christened ‘NavIC‘ that is currently accessible to Indian defence forces, India’s elite space research body, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), has been punctiliously working with Defence Research and Development Organisation, academia and industry for the development and launch of new-generation space-borne detectors.
Several hi-tech military communications, electro-optic, ELINT and SAR-based satellites have already been launched by ISRO for the Indian military since 2014. As of 2019, Indian military employs over a dozen space-borne gears to support their airborne, maritime, and land-based operations.
In order to boost armed forces satellite-based communication and network-centric capabilities, ISRO has placed GSAT-7 and GSAT-7A into the near-Earth orbit.
The multi-band GSAT-7 , also known as Rukmini, is the first dedicated military communication satellite primarily utilised by the Indian Navy to expand its blue water span by transmitting precise real-time information among its shore-based systems, surface ships, airborne assets, bases and underwater submarines.
While new-generation GSAT-7A empowers Indian Air Force network centric structure by interlinking its airborne fleet, airbases, radar stations as well as AWACS network.
Besides, it also equips the Indian Army with substantial transmission mechanism for land-based operations. Also, a more powerful GSAT-7R would supplant GSAT-7 by the end of the year.
For surveillance, Indian forces are heavily dependent on CARTOSAT and RISAT series of spacecraft. ISRO has put more than a dozen of these spacecraft into the Earth’s orbit.
Among the nine launched CARTOSAT satellites, the latest third-generation CARTOSAT-3 would be India’s most powerful electro-optical observer in space. This highly agile satellite is equipped with a high-resolution panchromatic payload that would provide Images at 0.25m ground resolution, better than any defence satellite currently operated by the Indian military.
While ISRO’s latest launched RISAT-2BR1 and RISAT-2B radar imaging spy satellites would provide surveillance by using ‘X-band’ Synthetic Aperture Radar. They would supplant the previous RISAT-2 equipped with Israel’s IAI-made X-band SAR sensors.
These space-borne Indian assets would provide 24×7 surveillance to India’s land borders as well as maritime boundaries in all weather conditions. Both space assets operate an Indian-origin X-band SAR for imaging operations, and provide very high-resolution radar images of borders, military installations and hostile vessels in the region.
Furthermore, in the coming months, their capabilities will be enhanced by launching two new RISAT members, RISAT-2BR2 and RISAT-1A. In addition to this, India’s first-ever space-borne ELINT spacecraft, EMISAT, has also been activated by ISRO.
Conceived and designed by Defence Electronics Research Laboratory of DRDO, the 436-kg EMISAT, suited with a pure military ELINT payload named ‘Kautilya‘ operates in the electromagnetic spectrum, would deploy to uncover enemy radar sites and electronic warfare capabilities near borders and coastline.
Altogether, these indigenous space capabilities will significantly improve battlefield transparency for the Indian military, and eventually will benefit Indian weaponry to accomplish critical missions with full precision.
Besides, ISRO has also fielded its new HySIS (Hyper Spectral Imaging Satellites) series of spacecraft. The first of the HySIS series has already become operational. The HySIS, equipped with two infrared sensors (Visible near IR & Shortwave IR), would be used for civilian applications including agriculture, coastal zone monitoring and resources discoveries.
Besides, it would also be accessible to Indian defence forces. New GISAT (Geo Imaging Satellite) class of optical space sensors based on CARTOSAT will also be introduced this year. Collectively, the entire constellation of Indian Low-Earth Orbit satellites will deny any kind of sanctuary to opponent forces anywhere in the region.
As of now, both the US and Russia have their space forces to supervise, maintain and protect their space-borne assets from hostile anti-space threats.
Thanks to ‘Mission Shakti’, New Delhi has also embarked on the groundwork for creating a robust command structure for its space-based operations to obtain a military edge to counter the hostile expansion of Beijing‘s interest in the region.
In 2010, India established a nodal body for its space planning and operations called ‘Integrated Space Cell‘ that is jointly governed by specialists from Indian armed forces, ISRO and DRDO.
In a move to further active its space-based doctrine, last year, New Delhi has also announced the creation of an elite ‘Defence Space Agency‘ under the Integrated Defence Staff Headquarters of the Ministry of Defence.
This Bengaluru-based space warfare agency will supervise and take care of India’s space-based strategic gears. Eventually, further robustness of these national assets would become the foundation of a definitive space command of India.