Defence Space Agency

A few weeks ago there was news of possible formation of a Defence Space Agency (DSA) in India alongside commands for Cyber Security and Special Operations. This was told as an interim arrangement before setting up a full-fledged Cyber, Aerospace and Special Operations Command in the country.[i]

There are quite a few dots to connect in the run up to such a decision. One can probably argue that the idea of space security interests got real traction in India only after the Chinese Anti-Satellite (ASAT) in 2007 after which statements were made that India too can showcase such technology if needed and the requirement for a possible cover to the treat to Indian space assets was in the spotlight.[ii] However, given the real danger of space debris to space exploration and India’s clean record in outer space, any possible technology validation tests in this front has not found any footing.

However, these events possibly sparked a new chain of events of space security interests within the government and led to the creation of the Integrated Space Command in 2010 under the Integrated Defence Staff (technically where the army, navy and air force interests needs to be jointly deliberated) of the Department of Defence.[iii]

From there on in, India has relatively taken a stronger stand of utilisation of outer space for defence of the country. One has to note that India’s stance of utilisation of outer space unlike many other space faring nations has been ‘harness space technology for national development, while pursuing space science research and planetary exploration’ from the space programme in the 60s. [iv]

With the development of the dedicated communications satellites GSAT-7 (2013) for the navy[v] and GSAT-6 (2015) for armed forces[vi] and the Technology Perspective and Capability Roadmap (TPCR) drawn up by the Integrated Defence Staff,[vii] there seems to be a clear intent to utilising space for supporting the security apparatus of the country.

Some of the key questions that will need clarity from policy makers shall be

  1. Will ISRO still play a role in all such space security interests? There will clearly be no interest from ISRO on the ASAT tests. However, will all other programmes possibly be continued to be developed by ISRO or can this opportunity provide much needed impetus to Indian industry to make its way into transform itself to being able to deliver turnkey solutions?
  1. If ISRO continues to deliver all such requirements, there will be a balance that needs to be struck between the civil space vision and the civil space cooperation it has developed with several countries in the past decades against involvement in the defence space. Not to mention that only as recently as 2011 the US has lifted ISRO from embargoes.[viii] How will India manage to tread the thin line of civil and military interests in utilising outer space? Will India’s emergence as a large economic overshadow any international criticism?
  1. What will be the dynamics between Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and ISRO if there all interests mentioned in the TPCR need to be accomplished? There are reports of DRDO interests in launching a full range of military satellites for use by the armed forces.[ix] Will DRDO choose a dedicated development programme or will the policy makers leverage ISRO capabilities to all needs to avoid duplication of capabilities? The fundamental question to be answered here would be that the DRDO missile programme had to be separated with ISRO’s rocket programme for creating a clear division of military and civilian capabilities. Will such a compartmentalisation also happen in satellite development allowing ISRO to focus on science based space exploration?
  1. Can Make in India provide some foundation to such a transformation with possible development an array of space security capabilities such as Automatic Identification of Ships (AIS), frequent revisit imaging in SAR/thermal, Electronic Intelligence (ELINT), etc.?
  1. Can the DSA look to perform roles of organisations such as DARPA, AFRL, NRO in creating next generation capabilities in the country while hand-holding the industry and academia?

In all, the possible creation of a Defence Space Agency in India shall be an interesting move and can create tremendous synergies in leveraging the technological prowess in outer space of the country by the armed forces.

Policy makers have a real task at hand in creating a balancing act between capabilities, funding, participation of industry/academia, external cooperation while respecting the space based needs of the armed forces.

References

[i] Rajat Pandit, “India May Get Three Unified Commands for Special Operations, Battles in Space, on Web,” The Times of India, accessed October 27, 2015, http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/India-may-get-three-unified-commands-for-special-operations-battles-in-space-on-web/articleshow/49399708.cms.

[ii] Brig Vinod Anand, “China’s Evolving ASAT Capabilities: Implications for India,” Vivekananda International Foundation, May 27, 2013, http://www.vifindia.org/article/2013/may/27/china-s-evolving-asat-capabilities-implications-for-india.

[iii] Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan and Arvind K. John, “A New Frontier: Boosting India’s Military Presence in Outer Space,” Observer Research Foundation Occasional Paper 50 (January 2014), http://www.orfonline.org/cms/export/orfonline/modules/occasionalpaper/attachments/occasionalpaper50_1392021965359.pdf.

[iv] “Vision and Mission Statements,” Indian Space Research Organisation, accessed November 5, 2015, http://isro.gov.in/about-isro/vision-and-mission-statements.

[v] “GSAT-7 Launch: Indian Navy Will No Longer Depend on Foreign Satellites,” India Today, accessed November 5, 2015, http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/gsat-7-launch-indian-navy-will-no-longer-depend-on-foreign-satellites/1/304555.html.

[vi] Ajey Lele, “GSAT-6: India’s Second Military Satellite Launched,” Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, August 31, 2015, http://www.idsa.in/idsacomments/GSAT6IndiasSecondMilitarySatelliteLaunched_alele_310815.

[vii] “Technology Perspective And Capability Roadmap (TPCR )” (Headquarters Integrated Defence Staff – Ministry Of Defence, April 2013), http://mod.gov.in/writereaddata/TPCR13.pdf.

[viii] Chidanand Rajghatta, “US Lifts Curbs on ISRO, DRDO,” The Times of India, accessed November 18, 2015, http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/us/US-lifts-curbs-on-ISRO-DRDO/articleshow/7357500.cms.

[ix] Radhakrishna Rao, “Why India Should Deploy Dedicated Defence Satellites?,” Vivekananda International Foundation, accessed November 18, 2015, http://www.vifindia.org/print/1910.