Space, War and Security – A Strategy for India
Author: S. Chandrashekar
To read the complete report click here
To cite: S. Chandrashekar. Space, War and Security – A Strategy for India. NIAS Report No. 36-2015. Bangalore: International Strategic and Security Studies Programme, National Institute of Advanced Studies, December 2015.
Q&A with the author, Prof. S. Chandrashekar about the Report
Ever since Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear weapons and conventional war have always been connected. The dawn of the space age through the launch of Sputnik was made possible because of the development of ICBMs. Of course missiles became the preferred delivery system for both nuclear and conventional weapons. Satellites because of their vantage point in space cover large areas on the ground. Military interests for both offence and defence have always wanted to control the high ground. Space is no exception to this desire. Space assets have always played a major role in the war strategies of major space powers.
If this were so space would have always been a contested ground. However international concerns about the weaponization of space seem to have more recent origins. What has changed in the world space order for these renewed emerging concerns?
The Cold war Period of the space age saw the emergence of what can be called the sanctuary regime in space where the desire to preserve stability and the peace limited the military uses of space to what we currently call the ISR functions where information provided by satellites maintained the peace. This also saw an international space order dominated by the USA and the USSR – who established this sanctuary regime – associated with what is even today described as the peaceful uses of outer space.
Reagan’s Star Wars initiative led to a change and conferred greater legitimacy to space weapons – that moved from testing to keeping technology options open – towards possible deployment.
The breakup of the Soviet Union and the first Gulf War which saw large scale use of space assets for both defensive and offensive weapons linked space assets more directly with war. The rise of China and its desire to counter the dominant US position in space has resulted in a number of Chinese led assymetric responses that more directly link space assets with the risks of escalating conventional war to a nuclear war. Through such approaches China hopes to deter US intervention into areas that China perceives as being vital to its national interests such as Taiwan.
This emerging China US dynamic makes the connections between space nuclear weapons and conventional war more direct and immediate. These are the changes that India needs to take into account in formulating a suitable space strategy.
What do you see as the most immediate concern for India as far as these developments are concerned?
Evidence suggests that India did not have any independent way of knowing about the Chinese ASAT test. India’s knowledge about the Yaogan military constellation especially the Chinese ELINT capability does not seem to be based on independent information and knowledge. This gap in Space Situational Awareness is not consistent with Indian aspirations as a potential key player in the current world order. India needs to bridge this gap in space capabilities as quickly as possible.
What should India do in order to improve awareness of what is happening in space?
For civilian space applications countries need to track and monitor the health of satellites. Most active satellites transmit radio signals that can be received on the ground and these can be used to fix the position of the satellite and determine its orbit. However once satellites reach their end of life they may not be able to transmit radio signals on a continuing basis. There are also spent rocket stages and a number of objects put into orbit during the commissioning of a satellite. Military testing of ASAT weapons, other experiments done in the past where particles have been released into space as well as fragments from the explosion of spent rocket stages all create debris. More recently two satellites have collided with each other creating a debris cloud. Indian facilities for tracking transmitting satellites may be adequate. However to track inactive satellites and space debris India needs long range radars, optical and laser tracking facilities located suitably so as to be able to track these objects. These are the facilities that India needs to set up.
Once these are available India would be in a position to monitor the happenings in space. By making sure it knows where the inactive satellites and larger debris objects are located, it can provide routine data to all satellite users including Indian operators on risks associated with possible collisions. It can also monitor the space activities of the major space powers especially on the military aspects of the use of space such as ASAT testing, launchings related to C4ISR functions for the military as well as other satellites used for various civilian and military functions.