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Trends In Space Militarization: Implication For South Asia – OpEd


The military utilization of space is now increasing globally. Many European states, along with China, India and many other countries are committed to acquire space technology including dual-use satellites and military satellites.

Space technology is significant for scientific, commercial, surveillance, technical, navigational and economic activities. The human desire to voyage into the space began with the invention of rockets. As the Second World War ended, the US and the Soviet Union took great benefits from the German V2 rocket system and developed the V-2 rocket technology into their indigenous space programs, which initiated the world’s first space race between the two superpowers; the US and USSR. Both started their programs for prestige and security, and continued their efforts to create hegemony at the high frontier.

Similarly, China started its program for the social and scientific purposes; but with the limited military application of its satellites. The space exploration also inspired India and Pakistan to pursue their space program for military, socio-economic and commercial benefits.

The present global trends in the militarization of outer space highlight the importance of outer space for military purposes. Since the end of Cold War, the US reliance on space program and satellites has increased with the aim to fulfill its military and commercial objectives. Sophisticated space assets of the US have raised genuine concerns of other states including Russia and China.

Additionally, many countries are enhancing cooperation with each other in space science but doubts related to the ‘dual use’ of the space technology cannot be ignored. Many security analysts believed that with the occurrence of militarization of space, the states may follow the policy of “space weaponization” which will cast a negative impact on deterrence and peace.

On June 18, 2018, President Donald Trump announced the establishment of a new branch of the US military named as “Space Force”. However, this objective of establishing Space Force and deploying weapons in space has instigated the fear arms race in the outer space. According to the analysts it will lead to a never ending arms proliferation in space and will initiate a global arms race among global as well as regional competitors including nuclear neighbors, India and Pakistan.

Trends in India’s Space Program

The preliminary Indian space program was only meant for social and economic development of the country. The Indian space program got most of the technical expertise from NASA and France. In the beginning, the program resulted in the initiation of the national satellite for television, social development and remote sensing, and there were hardly any inclination toward employing it for the military purposes or to launch a military space program. However, with the passage of time, its space rationale has evolved, which led it to make its communication satellites for military reconnaissance.

Additionally, India’s missile program demonstrates strong link between missile technology and its space program. India’s missile programs as well as its ICBM and BMD capabilities are based on space launch vehicle technology acquired from the US and Russia. Space launch vehicle technology is dual used which is actually employed for peaceful scientific developments in space.

This factor illustrates that under the umbrella of peaceful co-operation in space technology for commercial benefits, the major powers including US, Germany, France, UK and Russia have played key role in supporting the development of advance nuclear missile program in South Asia, which has direct implications on the regional security.

Currently, the Indian BMD system, and its planning to install ABM system in South Asia has become a serious challenge for the security of other countries in the region. India has its own satellite launching system, and it is cooperating at the international level. The recent launch of Agni-V by India is an evidence of its ICBM capability. Similarly, the granting of Strategic Trade Authorization-1 (STA-1) status to India by the US will pave the way for India to acquire dual used space technology.

Pakistan’s Space Program and its objectives

Establishment of SUPARCO was the first step toward the exploration of space by Pakistan. Initially, SUPARCO dealt in R & D, to diversify its space program in the fields of space technology, space exploration, and its associated technologies. It focused on gaining knowledge in multidisciplinary remote sensing/ Geographic Information System (GIS), which seems to have very less military application.

Pakistan space program was never meant for military purposes, as is evident from its lack of associated technologies and financial resources to acquire space technology for military purposes. In July 2018, Pakistan achieved a milestone in the field of space technology by launching PRSS-1 and Technology Evaluation Satellite-1A (PakTES-1A) with the cooperation of China. According to the foreign office of Pakistan, these satellites will help the country to fulfill its socio-economic needs.

The launch of these satellites has also paved the way to further strengthen the co-operation between Pakistan and China in the space technology.

Implications for South Asia

Currently, ambition of India’s space program is to establish reconnaissance, communication, and surveillance satellite system in the outer space, while the objective of space program of Pakistan is to gain economic development and scientific achievements. Therefore, India’s mission for space militarization and weaponization will pose serious implications on the security and deterrence stability. It is due to a number of factors such as historical rivalry, growing arms race and fragile strategic stability, that South Asia has always remained a precarious region.

In this regard, India’s quest for space militarization has the ability to trigger an unnecessary arms race between nuclear neighbors, while aggravating the fragility of strategic stability in South Asia.

*Asma Khalid is currently working as Research Associate at Strategic Vision Institute and can be reached at [email protected]

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