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India Gaining In Space – OpEd


Space is emerging out to be an important arena for future military operations. India’s pursuit of space militarization and subsequent weaponization will trigger an expensive and unnecessary arms race in South Asia, exacerbating the fragility of the strategic stability. The growing dependence of militaries on outer space assets for communication and operational tasks make them more valuable. Sooner-than-later, space will become a decisive factor and force multiplier in military operations against adversaries. The militarization of outer space occurred decades ago when military satellites began to be deployed for surveillance, communication and navigation. U.S’ operations in Kosovo in 1990s and Iraq 2003 war increased the significance of space power. But today the unsteadiness throughout the world depicts many states urging for acquiring space capabilities for strategic purposes.

There is a subtle difference between space militarization and space weaponization. The militarization of space essentially occurs by using various space assets for information gathering or helping the military to undertake land, air, and sea battles. On the other hand, the weaponization of space signifies getting into the act of destruction of space assets or ground assets of adversary states from the outer space.

Recently, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) launched the GSAT-7A military satellite into orbit on a Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV). GSAT-7A is ISRO’s 35th communications satellite built exclusively for the Indian Air Force (IAF) and the Indian Army. The satellite will expand the communication capabilities of the IAF in different ways. Primarily, it will allow cross-connectivity between different ground radar stations, airbases and Airborne early warning and control (AWACS) aircraft. Moreover, it is assured that it will not only interlink all airbases, but also boost drone operations in the Indian maritime operations and switch to satellite-controlled Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), that offer better range and endurance.

India is developing its dedicated military satellites for Command, Control, Communications, Computer, Intelligence, Information, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (C4I2SR) capabilities. Currently, India has thirteen military dedicated satellites. The launch of India’s TES in 2001, CARTOSAT-1A in 2008, CARTOSAT-2B in 2010, RISAT-2 in 2009, RISAT-1 in 2012 and GSAT-7 in 2013 are significant steps toward military dedicated space system. These satellites would enhance India’s C4I2SR capabilities. After establishing these indigenous and independent system, India would pursue its Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) program and Antisatellite (ASAT) capabilities more vigorously.

This rapid technological advancement of India backed by the West is threatening for Pakistan and China. Non-proliferation measures have already been affected badly due to Indo-U.S. nuclear deals and space militarization leading to space weaponization will end up in strategic instability in South Asia. Initially, the Indian space program achieved goals in the civil space program for economic purposes, but it is drifting gradually toward militarization. Moreover, Indian became member of export cartels; Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) and Wassenar Arrangement (WA). This will help India in getting an easy access to sensitive space and satellite technologies from the West. Since 2008, India is already enjoying a special status because of Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) waiver granted by the U.S. The exceptional treatment towards Indian membership by the U.S. is challenging credibility of nuclear non-proliferation regime.

Many view India’s space program a milestone, flourishing by leaps and bounds. However, along with militarizaition of space, another significant aspect of Indian space program which is mostly overlooked is India’s assistance to Pyongyang. India has had longstanding diplomatic ties with North Korea, and even under pressure from the U.S, it refused to reduce its diplomatic engagement. There have even been reports that the Center for Space Science and Technology in Asia and the Pacific (CSSTEAP) located in India had been providing technical education to North Korean scientists.

Before the United Nations (UN) discovered, the institute provided at least thirty North Korean scientists with training courses that could greatly assist the development of Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

UN officials were especially alarmed by courses offering satellite communications training and instructions for launch vehicle testing to North Koreans in India. In 2016 the annual UN report to Security Council clearly indicated that New Delhi has violated UN Security Council’s unanimously adopted resolution 1718 (2006), which prohibited the provision of large-scale arms, nuclear technology and related training to the North Korea. Furthermore, in an interview to Al Jazeera, Hong Yong-il, who was trained at CSSTEAP, now Korean embassy’s new first secretary to India, praised center for informative courses.

Moreover, ISRO and Russia’s Federal Space Agency, ROSCOSMOS State Corporation for Space Activities have also agreed to work together for first Indian manned space mission, Gaganyaan. In this regard, both space agencies have signed Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for joint activities in the field of Human Spaceflight Program at end of delegation level talks between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladmir Putin in New Delhi. Extension of space cooperation between the two nations is going to benefit ISRO in further consolidation and augmentation of space program in space exploration. Moreover, if indigenous space program is achieved, the technology will give India an edge in the development of missile defense and anti-satellite weapons technologies.

Over the decades, India’s officials and leaders opposed the militarization of the outer space and participated in the negotiation of the Outer Space Treaty (OST). However, India has a history of diverting provided civil nuclear technology for military purposes. Once again they are using their claimed civilian space program for military purposes which will be consequential for nuclear deterrence in South Asia. The strategic balance will be shifted to the advantage of India. It will be provided with accurate information regarding missile silos, military buildup and movement of troops. Moreover, security dilemma generated by India will trigger defensive and offensive reactions from adversary states.

Therefore, it is in favor of all states that outer space shall be for “Star Peace” rather “Star Wars”. Efforts should be made to deal with this prevailing threat by taking effective measures with regards to Prevention of Arms Race in Outer Space (PAROS) Treaty at Conference on Disarmament (CD). Since 1990s, the primary obstacle to the launch of discussion on the issue has been rejection by the U.S. of the need of having any new space arms control plan. However, Russia and China have been staunch advocators of PAROS Treaty and consider militarization of space as a Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA). Regionally, efforts should be made to have Transparency Confidence Building Measures (TCBMs) to ensure strategic stability and crisis stability. In view of changing scenarios at regional and international level it is advisable that Pakistan develop its indigenous capabilities and reduce its reliance on foreign entities and satellites. A well-established space program is necessity not a luxury for Pakistan.

*Misbah Arif, is a Islamabad based researcher and visiting faculty at Fatima Jinnah Women University, Rawalpindi.

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