By Radhakrishna Rao
Outer space is no more an abode of peace and tranquillity. The space race initiated by the former Soviet Union with the orbiting of the first man made satellite Sputnik in 1957 has now assumed a sort of ‘sinister dimension’. The leading space faring nations such as the US, Russia and China are now all set to turn the heavens into a battlefield of the future. Of course, the 1967 UN Outer Space Treaty forbids the deployment of “nuclear weapons or any other kind of weapons of mass destruction.” It was again the erstwhile Soviet Union which initiated an arms race in space by initiating anti-killer satellite tests in late 1960s. The US followed suit.
Though India, China and Russia have advocated the need for formulating a comprehensive treaty for preventing outer space from becoming a domain for testing destructive devices, USA has refused to be a part of such a treaty. With a range of satellites acting as ‘ears’ and ‘eyes’ of the defence forces, the modern day warfare is fast becoming highly ‘space-centric’. Indeed, the stunning success of the American led allied forces in Iraq and Afghanistan is credited to the imaginative use of space resources.
As such, protecting the satellites and the ground based facilities meant to access space holds the key to the success of a battle strategy. By knocking down satellites through space based or ground based destructive devices, it is possible to turn the fighting forces of an adversary camp into an ‘impotent army’. Against such a scenario, all the three wings of the Indian defence forces are now keen to have their own ‘dedicated satellites’ for a variety of end uses.
Both USA and Russia have made it clear that space constitutes a vital domain of their war fighting capability. Both have spoken of the need to launch a new generation of air and space attack weapons. Russia believes that by 2030, USA will be able to strike any part of the globe with weapons based in outer space. China has already demonstrated its satellite killer capability. Expressing his concern over Chinese efforts to develop an anti-satellite weapon, Indian Air Force (IAF) Chief, PV Naik has suggested the need for the development of Indian devices capable of knocking out enemy satellites. “Our satellites are vulnerable to anti-satellite weapon system because our neighbourhood possess one,” observed Naik. Indian Defence Ministry’s ‘Technology Perspective and Capability Roadmap’ focuses on priority areas including the development of an anti-satellite capability “for electronic or physical destruction of satellites in both low earth and geostationary orbits.”
In particular, the January 2007 anti-satellite test by China has rattled India’s defence establishment. The Chinese test fell back on the deployment of a ground based intermediate range missile. But deployment of a ground based device to knock down a satellite is effective only against satellites in certain orbital positions. As such, it could be just one of the options in a full fledged space war.
Indian defence experts have suggested the need for India to go in for both defensive and offensive space systems. The defensive aspect involves hardening the satellites against the machinations of space based and ground based devices. The offensive strategy aimed at countering the threat from ‘rogue satellites’ is to deploy satellites equipped to put out of commission an enemy spacecraft on an offensive mission. Indian defence scientists are clear that India should have a well conceived defensive and offensive plan of action to protect its space assets. Of course, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) will be a key player in this endeavour.
VK Saraswat, chief of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), has stressed that India should realize a mechanism to blunt the edge of ‘hostile’ satellites moving in the depths of space. Saraswat has revealed that the DRDO is working on realizing building blocks of an anti-satellite system. Specifically, he pointed out that laser based space sensors and exo-atmospheric kill vehicle (EKV) that DRDO is planning to develop, could monitor and knock down space based killer devices. Saraswat is of the view that space based assets are crucial for the success of India’s ballistic missile defence system that is now under testing.
Saraswat has already stated that India should not leave anything to chance in so far as protecting its space assets is concerned. However, as things stand now, it is really difficult to assess the cost involved in developing and deploying defensive and offensive space devices. Many of the facilities and technologies already developed by DRDO, ISRO and many other research organisations could be used for realizing defensive and offensive space systems. The three countries that are already involved in realizing the space based defensive and offensive devices have not provided any cost estimate of their efforts.
In view of the developments in India’s neighbourhood and on-going efforts by Russia, China and USA to give a new edge to the space warfare, India cannot afford to remain a silent spectator. And Indian political leadership will not be in a position to turn down any suggestion for a well conceived Indian space defence plan.