Indian military modernization in recent years, especially in space and missile sectors, has encouraged the country’s leadership to articulate hawkish and aggressive posture against its neighbours. India is on a mad course to militarize space frontier; such developments do not augur well for peace and are threatening to the delicate strategic balance in South Asia. Militarizing space requires the use of complex technical space systems to utilize weapon systems more effectively on the ground and in the outer space. In past, by adopting a dubious doctrinal policy of peaceful space defense for a long time, India always emphasized peaceful exploitation of outer space and openly rejected physical weaponization and militarization of space. India also opposed the operationalization of US’ Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) and other Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) programmes, even Anti-satellite (ASAT) systems.
On international forums India has always portrayed that it is not in favour of militarization of space but under the guise of peaceful space programme, just like its Peaceful Nuclear Explosions (PNE) in 1974. New Delhi had been building the military capability to target space satellites meant for peaceful purposes. The cat came out of the bag when Indian PM Narendra Modi on 27 March 2019 confirmed that India had successfully completed an ASAT project by launching anti-satellite missile from a launch site on Bay of Bengal’s Abdul Kalam Island. NASA administration termed Indian ASAT missile test a “terrible, terrible thing” which created at least 400 pieces of orbital debris. Experts viewed this test as a dangerous precedent for global security where the escalation of military technology in conflict-free space is likely to disturb the fragile strategic equation in South Asia.
India has also operationalized the Defense Space Agency (DSA) in November 2019, to manage the Army’s, Navy’s and Air Force’s space facilities. India’s Defense Space Research Organisation (DSRO) is assisting in developing arms that will deny, weaken, impede, disrupt or deceive the space potential of the rival country through military means. India is, therefore, in the process of operationalization of space warfare dimension.
In August 2013, India successfully launched its first GSAT-7 military satellite to carry out wide-ranging network-centric operations and detection of maritime fields. The seventh and final satellite was launched by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) in 2016 to complete its own Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS), named Indian Constellation Navigation (NAVIC). Several Indian sources have confirmed that offensive military utilization is the primary goal of these projects, and the Indian army will be the sole beneficiary of this program. The guidance system provides the Indian military and organizations with an automated operation. India has been working on NAVIC with effective use strategic geostationary satellites (GSAT) – the fourth generation of GSAT. These navigation systems will bind three parts of the maritime related assets (warships, nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers), ground (troop organization, conventional weapons, ballistic and cruise missiles), and air force (combat aircraft). Indian advancements in space are strengthening New Delhi’s political belief that it can take advantage of its conventional power to carry out conventional operations against Pakistan, such as the infamous ‘Cold Start’ doctrine.
Indo-US nuclear deal of 2008 has been the main driver of India’s accelerated space modernization in the past decade. Along with the nuclear deal the US also extended cooperation in exploration of space and navigation systems. The deal in fact began to provide India with new ways of laying hands on complex technology for Indian scientists who were trying to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile. The growing partnership between India and the United States in space technology was diverted to further improve the guidance systems and ranges of Indian missiles. Furthermore, the inclusion of India in the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) in 2016 has allowed its access to new technologies that could be exploited for military applications as well.
India’s inclusion in MTCR brought along significant advantages, especially when it comes to manufacturing rocket systems necessary for militarization of space. It became easy for India to simply buy “high-end dual-use technology” from other MTCR members. MTCR membership has lowered the Indian space scrutiny requirement since MTCR protocols do not prevent national space programs or international cooperation for advancement in dual-use technology.
India has already demonstrated reckless attitude on several occasions and is now taking it to outer space. The militarization of space by India is already posing security challenges for its neighbours; the Indian battlefield management has been strengthened and systems for location identification and navigational support made more robust. Indian Defence Ministry has already hinted that space warfare is a priority area till 2025 under the “technology perspective and capability roadmap.”
The offensive military posture coupled with international cooperation in modernizing India’s space programme carry immediate and long-term implications for the regional strategic stability. Pakistan has been drawing worlds’ attention to these ominous overtures of India. It is high time that India is restrained and checked in its unsafe and mad rush to master space frontier for war. India is already damaging space ecosystem due to its reckless and premature military projects. It would be better that India uses the resources to feed its poor masses on the ground and leave the space frontier in peace.
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