Indian Army and Space: Sky is not the limit

As the Indian Army continues on the road to modernising its forces, the technological investment in the sector of space and military satellites is worth highlighting. Upcoming space technologies are going to impact military capabilities and operations in a great way. Undoubtedly, future wars are going to be swift, highly mobile and deeply influenced by space technology. With the growing significance of C4I2SR, the character of modern warfare is gradually transforming in keeping with the emerging changes in battlefield requirements. Also, Net Centric Warfare (NCW )will compel the commanders to become ‘Battlefield Leaders.’

Keeping current developments and future prognosis in mind, the Indian Army has been working towards establishing ‘net centricity.’ The Army is continuously working on bettering its C4I2SR (Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Information, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance) capabilities as it is the first step towards NCW. For some time now, the Indian Army has been evolving its doctrine to integrate the different elements of C4I2. Needless to say, interoperability among the three services would be the essence of effective networking centric capabilities. Even in the absence of integrated doctrine or high degree of synergy, the army has embarked on a journey to develop a comprehensive net centric warfare doctrine.

A testament to the army’s efforts towards ‘net centricity’ is the development of the Tac C3I System (Tactical Command, Control, Communications and Information System). Taking its first step in 2009, the force inducted Project Shakti, a computerised commandand control system to integrate its artillery weapon operations. Additionally, in the offing is the defence forces’ optical fibre networks that will help attain safe and secure communications, unbound network centricity and will also greatly improve interoperability among the three services. This will also be one of the world’s largest closed user group (CUG) networks for exclusive military communications.

Satellite and space programmes remain pivotal to further enhance net centricity. Since the early 1990s till date, the Indian armed forces have benefitted from the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) civilian satellites by using satellite imagery. However, the operational requirements now demand an increase in military capabilities and the armed forces need dedicated satellites for military purposes. Though the technology and its application are not new to the Indian Army, future programmes and satellites will enhance the capabilities further. Apart from certain delays and retarding factors in the process, the future ofthe military use of space is bright. Military space satellites will aid the Indian Army, along with the Navy and Air Force, to undertake effective and real-time surveillance and reconnaissance operations.

Military uses of thetechnology includes imagery for identification of targets, navigation of target locations or weapon systems, signals intelligence, early warning etc. The technology would perpetually monitor the presence of missile silos, location oftargets, troop deployment, and movement along the borders, which will facilitate combat operations. Specifically, the satellite capabilities will offer the force constant coverage of China and Pakistan’s military forces and their military build-up along the Indian border and in sensitive areas like Tibet and Pakistan occupied Kashmir (POK). A much awaited satellite includes the DRDO’s Rs 100 crore Communication-Centric Intelligence Satellite (CCI-Sat) which is scheduled to be operational by 2014. The satellite would be capable of picking up conversations and electronic eavesdropping activities in the neighbourhood. It will also be able to take high resolution images of the target areas. The launch of such satellites would enhance the war fight capability at the strategic, operational as well as the tactical levels.

China has been rapidly expanding its military capabilities in space and developing disruptive technologies like the Anti-Satellite capability, which poses a threat to Indian space assets. Another source of worry is the Sino-Pak cooperation in space technologies. The latest in case is the launch of Pakistan’s communication satellite Paksat-1R by a Chinese space vehicle from Sichuan province last year. With this precedence, China is likely to assist Pakistan in establishing a military space programme through soft loans and technological assistance. With such dangerous liaisons, the Indian side has sought to accelerate the pace of Indian military satellite programmes. In view of Chinese capability, in January 2010, Dr. V K Saraswat, the scientific advisor to the Indian Defence Minister,spoke about the Indian capability to undertake anti-satellite missions. He stated that India had “all the technologies and building blocks which can be used for anti-satellite missions” in the low-earth and polar orbits. This needs to be put on ground as an operational asset.

The threat from space is real and India needs to be sensitive to the issue. With the changing security environment and emergence of new threats, the Indian Army must move rapidly to optimally enhance its space based capabilities. Clearly, sky is not the limit, but time is at a premium. We can no longer afford to tarry on this score, considering the progress made by our adversaries in this field.

Aditi Malhotra
Date: 31/01/2012

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