Opinion: India Must Build Up Military Space Program to Counter China, Pakistan

Computer generated image showing the debris cloud around Earth.
Computer generated image showing the debris cloud around Earth.

M P Anil Kumar, a former fighter pilot of the Indian Air Force, has a published a two-part series in he urges his nation to develop a strong military space program to counter threats from China and Pakistan. It’s a very interesting read that sheds some light on what could be a developing space arms race in Asia.

The first installment focuses primarily on China, which the author accuses of developing a series of offensive space capabilities while cloaking the work in language advocating the peaceful use of outer space. The efforts include:

  • develping jamming technology to disable GPS systems;
  • building parasitic nanosatellites designed to destroy enemy spacecraft;
  • firing a laser weapon that blinded sensors on an American Keyhole reconnaissance satellite in 2006;
  • destroy one of its own spacecraft with an anti-satellites weapon in January 2007, creating a large field of debris.

The author sees these efforts as primarily aimed at addresses strategic imbalances vis-a-vis the United States. However, “the same Chinese arsenal and capabilities can be swivelled against India.”

In the follow-up piece, the author says that despite China’s successful ASAT test, the Indian government’s efforts at building up a military space program are flagging:

With space having emerged as the fourth medium for military operations, the IAF had brought out its blueprint titled ‘Defence Space Vision 2020’ two years ago. The IAF had also laid claim to the aerospace command as natural progression for them, and therefore, wanted its bureaucracy to run it.

Since space-related technologies will be accessed by all three services, since future wars will be fought jointly and at theatre levels, since command and control will be executed via military networks, the Integrated Defence Staff is the most deserving agency to host the aerospace department.

Acknowledging this logic, last June, the defence minister announced the formation of an Integrated Space Cell under the IDS headquarters in Delhi [ Images ] to counter what he called ‘the growing threat to our space assets.’ The remit of this cell is, however, rudimentary — to liaise with the relevant elements among the armed forces, the department of space and ISRO — and the cell could degenerate into another talking-shop!

Though China’s ASAT shocker and Pakistan’s pains to attain AEW symmetry should have galvanised us into action, our establishment (the unhurried politico-bureaucratic setup) seems to be reading the hare and the tortoise fable, not ‘Vision 2020’ or related literature, and daydreaming about the Indian tortoise breasting the tape ahead of the Chinese hare! Well, the establishment is travelling mostly in time, not much in space!

He also worries about India’s rival, Pakistan:

Though we enjoy the edge over Pakistan in satellite technology, one cannot rule out China — Pakistan’s soul mate and an alleged, unapologetic proliferator — sharing its know-how and intelligence with Pakistan. China is light years ahead of us in offensive space technology; so our endeavour should be ‘space denial.’ In case of Pakistan, we must go all out to achieve total ‘space control.’

India must also prepare a contingency plan for the worst-case scenario — China emerging as a ‘rogue space power.’

The only solution to these threats, the author argues, is for India to “develop a military space programme by investing in space technologies without being apologetic about it, without the typical Indian ambivalence, fence-squatting and dilly-dallying.”