Weaving a Space Doctrine

 By Brig. Akhelesh Bhargava

The space technology is considered essential and an integral part of nation building.  Satellites are being used in many fields: communication, earth observation, navigation, space study, remote sensing, etc; all these are in domain of peaceful coexistence of humankind.  However, nations are using space technology for military purpose to support functions like, reconnaissance, communication and navigation.  This aspect brings them at cross purpose as there is no legal framework to control or oppose these except a few treaties.

Expanding the Scope in Space       Since the beginning of 2017, Indian Space and Research Organisation (ISRO) has been a newsmaker with series of upgraded and more powerful launch vehicles and more capable multi-purpose satellites.  On 15 Feb 2017 it launched 104 satellites in a single mission, on 05 Jun 2017 it launch most powerful launch rocket, on 14 Nov 2018 India launched the heaviest satellite (GSAT 29) and later built the heaviest in Dec 2018 (GSAT 11).

Need for Space Doctrine     There is a high possibility of nations, either directly or indirectly, interfering in the strategic needs of the other countries resulting in their ‘National Interest’ being compromised. A space-faring nation like India therefore, would like to secure its interests.  So far as per international guidelines, it is first come first served basis in respect of use of orbital slots and radio frequencies.  As the number of satellites being launched is increasing by the day, a fight for ‘my right’ is likely to commence in near future. The space utilization in Low Earth Orbit (LEO), by Russia, China and India, has great overlaps.  Each one may hurt other’s interest sooner than later.  The other two had their Anti Satellite (ASAT) Missile in place.  To protect India’s interest, in times to come, an ASAT missile became the need of the hour. The ASAT Missile test ‘Mission Shakti’, codenamed ‘Project XSV-1’,  was conducted on  March 27, 2019 at around 1130 AM IST.  Post ‘Shakti’, India too is in the same league as Russia and China (as also USA which has presently the largest number of satellites).

Directions of Prime Minister          It is time that India spells out its Space Policy. It has been reliably learnt that post the test Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who seems to be the man behind this accelerated space based growth of India, has asked National Security Advisor Ajit Doval to prepare a draft Space Doctrine.  How should the policy take shape and what should be the ingredients?  It has to be all encompassing, involving all agencies, from ‘makers (policy, hardware, software) to users’ and be available in open domain in parts / full for obvious reasons.

Space for Peace        India has maintained that space should be a frontier for peace and should not be militarised.  The following has been clarified in no uncertain terms: –

*           India’s space program is rapidly growing which has further accelerated rather rapidly in the last five years. India has presently about 54 active satellites consisting of communication, earth observation, navigation, experimental, apart from satellites meant for scientific research and exploration. India’s space program is a critical backbone of India’s security, economic and social infrastructure.

*           India has no intention of entering into an arms race in outer space. It has always maintained that space must be used only for peaceful purposes. It is against the weaponisation of Outer Space and supports international efforts to reinforce the safety and security of space based assets.

*           India believes that Outer space is the common heritage of humankind and it is the responsibility of all space-faring nations to preserve and promote the benefits flowing from advances made in space technology and its applications for all.

*           India is a party to all the major international treaties relating to Outer Space.

*           The ASAT missile test is not directed against any country. India’s space capabilities neither threaten any country nor are they directed against anyone.

*           Simultaneously, the government is committed to ensuring the country’s national security interests and is alert to threats from emerging technologies. The capability achieved through the Anti-Satellite missile test provides credible deterrence against threats to our growing space-based assets from long range missiles, and proliferation in the types and numbers of missiles.

Formulation of Space Policy              The agencies involved in making of each component (of satellite, missile, radar, etc) are many and each needs to be taken on board.  The answer to, ‘Who all will be involved in preparing doctrine’ will fall out of,  ‘who all made the mission successful’ and who the ‘end user’ will be in future. Is there a need for a separate Space Command or the Strategic Forces Command (SFC) will suffice and be made responsible. Since, a large number of International Treaties, to which India is a signatory, are involved and have to be taken care of from time to time, who all from the civil domain (read Department of Space including a legal team) should also be made part of it.  The following committee / groups are recommended as given in succeeding paragraphs.

The Core Committee (or Apex Body)         This should include Prime Minister, Cabinet Committee on Security, National Security Advisor, three Chiefs, Strategic Forces Commander and the heads of Department of Space, Indian Space Research Organisation and Defence Research and Design Organisation.  The body should lay down the broad framework for the Space related issues as follows: –

*           Define India’s national interest in space.

*           Stating the strategic relationship in space domain with neighbors and in international forums.

*           Laying both offensive and defensive guidelines for India’s stance on various space related issues in international forums.

*           Laying aim and guidelines and ratifying space related research and development in fields of launch vehicles, satellite capability, ASAT capability, electronic warfare, cyber warfare, etc.

*           Ratifying and revisit the treaties which India is signatory to.

*           Deciding the budgetary support for the smooth growth of space based applications.

*           Laying guidelines for space related education and promotion of research and capability development.

The Planning Group      This should comprise the heads of Department of Space (DOS), Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), Defence Research and Design Organisation (DRDO) and Strategic Forces Commander.  Besides, a legal team dealing with the International treaties and United Nation resolutions.   The body should be responsible for Space related issues as follows: –

*           Propose and/or define minimum and credible deterrence in space domain.

*           Propose and suggests changes and/or modifications in the existing policies to Core Committee.

*           Propose space cooperation among friendly nations and support United Nations back development in space domain for benefit of human kind.

*           Coordinate the activities of the various stakeholders viz ISRO, DRDO, Manufacturers, SFC, etc.

*           Monitor the progress of various agencies of the Space Commission in respective fields.

*           Lay guidelines for establishing a Space Technology and Research University with core being provided by ISRO and DRDO. It should include verticals such as satellite, launch vehicles, radar and radar systems, missile and missile systems, metallurgy, electronic warfare, cyber warfare, artificial intelligence, international space legal laws, etc.

*           Lay guidelines for military training including space intelligence and surveillance.

*           Lay guidelines for indigenous development and for involvement of private industry in the space program and selective outsourcing for components manufacture.

The Working Groups            A number of working groups need to be established.  Each should have a well defined role.  Within each working group, each member’s role should also be defined.  The dual responsibility for a specific issue should be avoided to eliminate confusion.  The following working groups should be formed: –

*           Working Group 1 – Satellite Operations    This should include representatives (reps) of DOS, ISRO, DRDO, DPSUs, Private industry and Space policy related legal experts.   The group should be responsible for the following: –

            >          Planning and proposing launches of all types of satellites including

  • Communication: INSAT and GSAT.
  • Space Science and Exploration: Astrosat, Mangalyan, Chandrayan.
  • Navigation Satellite: IRNSS, GAGAN (GPS Aided GEO Augmented Navigation).
  • Experimental Satellites :            Remote Sensing, Atmospheric Studies, Payload Development, Orbit Controls, recovery technology etc
  • Small Satellites:  Indian Mini Satellites.
  • University / Academic Institute Satellites.

>          Debris    Ensure debris management from the ‘dead’ satellites.

>          Commercial     Identification of data for commercial purpose including marketing to friendly foreign countries through Antrix Corporation.

>          Legal   Understanding all United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) resolutions, their implications and understanding space related treaties. The legal team should be well versed with following: –

  • UN Resolutions such as Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS) of 1959, and ‘No First Placement of Weapons on Outer Space’ vide UNGA resolution 69/32 dated 02 Dec 2014.
  • Treaties such as Prevention of Arms Race in Outer Space (PAROS), Outer Space Treaty, Inter Agency Space Debris Coordination (IADC), etc.
  • Space Use      Legal issues related to space such as first use of a specified orbit, radio frequency/s, etc.

*           Working Group 2 – Missile and Radar Manufacture and Operations      This should include reps of various DRDO establishments, SFC, the Defence Forces, DPSUs and Private industry.  It would continuously assess ‘National Interest’ based on directives as given by Core Committee.  The group should be responsible for the following: –

>          Planning and monitoring of various missile and radar manufacture.

>          Upgrade and integrate various technologies and remain abreast with latest development in respective fields.

>          Electronic and Cyber Warfare         Inclusion and adaptation of electronic and cyber warfare in all equipment.

>          Co-opting of DPSUand Private Industry    This would include Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL), Bharat Dynamics Limited (BDL), Electronic Research and Design Establishment (LRDE), Tata Power, Bharat Forge, etc.

>          Space Command Post           Establishment of a Space Command Post (SCP) and a 24×7 surveillance of critical Space over India and selective space on required basis.

>          ASAT Units    Manning of ASAT missile stations as well as other strategic missile for a K-kill of hostile ground stations.

>          Ground Protection of Asset s  Lay down operating procedures for protection of space related establishment including training of quick reaction teams (QRTs) against terrorist threat and security force for normal defence.

*           Training          This should include reps of all stake holders and heads of faculty of various departments of Space University.  The group should be responsible for the following: –

>          Involvement of all DRDO laboratories and DPSUs in aiding training with a long term perspective.

            >          Deciding on syllabus keeping in mind the future requirement.

            >          Establishment of a library including a repository of past history on space research and historic data.

            >          Be responsible for the effective functioning of the space university.

Space for Military   The dual use nature of space technology enables its utilisation for security purposes too. In the last few decades, military campaigns have demonstrated the significance of space technology for military purposes. The use of outer space for military support functions like reconnaissance, communication and navigation have received global acceptability since such usage does not directly violate any existing international legal regime.  The ASAT missile brings to fore, the assertion of nation state will, to allow / disallow the use of Space over its geographical boundary.  The free use of space for navigation, reconnaissance, intelligence (spying), so far has been relentless and at freewill.  Now it may not be so.  The owner countries of satellites, in LEO, will have to inform (and may have to seek permission) to fly over head, least it be declared as hostile action and shot down.    Possibilities in form of carrying out electronic and cyber warfare against such satellites also exist.  With advent and advancement of direct energy weapons (DEW) and laser guns, a day is not far when these too will form part of nation inventory in ASAT role. Thus from the geostrategic view, space may form part of foreign policy tool.

Conclusion    A space-faring country like India needs to ensure that its interests in respect of orbital slots, radio frequency spectrum, etc., are protected. The rapidly changing global space order could also give rise to newer challenges. Given all this, it is important that India formulates an effective policy to secure its interests in space.