THE term space weaponisation tends to raise alarm as it implies deployment of weapons in the outer space or on heavenly bodies like Sun and Moon or sending weapon from earth to the outer space to destroy satellite capabilities of other states. Thus, space weaponisation refers to the actions taken by a state to use outer space as an actual battlefield. Space militarisation on the other hand is a rather less offensive term which stands for utilization of space for intelligence gathering, surveillance and reconnaissance missions through satellites to support forces on ground in the battle field. Space militarisation is already in practice by many states. In South Asia, India is utilizing its upper hand in space technology for space militarisation. However, recent concern in this regard is India’s attempts to weaponise space, which offers a bleak situation for regional peace and stability. Moreover, if India went further with this ambitiousness when Pakistan is also sending its own satellites in space, security situation will only deteriorate due to existing security dilemma between both regional counterparts.
Threats of space weaponisation arise from the Indian side owing to its rapid developments in Ballistic Missile Defences (BMDs) and Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM). Both of these technologies, BMDs and ICBMs, hand in hand, could be used to destroy space based assets. In theory, after slight changes in algorithms, BMDs are capable of detecting, tracking and homing in on a satellite and ICBM could be used to target the satellites for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. Many international scholars agree on the point that BMD systems have not yet acquired sophistication to give hundred percent results in destroying all the incoming ballistic missile, but they sure have the capability to work as anti-satellite systems. The reason behind the BMD being an effective anti-sat system is that it is easier to locate, track and target the satellites because they are not convoyed with decoys unlike missiles which create confusions for the locating and tracking systems.
India possesses both of the above-mentioned technologies and its Defence Research and Development Organization has shown the intention to build anti-satellite weaponry. In 2012, India’s then head of DRDO categorically said that India needs an arsenal in its system that could track the movement of enemy’s satellite before destroying it, thus what India is aiming at is the credible deterrence capability. One thing that comes in lime light after analysing the statement is that India is in fact aiming for weaponising the space. With the recent launch of its indigenous satellites through its own launch vehicle not only for domestic use but also for commercial use, India is becoming confident enough in its capabilities of space program. This confidence is also making India more ambitious in space program. It is true that treaties regarding outer space only stop states from putting weapons of mass destruction in outer space. But, destruction of satellites will create debris in outer space that could cause destruction for other satellites in the outer space.
On top of it all the reality cannot be ignored that both Pakistan and India cannot turn every other arena into battlefield. Rivalry between both states has already turned glaciers and ocean into war zones, resultantly affecting the natural habitat of the region. By going for ballistic missile defences and intercontinental ballistic missiles India has not only developed missile technology but also has made significant contribution in anti-sat weaponry, which is alarming, as due to security dilemma, Pakistan will now be ever more compelled to develop capabilities for the security of its satellites. So far both states are confined till space militarisation to enhance the capabilities of their forces, but if that force multiplier in space goes under threat, Pakistan will resort to capability to counter Indian aggression in space as well, which will be the classic action-reaction paradigm. Thus, it is pertinent that India as front runner in space technology develop policy of restrain to control the new arms race in the region which has potential to change the skies and space as we know them.
— The writer is Research Associate at Strategic Vision Institute, a think-tank based in Islamabad.