Militarisation of space by India

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Raashid Wali Janjua

OUR scientists shot down a live satellite 300 kilometres away in space, in low-Earth orbit. India has registered itself as a space power. (Narendra Modi). Indian Prime Minister gloated in a jingoistic triumphalism while celebrating India’s shooting down of a low earth orbit satellite in space some 300 kilometres away a year ago. India’s steady militarization of space has endangered the regional strategic balance in the subcontinent. With an increase of $1.9 billion in defence budget 2020 for space technology development, a euphemism for weaponization of space, the Indians have started gunning for the final frontier to undermine Pakistan’s nuclear deterrence. The above portends a renewal of nuclear arms race where payload, ranges, and technology compete for ascendancy on a regular basis in an environment eerily reminiscent of Cold War nuclear arms race between the two superpowers. That competition we all know resulted in economic enervation of the (former) Soviet Union and a “race fatigue” in USA where anti-nuclear lobbies and human rights activists exerted enough pressure to force the two competitors into nuclear disarmament initiatives. One has to be mindful that in Cold War standoff the two mainlands bristling with arms were continents apart. In our case it is minutes apart. Why this lemming like death wish? The answer lies in a big power pretension and the concomitantly misplaced megalomania. When a country where 276 million people live below poverty line eking out a bare subsistence with little over $1.25 per day to spend plans to send 20 missions in space in the year 2020 should ring the alarm bell amongst the human security advocates loudly enough to be heard by the international community.
After having refined the surveillance, observation and reconnaissance of their respective Cartosat/RISAT series (1 meter resolution) and GSAT series (0.35m resolution) the Indians are integrating their space based weapons with land based Ballistic Missile Defences (BMD). The above has serious implications for countries like Pakistan that have borne the brunt of Indian military aggression in the past. The space ascendancy tilts the nuclear as well as conventional balance in favour of India. The network of satellites in space strengthens Indian BMD by aiding early detection of incoming missiles. Through integration of space based early detection and tracking capability with ground based detection equipment like S-400 the Indians would improve the defensive potential of their BMD systems. In addition the Indians have developed anti-satellite capability that could threaten rival satellites thereby establishing complete space dominance. The Indian militarization of outer space should be a cause of serious concern for the international community. Their laser and cyber warfare capabilities integrated with anti-satellite technology pose a challenge for countries like China as well. Besides causing space debris threat for other satellites the Indian anti-satellite efforts are detrimental to space arms control regimes such as Prevention of Arms Race in Outer Space (PAROS). In addition to enhancement of early warning and detection of incoming missiles by the Indian space based assets are being used for enhancing the accuracy of their weapon systems betraying clear offensive intentions .
The precision targeting capability gained through space based assets by India needs to be countered through asymmetric means like high energy laser and cyber attacks by Pakistan. The qualitative difference between India and Pakistan’s space programmes needs to be bridged through smart measures. Before crystallizing response options certain realities of international and regional environment needs to be factored in. These realities include non seriousness of the world community to make any progress on space demilitarization initiatives like PAROS, the negative impact of Indian space program on stability of Indo-Pak strategic deterrence, and the need for asymmetrical response by nations such as Pakistan. Pakistan on its part needs to counter Indian militarization of space through careful evaluation of own strengths and shortcomings. The strength of own missile program should be capitalized upon by developing Multiple Independently Targetable Reentry Vehicle (MIRV) systems and cruise missiles that could penetrate Indian BMD shield. SUPARCO’s vision 2047 needs to factor in the emerging Indian threats and the need to have indigenous surveillance and observation capability to identify Indian assets.
While pressing hard for demilitarization of space, initiatives like Conference of Disarmament and Committee on Peaceful Use of Outer Space, 1972 Liability Convention (For prevention of damage by space debris), and 1979 Moon Agreement (For prevention of activities on celestial bodies and moon), Pakistan must highlight the threats posed by the space debris and weaponisation of space to the use of low earth orbits for launch of satellites for peaceful civilian uses of space. It is time the world took note of the threats posed by the militarization of space by nations such as India that cramps the space for the developing countries to use low orbit space for peaceful purposes such as mineral research and agriculture development. Pakistan on its part must define its redlines of space militarization to India in order to dissuade her from making dangerous inroads into Pakistan’s space frontiers. In order to conserve resources Pakistan needs to be selective and asymmetric in response. While development of anti-satellite capability is a long term option to deter India in Space, the low cost short term disruptive technologies like cyber-attacks, jamming and laser attacks might be explored, taking adequate precautions to protect the fragility of space being the global commons.
— The writer, a Retired Brig, is a PhD scholar at NUST, Islamabad.

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