“Space: The Final Frontier”. Be it on land or above it; be it on water or under its surface; since ancient times man has tried to conquer whatever part of the earth that he could reach, or has at least tried to. This has led to many conflicts between two or more agencies. Be it air, land or sea, the airforce, armies and navies of nations have seen combat some time or the other.
As of 2022 no actual warfare has ever taken place in space, though a number of tests and demonstrations have been performed. This has caused leaders around the world to examine and enhance their combat capabilities in this new battle field called “Space”.
Space warfare is combat that takes place in outer space. The scope of space warfare therefore includes ground-to-space warfare, such as attacking satellites from the Earth; space-to-space warfare, such as satellites attacking satellites; and space-to-ground warfare, such as satellites attacking Earth-based targets.
While it may not be an arms race, the impetus to forge a space strategy is the result of the domain becoming an ever more contested environment and of its importance for deterrence, and, if this fails, war fighting. Not only is it recapitalising its military space infrastructure, ground based and orbital, it is also acquiring the means to protect them.
Months before the operationalisation of the Defence Space Agency, India conducted an Anti-satellite weapon (ASAT) test in March 2019. The test was aimed at demonstrating India’s anti-satellite capability.
The Indian ASAT programme can be traced back to its Ballistic Missiles Development program, which began in 1999 in response to threats posed by the Ballistic missiles of Pakistan and China. In 2006 and 2007, India tested its first exo-atmospheric interceptor and has developed many interceptors since then. On 18 March 2008, DRDO had hinted that India possessed technology required for an ASAT missile. India had begun work on its ASAT soon after the 2007 Chinese anti-satellite missile test.
India has been working on directed energy ASAT weapons, co-orbital ASAT weapons, lasers and electromagnetic pulse (EMP) based ASAT weapons. The ability to protect space assets from hostile electronic and physical attacks is also being developed by India.
India is developing the necessary technology that could be combined to produce a weapon to destroy enemy satellites in orbit. In March 2019, India tested its ASAT missile (Mission Shakti) destroying a pre-determined target of a live satellite.The DRDO’s ballistic missile defence interceptor was used on an Indian satellite for this test.
India conducted its first simulated space warfare exercise on 25th and 26 July 2019, called IndSpaceEx. The exercise was conducted under the supervision of Integrated Defence Staff. The exercise was aimed at obtaining an assessment of threats and the creation of a joint space warfare doctrine.
The role of the DSA will be operate systems to protect Indian interests in outer space and will deal with potential space wars. The agency will have the responsibility of developing a space warfare strategy and work in close collaboration with Defence Space Research Agency.
The Defence Space Research Agency (DSRA) is the scientific organisation responsible for developing space-warfare systems and technologies for the Defence Space Agency. The DSRA was approved by the Indian government in June 2019. The DSRA is composed of scientists who undertake research and development in close coordination with the Integrated Defence Staff.
The DSA is headquartered in Bengaluru. It’s function under the Integrated Defence Staff and personnel from all the three branches of the Indian Armed Forces will be stationed in the agency.
As is with other nations, the DSA is an extension of the Indian Air Force and comprise of agencies which would deal with the development and operation of various equipments like satellites, radars, missiles, lasers and other weapons. The components of the Indian Army and Indian Navy are present for coordination and synergy between the three forces.
Keeping the role and requirement of the DSA, its organisation is suggested to be based on the undermentioned points:-
Akin to the three defence services of India, the DSA has the primary role to deter, thwart or end any attempt by an aggressor on the territorial sovereignty of the nation.
The suggested charter of duties of the DSA are as under:-
Unlike other major space powers such as the United States, Russia and China, whose space programs have clear military origins, India’s space program, on the other hand, began as a civilian project. Hence, the country has little experience in the military dimensions of space organizations. Because of this reason, India’s Defence Space Agency faces two major challenges in terms of capacity-building.
Operating in space will be unlike operating in any other domain, involving three dimensions, spanning across the globe with no territorial borders. While sace warfare can be conceptualized as using offensive capabilities in space against other space-based weapons, it is also intrinsically linked engaging in combat on the ground, making it vital for armed forces on the ground to be interoperable with the space force, creating a new dimension of cross-domain interaction in a conflict situation.
Because of this reason, simply having a doctrine focusing on space-to-space engagement or ground-support engagement will not be enough to meet India’s strategic interests. The DSA and DSRO must approach the space doctrine with the view of interoperability with the Army, Navy and Air Force. In 2017, the Integrated Defence Staff published the first joint doctrine. This publication, however, created further doubts about the jointness among the three services. Inadequate integratedness has remained a roadblock for India’s military modernization.
In order to remain relevant in today’s informationized domains, and be fully integrated into India’s defence force structure, the DSA must lead the way in devising a new doctrine that fully integrates the three services of the armed forces, while at the same time having a long-term vision of India’s interests in space. Such a doctrine will remain the backbone of India’s military space operations in the coming years.
Currently, India possesses more than a dozen military satellites.The Indian military also uses a variety of commercial satellites and those run by friendly foreign nations in its operations.Many of these are prohibitively expensive and carry the danger of service interruption in the event of emergencies.
It is crucial to aggressively improve defence space capabilities as part of the “militarization of space” as India works to reduce defence spending and achieve self-reliance in the field. This includes launching more satellites into orbit, acquiring better sensors, high-speed communication, and practical and reusable ones, along with connected infrastructure.Additionally, India must purchase sophisticated jammers for rogue satellites and safeguard its spacecraft from electronic assaults.
The country is working to increase its military capabilities in the space domain to assert itself as a potent regional power in the future while pursuing its goal of becoming a global power. This is because India concentrates on cutting military spending, establishing self-reliance in defence, and developing deterrence against China’s growing space assets.
However, the investments—whether financial or policy reforms—must be made because space is a high-expenditure industry, meaning that any returns would be gradual, incremental, and steady.
The race for space supremacy has already begun with many nations launching ground based weapons to destroy targets in space. There is no confirmed information on deployment of weapons in space however it is a surety that all major countries are developing fighting capabilities in outer space.
The “weaponisation” of space in not too far in future with countries like USA, Russia, China, Israel, France, Japan and India working on various overt and covert projects. Therefore, the need of the hour is to first define the role and charter of the Defence Space Agency of India and allocate and provide resources to fulfil them. Be it a deterrence or a major weapon, space warfare will soon influence all military matters and we will have to be ready for it.
The move towards creating a dedicated military space agency is indeed a right one, as the United States, Russia, China and more recently, France have expressed the necessity to protect their assets and interests in space, and expand as the next arena for geopolitical competition.
In such an environment, the DSA and DSRO will certainly face both technical as well as bureaucratic challenges. However, these challenges must be thought through at the earliest by politicians, bureaucrats, members of the armed services as well as academics in order to remain competitive and relevant in the future.