Exploitation of Space for Military Purposes : An Indian Experience Part-II

Author: Brigadier A K Lal

Period: January 2002 - March 2002

Exploitation of Space for Military Purposes : An Indian Experience Part-II

Brigadier A K Lal




To get a perception of India’s requirement towards space militarisation, it becomes imperative to see threat perceptions from Pakistan and China.


Pakistan’s space secrets are as true as the fact that their nuclear programme had also commenced from 1984 onwards. Pakistan’s continuous desire for parity with India has made them stretch their reach. In actual fact, their new desire for flight to the moon would have many economic and scientific constraints. Nevertheless, it is overcoming them by a secret plan, which involves collaboration with China and Pan Islamic Countries. This should be a warning signal to India. Some salient points of the envisaged Pakistan Space Blue Print are covered below.

(a) Pakistan failed to launch a satellite early in the year 2000, as originally planned, due to a row between Kazakhistan and Russia over the Baikonur Space Centre coupled with dysfunctionality of the Russian 3M, Badr-B satellite.

(b) There exists a plan for an ‘Inter-Islamic Network’ on Space Sciences and Technology to operationalise low earth orbit (LEO), small satellites with a view to dominate the air space west of India. If possible, they will try to establish space domination over the Indian Subcontinent by 2020 in conjunction with neighbours.

(c) The phenomenon of a 1000 year war against India would also take shape in space by 2020. Pakistan is, therefore, very intelligently offsetting its economic constraints by allying with China and other Muslim countries. This is a countermeasure that Pakistan has taken, lest India allies with Israel or the USA.

(d) Dr Majeed, who is the Chairman of Pakistan Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (SUPARCO) has revealed that even the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) has not been able to curtail their programme. Iran-Pakistan satellite connection is yet another startler for India, in spite of the Pakistan-Iran tensions on the Afghanistan imbroglio. Besides Iran, China, South Korea, Indonesia and Mongolia are all involved in the ‘Big League Space Joint Ventures’. The multi-laterality of these space projects is the real challenge to India which has even failed to re-structure its higher reference management in the post-Kargil scenario.

In the case for Pakistan, SUPARCO along with Space Research Council (SRC) are responsible for all of its space activities. Over and above this, the Military interface (in violation of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty) is being secretly provided with Chinese assistance. Recently, 10 top scientists visited Pakistan on ‘Secret Mission Space’. Their effort is to militarize Badr-B for reconnaissance and surveillance and thus assist Pakistan in building a sound C4I2 system for a credible nuclear deterrence by 2005. It is also confirmed that Pakistan had contracted with an American firm (ISC Technologies) at a reported cost of $ 200 – 300 millions, as far back as 1986, during the period of India’s ‘Operation Brass-Tacks’. This firm has since then helped in developing the launcher capabilities.

The military potential of such satellites depends on optical resolution, spectrum, orbital features, sun-angle, return time, etc. Pakistan’s effort is to build a resolution of one metre, as characteristics of weapon system, damage assessment and even order of battle would become readable. (Therefore, the belief that India is more advanced than Pakistan in space related technologies may be a myth).

India needs to be alert to the fact that it is only a question of time when Pakistan will surprise India on this front too. Pakistan is on the verge of obtaining the “Eye Glass”, “Improved SPOT” and venture capability, which would read Indian military dispositions accurately and allow precision strikes on Indian Forces. It will be like taking ‘potshots on sitting ducks’. The Indian strike corps would thus become irrelevant, making India lose the conventional edge.

China : Space Capabilities

Only some salient aspects are being covered. China is already recognised as a ‘Space Power’. According to the Guang Zhou newspaper, China had also developed technology for manned space flight and hopes to send an unmmanned capsule by 2005. It was also working on a space-shop following around 2005 and space shuttle programme like that of the USA. They are also developing a new series of “carrier rockets – Long March 5s”. These rockets will have the capacity to carry 20 tonnes, enough to cater for demands of carriage of spacecraft. Over and above this, is the perceived threat of a China-Pakistan space nexus akin to the history of nuclearisation of South Asia.

Indian Space Programme

As far as the Indian experience goes, it has no alternative but to build big and fast. The chronology of space development, which has occurd in India is as tabulated in background information so appended.

In India, the current status of research of military application in space is minimal. However, at the global level, overtly the P-5 has no official document outlining the Space Doctrine like the existing Nuclear Doctrine. In fact, America and Russia may be having an unwritten or even classified doctrine for application in military strategy and a futuristic blue print. The emerging global multi-polarity would escalate tensions in the space arena now. As regards India, the Kargil conflict has established a national intelligence failure and the ineptitude of military application of newer technologies. Strategy for space-based assets thus becomes the cornerstone to national security in a future scenario. Therefore, evolution and analysis of space warfare and its impact on existing national and military strategy becomes an urgent requirement. Presently, we lack the vision for the fructification of a common nuclear and space doctrine to give India a strategic integrated deterrence as a macro force multiplier of a ‘state-of-the-art’ national security strategy.

There are seven countries in the space race – America, Russia, China, Japan, France, India and Britain, with another three on the periphery-Indonesia, Pakistan and Australia. India is already emerging as a bulwark of global and Asian stability. Therefore, its role in South Asia is unquestionable. By its combined military space technology, India would be able to control the regional conflicts including domination of the Indian Ocean, which is tomorrow’s conduit of oil power. Thus the creation of a joint space-military infrastructure now, would definitely enable regional power projection at least by 2015-2020 period. The necessity of conceptualisation and integration at tactical levels thus becomes necessary. A series of satellites are to be launched upto 2005. Military interface has to be ensured with all these satellites (at present ISRO has four spacecraft which give the Indian National Satellite System seventy transponders in space). Further, with India’s capability enhancing to two metre resolution, integration with military would become a dire necessity.

A cost effective analysis of building satellite capabilities in India vis-a-vis developing conventional military capability needs to be carried out so as to come to definitive figures. The involvement of the three Services and the ISRO would become necessary in such a cost analysis. However, by probability and perceptions, the calculations could be on the following lines. Satellite Surveillance, PGMC (directed through satellites), Low Earth Orbit (LEO), laser platforms and navigational capabilities should allow approximately one third reduction of physical deployment. This should reduce the number of Divisions deployed, thus, cutting down Defence revenue expenditure. This saving can be recycled towards satellite development (costing between Rs. 200 to 400 crores each). The physical role of troops can be performed by just a few satellites and also ensure a cost saving of Rs 600 – 800 crores. In fact, in future the cost of maintenance of troops would only increase and that of launching and maintaining satellites would decrease due to cost effective technologies. A similar matrix can be drawn for the Air Force and the Navy. The Air Force would get the desired AWACS capability automatically, other than guidance and navigation during deep penetration or interdiction strikes. As regards the Navy, the increasing presence of China in the Indian Ocean would be negated by space domination over the Indian Ocean ranging from the Gulf to the Straits of Malacca without recourse to heavy patrolling duties. Further, in due course, various space related conventions are likely to fall in place akin to the Maritime Zones, giving exclusive rights of space to nations under them. In totality, therefore, space militarisation for self defence, even in a regional context, would become a better option to strengthen military capabilities and stability in South Asia. A space wargame matrix model could be developed with the aim of assessing the efficacy and reduction that can be brought in conventional troops levels. This would be Defence modernisation in its true sense.

Therefore, India’s announcement of reaching the moon by 2005 has to be seen against the backdrop of technological breakthroughs and collaborations of other space faring countries including China and Pakistan. It becomes imperative for India to create a military blueprint for the next twenty years to face the challenges in these “New Frontiers”. A ‘Space Cell’ needs to be created in respective Services Headquarters, as the nodal agencies, for interface. These cells could also be tasked to evolve futuristic doctrines which could be tested, experimented and validated for a future scenario.


Until the Gulf War in 1991, the potentialities of ‘Space War’ were never truly rated. For their part, rated airmen were quintessential operators with an ingrained fingertip feel for the practical uses of air power. General Mormon of the USAF has summarised the future trends thus : “An integrated air and space programme that combines total battlefield awareness and knowledge with rapid and dependable communications to get information to the decision maker or shooter fully integrated with highly capable, survivable aircraft and a fleet of unmanned aerial vehicles, both in the precision munitions, is the wave of the future.”

In the case of emerging countries other than America and Russia, which can launch satellites, there is a case to redesign and refashion their Defense strategy, which should have ‘space-military technology’ as an important ingredient. Thus, there is a case to do more research on the future potential of space warfare. Its impact on the military command and organisational paradigm needs to be researched. New doctrines for land, air and sea forces should be evolved, based on integrated and synthesised military operations. In India’s context, it is a millennium opportunity to do a quantum leap in ‘state of the art’ space defence technology and its strategic application on a vast geographic area of the Indian subcontinent, as part of a ‘National Security Strategy’. The key issue, therefore, is the relevance of space military capabilities in the Indian scenario having outstretched borders on land and sea. This aspect requires a fresh look, so that national security is strengthened, against the backdrop of an emerging ‘High Tech’ Battlefield milieu, where space would be the new ‘High Ground’.


Military Strategy

Minor Tactics and Tactics. These definitions are explained with live historical examples related to military warfare. This definition implies fragmentation of military action to achieve a tactical objective. For instance, capture of Tololing in Kargil, involved aggressive patrolling, use of direct firing weapons and multi-directional attack. The two former aspects mean execution of minor tactics to achieve an overall tactical aim. This becomes a part of training and drill, more by practice and validated policy. The art of minor tactics involves field craft, guile, agility and momentum. The conglomeration a series of successful minor tactics culminates in the achievement Tololing or Tiger Hill, which in total perspective would further the overall aim of evicting the enemy earliest. Similarly, in Space minor tactics would involve command missions by individual spacemen to raid a hostile spaceship with the help of ‘space scooters’. In totality an offensive tactics of raid and space patrolling would give domination in a particular orbital plane. Therefore, domination of various orbital planes would become an important tactic.

(a) Minimum Battlefield Transparency Deterrence (MBTD). Yet another facet, which would undergo a change, are the forms of nuclear warfighting like minimum deterrence, which would get inter-linked with MBTD.

(b) Counter-Satellite Targeting. This would start drawing linkages with counter-force, quasi-strategic and counter-city targeting. An additional term of counter-cosmos targeting cannot be ruled out, although its application would more depend on an outer ‘out of space’ threat from some other planet or universe on the lines of the famous film ‘Aliens’.

(c) Strategy and Grand Strategy. ‘War has its own language, but not its own logic to be the single most important idea in all strategy’. Strategy is the summation of a successful number of tactical objectives and effect at the operation level. The outcome of good strategy is almost felt immediately in achieving the military objective. In Kosovo, the strategy to execute ‘Air Land Battle Doctrine’ and soften the objective with precision guided munitions paid handsome dividends. It also served the grand strategy to expand Eastwards and nudge into Russian interest. Kosovo was a grand strategy to invest Russia from the West as well as to prepare military machinery to operate ‘Out of Region’. In space parlance, it would imply strategy to launch ABMs, would be considered a part of the grand strategy of a missile shield in the first phase of a conflict followed by an offensive posture of firing lasers from space to ground and link up with rapid reaction, NBC capable mechanized forces so as to achieve victory on earth.

(d) Outer Space – Universe – Cosmic Strategy. Terms akin to them would get evolved in the next millennium as warplanning would reach outwards, away from the planet earth – towards the Moon and the Sun. The region of outerspace would reach half way to the Moon or approximately at the zero gravity location notified by ‘L’, which will become a ‘Key Orbital Ring (KOR)’ the occupation of which would give a force multiplication in space weapon platforms. Therefore, outerspace manipulation would become vital to the grand strategy on earth. Thereafter, sequentially will come the ‘Universal or the Lunar’ segment, which has inherent advantages as explained later in the concept of operations. Therefore, in comparison, the word ‘Universal Lunar’ signifies the strategy in space. Going yet beyond, in the unknown will be the cosmic force, as per Hindu philosophy depicts the power centre of creation and may be the ultimate. Man, may yet reach it as part of a grand strategy of mankind from this universe exploring towards new life into the infinite.


Brigaider A K Lal is currently commander of an Infantry Brigade.
This essay was awarded first prize in the USI Gold Medal Essay Competition 2000.


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