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India's Tech Roadmap Points to Small Sats, Space Weapons

Sep. 10, 2013 - 09:46AM   |  
Indian Satcom: An Ariane-5 rocket launches from French Guiana Aug. 29 with India's first dedicated military satellite, the GSAT-7. (Jerome Vallette / AFP)
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NEW DELHI — India’s vision of future military space capabilities includes networks of small, less expensive satellites as well as systems to protect those spacecraft from attack and, if necessary, destroy enemy space systems.

The country’s military space systems are part of a wide-ranging, 15-year military technology outlook called the Technology Perspective and Capability Roadmap. The plan for developing small satellites is being carried out jointly by the Indian Space Research Organi­sation (ISRO), the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and the Indian defense forces, said an official with the Defence Ministry.

“The future of satellites will surely move towards miniaturization,” said Aditi Malhotra, a research associate with the International Strategic and Security Studies Programme and the Bangalore-based National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS).

“With this trend, India will surely rope in smaller satellites, which can be used for military applications,” he said. “This is particularly so because it remains easy and economically viable to not only place such satellites into the orbit, but also to replace them when desired.”

Small, networked satellites would expand the Indian military’s intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities, according to the roadmap, but anti-satellite weapons are a growing concern.

“With miniaturization, the future trends should be towards smaller satellites. In fact, a network of satellites capable of working together should be capable of seeing a moving target on the ground or at sea anywhere in the world,” the roadmap says. “With the advent of anti-satellite weapons, a concept of ‘watchdog satellites’ to guard other satellites could also be explored.”

Indian researchers also are exploring the use of offensive space weapons. Officials would not comment on plans to use space for military purposes.

Sources in DRDO, however, said scientists are working on developing an anti-satellite system, the need for which arose after China tested one in 2007.

“Given the increasing military utilities of space, use of smaller satellites such as micro- and nano-satellites is likely to go up in the coming years,” said Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan, a senior fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, a think tank based here.

“Even though militarization of outer space is something that has already happened, weaponization of outer space is yet to happen,” he said. “The potential for weaponization, however, appears to be very high. With countries testing anti-satellite weapons [in] outer space, weaponization seems much closer than ever. China’s anti-satellite test in 2007 was a stark reminder to India of the kind of challenges that exist in India’s neighborhood.”

Listening From Space

As part of the technology roadmap, DRDO scientists are working on developing a satellite that can monitor electronic communications across the border.The signals intelligence system, called the Communication-Centric Intelligence Satellite, is being developed by the Hyderabad-based Defence Electronics Research Laboratory and is likely to be launched next year or in 2015.

The satellite would be launched in low-earth orbit at an altitude of about 500 kilometers and will serve as a testbed for anti-satellite weapon development, a source in DRDO said.

The satellite will feature a synthetic aperture radar and be used for imaging and communication, as well as detecting communications.

Future satellites will make greater use of the Ka-band frequency, which will provide more bandwidth, increase total capacity per satellite, and reduce power usage and the costs of ground stations.

Among the capabilities envisioned in the roadmap is a satellite-based communications network with high data rates and multiband operation for voice, data and allied applications. It would provide extended coverage within the Indian Ocean region.

First Military Satellite

Meanwhile, India launched its first dedicated military satellite Aug. 29, nearly three years behind schedule. A homegrown satellite, GSAT-7 was launched by the European space consortium Ariane from French Guiana.

GSAT-7 will facilitate networking among Indian Navy warships, submarines and aircraft, as well as with operational centers ashore through high-speed data links, allowing maritime threats to be detected and the information shared in real time to ensure swift reaction, a Navy official said.

The satellite will provide coverage over 600,000 square nautical miles of the Indian Ocean region, the official said.

The satellite was developed by the Indian Space Research Organisation.

GSAT-7 will be followed by another dedicated satellite, GSAT-7A, for use by the Indian Air Force, an MoD official said. The official added that the launch is about a year away, but gave no date.

GSAT-7A will link up the airborne warning and control systems aircraft that the Air Force is acquiring, with each other and with ground and airbase radars. ■


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