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India kick-starts military satellite programs

June 19, 2017 (Photo Credit: Arun Sankar/AFP via Getty Images)
NEW DELHI — To meet military space requirements, India plans to launch a 550-kilogram homemade military satellite within the next fortnight to join the heaviest homemade rocket, the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mark III, according a Ministry of Defence source.

The GSLV Mk III rocket, fired earlier this month into space, has the capacity to carry the 4-ton class of satellites, prompting some analysts here to say this is a prerequisite for an anti-satellite weapon.

"The capability to launch heavy rockets with heavier payloads is a prerequisite to put up anti-satellite weapons in the space," said a scientist with the Indian Space Research Organisation, which developed the rocket.

India officially maintains that space is for peaceful use and, as such, does not have an anti-satellite, or ASAT, program. However, sources within the state-run Defence Research and Development Organization say such a program does exist.

On the relevance of the heavy GSLV Mk III rocket to an ASAT program, Ajey Lele, a senior fellow with the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, doesn't believe the GSLV Mk III is related to ASAT weaponry. "In fact, heavy satellites (more than 2 tons) are normally communication satellites, and they are in geostationary orbit. The concept of ASAT for satellites in that orbit is not possible with present level of technological expertise with any country in the world."

But Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan, a senior fellow with the Observer Research Foundation, disagrees. "If you are aiming at satellites in low-Earth orbits, PSLV [Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle] would be sufficient to launch 'killer' ASAT satellites, but if you are aiming to destroy satellites in geostationary orbits, such as communication satellites, then of course GSLV Mk III would be useful."

Pillai, however, said India doesn’t have any ASAT program.

Military satellite

The military satellite to be launched this month is part of the Cartosat-2C series of satellite launched last year.

"The Cartosat satellite has the ability to provide defense forces [with] specific scene-spot imagery and images according to the military’s area of interest (AOI) and help track developments along India’s land borders China and Pakistan. It can help detect changes in man-made features (or geographical features) along its land and maritime borders," said Aditi Malhotra, an independent strategic analyst.

Added Rahul Bhonsle, a defense analyst and retired Indian Army brigadier: "The Cartosat satellite can take panchromatic pictures of up to 1-meter resolution covering an area of 9.5 kilometers. In fact, it is claimed that the resolution has been increased up to .60 meters in Cartosat 'C' series. Thus the next in the series ('2C' series) could provide even sharper images."

Images from the Cartosat will be used by all three service branches for the identification of terrorist camps across the Line of Control - the frontier between the areas of Kashmir, contested by India and Pakistan.

The Indian military has, however, demanded more dedicated satellites for exclusive military use as the armed forces move toward network-centric warfare where several assets of the land, air and sea defense forces are networked through space technology and advanced surveillance aircraft. So far, only the Indian Navy has a dedicated satellite.
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