India has a long-held desire to be recognized as one of the greatest military powers at the global level. In pursuit of this objective, over the last few years, India has been carrying out extensive outer space and military modernization programs.
Sher Bano writing for Modern Diplomacy writes about the rising threat that the Indian space program presents to Pakistan’s defence capabilities.
Maintaining military presence in outer space key focus of India
Along with all the other components of its ongoing military modernization, maintaining a military presence in outer space has been the key focus of the Indian strategic elite. India had also recently launched a mission to the moon, Chandrayaan-2.
The lander was about 2.1km (1.3 miles) from the lunar surface when it lost contact with scientists, dashing hopes that India would become only the fourth country to achieve a soft landing on the Moon. Chandrayaan-2 was the most complex mission ever attempted by India’s space agency,
India’s space militarization primarily comprises of indigenously developed satellites such as GSAT-6 and GSAT-7 (Geostationary Satellites), and RISAT-2BR1 (Radar Imaging Satellite). India has also acquired ASAT (Anti-satellite weapon) capability after a successful test in early 2019.
Sher Bano talked about how India’s space-based ISR satellites would enhance its counterforce capabilities vis-à-vis Pakistan. Likewise, this would provide India’s Command and Control centres with quantifiable and discernable data.
These acquired space capabilities are likely to enable India’s NC2 (Nuclear Command and Control) with more liberty to take decisions. Such a security dilemma would annihilate the South Asian nuclear deterrence equation by providing India with an incentive to launch a counterforce pre-emptive strike against Pakistan.
In March 2019, India had successfully tested an anti-satellite weapon by destroying one of its own satellites in outer space. By doing so, India has become the fourth country in the world after the US, Russia, and China that possess the ASAT capability. Similarly, with this capability, the likelihood of India’s space weaponization is more evident as India would be in a strong position to kinetically destroy any incoming satellite.
ASAT capability would be huge advantage to India
This would be a significant military advantage, especially in a crisis, as India would be in a position to use its ASAT capability to disturb the satellite communications and intelligence gathering of its opponent states. Along with this, India would be able to destroy the targets of its adversary’s missiles.
India has also enhanced the observation, reconnaissance, and surveillance capabilities of its GSAT series with 0.35m resolution, and RISAT/Cartosat series with1-meter resolution.
Moreover, India aspires to integrate its BMD systems (Ballistic Missile Defenses) with its satellites. This expected integration would further strengthen India’s BMD as satellite networks in space would provide early information regarding the incoming missiles.
In the same vein, India’s overall BMD capabilities would also enhance with the incorporation of space-based detection along with the S-400 missile system.
Pakistan lags behind in outer space program
India’s enhanced space capabilities have further enhanced the security concerns of Pakistan. Since Pakistan does not aspire to militarize space, there exists a visible qualitative gap between Pakistan’s and India’s space programs.
But in the space arena, the competitive cascade does not travel all the way to Pakistan because Pakistan’s space programme is underdeveloped. While Pakistan has expended considerable national wealth in keeping pace with India in its nuclear and missile capabilities, it has not done so with regard to outer space.
On the other hand, there might be a security incentive for Pakistan to demonstrate that it also has an ASAT capability.
Pakistan could also develop other counter-space capabilities, including cyber and electronic means to target India’s space assets. While this remains speculative so far, the history of India-Pakistan competition suggests that this remains a possibility.
To penetrate the space-based precision targeting capability of India, at the least Pakistan can use high energy lasers.
These lasers are ground-based ASAT weapons that can damage and disturb the other satellites with its sensors. Furthermore, the MIRV (Multiple Independently Targetable Reentry Vehicle) capabilities of Pakistan can easily infiltrate India’s enhanced Missile Defence shield integrated with satellites.
Pakistan’s premier space agency SUPARCO needs to further counter the emerging Indian space threat by developing indigenous observation and surveillance capability that could detect Indian space assets.
At the international level, Pakistan should further urge the international community to pressurize India against militarizing outer space. In this regard, PAROS (Proposed Prevention of an Arms Race in Space), though an agreement neglected by the international community needs to be agreed upon.
Besides this, the previous multilateral agreements like the 1972 liability convention (Prevention of damage by space objects), 1979 Moon Agreement (Prevention of activities on celestial bodies and moon) and others are needed to be further enforced.
This would likely highlight the militarization of space by India as a threat to international security. Pakistan further needs to draw its red lines vis-a-vis space militarization to deter India from any adventurous intrusion.
India had long maintained a rather doctrinaire approach toward space security, emphasising the peaceful uses of outer space and opposing the weaponization and militarization of space. Thus, India had opposed the US Strategic Defense Initiative programme and other efforts to build ballistic missile defences, let alone deploying ASAT systems. The reasons for such an approach was fairly clear: India did not house these capabilities.
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But by the early 2000s, India’s position had begun to change as Pakistan began acquiring long-range missiles. India felt the need to build ballistic missile defences, leading New Delhi to take a sympathetic view of the George W. Bush administration’s decision to withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty in late 2001. By the end of the decade, as India’s own capabilities increased, it was clear that India was becoming more discriminating in its attitude towards space security.
Regional politics at play
China’s ASAT test in 2007 helped advance India’s process of revaluating its space strategy. India realised that its growing investments in outer space – until then largely civilian in nature – were now under threat from China’s new security capabilities. India also started thinking more about how to manage outer space for security purposes. As a result, India established a space cell under its Integrated Defence Headquarters shortly after China’s ASAT test.
What occurs in space can be the result of a geopolitical chain reaction. For instance, consider the US-China-India relationship: China often takes action because of its strategic competition with the United States.
This has an impact on India, forcing India to respond. But India’s response to China has an effect on Pakistan, which then responds to India.
This cascade can be seen on land, and at times, in space. For example, China’s first successful anti-satellite (ASAT) test in January 2007 was to demonstrate a catch-up effort with the United States. But once China tested its ASAT in 2007, India had little choice but to develop its own ASAT because of the need of deterrence.
The space-based ISR capability has provided India a technical advantage to carry out a counter force pre-emptive strike against Pakistan. The technical abilities provided by space-based ISR when fused provide an ability called F2T2EA (Fix, Find, Track, Target, Engage, Assess).
This would give discernable data along with the exact target to attack. To counter such a pre-emptive strike by India, Pakistan must focus on the enhancement of its assured second-strike capability. Furthermore, Pakistan needs to further enhance the research and development of space-based ISR capability to retain the strategic balance in South Asia.
GVS News Desk