India Nowhere Near China in Space Deterrence, But Can't Lose Focus: Experts
04:00 GMT 10.10.2021 (Updated: 17:11 GMT 20.06.2023)
Although India has so far maintained equidistance from the US and China in the space race, emerging threats to its borders have forced it to strengthen its military space capabilities. India has started segregating military and civilian space projects in addition to collaborating on space with its Quad partners – the US, Japan, and Australia.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will launch the Indian Space Association, a grouping of space and satellite companies, on 11 October in New Delhi. It aims to make the private space industry flourish, which has been limited to being vendors or suppliers to the Indian Space Research Organisation's (ISRO) programme.
In September, a document released by the ISRO mentioned that the government expects the private space industry to contribute to the country
in the way that SpaceX, Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic, and Arianespace do in other spacefaring nations.
The state-funded Indian Space Research Organisation has set a target to quadruple its market share of two percent in the $360 billion global space economy to nine percent of the total market share by 2030.
"ISRO can achieve the nine percent target provided NewSpace India Limited (NSIL), the commercial space company it sets up, secures orders to match this ambition. Given the proven launch capability of ISRO, it is very likely most new space sector launch contracts will come NSIL's way above any other private company or non-governmental private enterprise, as ISRO likes to call them", Aditya Pareek of the Takshashila Institution told Sputnik.
NSIL has been tasked with producing launch vehicles. The state-owned firm will soon issue an expression of interest for GSLV-MK3
, enabling private space companies to build the country's heaviest rocket.
Promoting the private sector will enable the ISRO to focus on its primary domain, i.e. research and development, considering the demand from the Indian Armed Forces to contribute more in the military field.
Last month, Indian Air Force (IAF) chief Vivek Ram Chaudhari said that in the absence of an independent military space programme, the military has been dependent on the civilian space programme of the ISRO in the past.
"Space as an extended battlespace is a new reality, and that we need to adapt to this new environment rapidly".
The IAF admitted that currently, the armed forces do not have the indigenous capability to observe, track, and identify non-cooperative objects
in outer space, which restricts its defensive outer space capabilities and limits anti-satellite capabilities.
Contrary to this, China deploys and has a proven kinetic anti-satellite (ASAT) capability, and the People's Liberation Army has been using a dedicated rocket force and strategic support force since 2015.
"The historical neglect and lack of overall financial wherewithal to pursue space warfare capabilities is the reason why India lags. Outer space and in-orbit capabilities are very high-tech and are hard to master. Still, India does have the scientific talent pool and political will to master them eventually", Aditya Pareek underlined.
India's yearly budget for the Department of Space FY2021 (ending March 2021) is around $1.864 billion. China's space budget was about $10 Billion in 2020, and the US' NASA requested around $25.2 Billion for this year.
"India certainly punches above its weight, but this disparity in funding by factors of 10 can't be overlooked", Aditya Pareek mentioned.
China's White Paper on Military Strategy 2015
clearly spelled out plans to counter threats emanating from rivals "weaponising outer space" by creating special units under the PLA that blend electronic, space, and network war-fighting capabilities into a single service.
In September this year, US Space Command chief James H. Dickinson made a veiled attack on China and others saying that the "irresponsible behaviour of our competitors" had forced the US to conduct space operations and take steps to protect space assets. The US blames China for carrying out anti-satellite weapons tests in an "irresponsible way that creates hazardous debris fields in orbit".
The statement comes after the US Space Command reached initial operational capability
in August, meaning it had "matured to the point where we have strategic effects".
Amid the increasing pace of China's space prowess and America's attempt to enhance its capabilities, India has yet to constitute the Defence Space Agency that the government announced a few years back.
"I would not say that the progress [Space warfare capabilities] is slow because India is not in favour of space warfare. India needs to consolidate its capabilities, like investing in space situational awareness, etc., as a defensive mechanism. Such processes need to be prioritised".
In September, the leaders of an informal grouping of the US, India, Australia, and Japan known as the Quad agreed to finalise a "Space Situational Awareness Memorandum of Understanding"
by the end of the year. It will facilitate data sharing and the sharing of services to ensure the long-term sustainability of outer space. Experts believe that this collaboration might provide a cushion to countries with uneasy relations with China.
However, Lele suggests that India needs to invest in developing jamming capabilities.
China's space capabilities can be gauged from data that shows it has completed 36 orbital launches in 2021 so far. The China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp. (CASC) aims for more than 40 missions this year alone. On the other hand, the ISRO has carried out only one successful mission this year, while the second mission on 12 August couldn't be accomplished as intended.
While China's space programme is primarily directed towards the US, experts suggest that countries like India and Japan cannot afford to lose focus from threats emanating from China to their national security.