WILL INDIA PREPARE FOR SPACE WAR? Radhakrishna Rao Freelancer, Bangalore e-mail: [email protected] If the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has its way, India would soon edge closer to preparing the ground for entering the domain of space war. The statement made by VK Saraswat, scientific advisor to the Indian defence minister, on 3 January at Thiruvananthapuram clearly indicates that Indian defence scientists are working on realizing the “building blocks” of an advanced weapons system capable of destroying enemy satellites moving in both low earth and polar orbits. ”Satellites used in network-centric warfare are either in low earth or polar orbit,” observed Saraswat. In all probability, the Indian anti satellite system would be a “kinetic energy” weapon designed to slam a projectile into the target. Giving details of the project, Saraswat noted that DRDO is now focusing on developing and perfecting the technologies related to tracking the satellite, command and control network for the interceptor and a laser seeker that can use three dimensional images to guide the killer vehicle. Saraswat is clear in his perception that India would certainly need technological capability to “take care of the rogue satellites” in the future. Elaborating his thesis, Saraswat projected the view that space security entails the creation of “a gamut of capabilities” including the protection of satellites, communications and navigation systems and denying the enemy the use of his own ‘space systems’. The technological capabilities for an anti satellite device, expected to be realized before 2015, will be evolved under India’s home-grown missile defence shield. Saraswat also revealed that a fourth interceptor missile test, slated for September this year would aim at bringing down an “enemy missile” at an altitude of 120-140-km. According to strategic analysts, the Indian missile defence shield is intended to protect key parts of Indian territory from the ballistic missiles originating from China and Pakistan.” Developing the anti satellite kill vehicle is the most critical aspect because the satellite signatures and the ballistic missile signatures are different” said Saraswat. Going ahead, he remarked that “What is needed is technology to track the movement of enemy satellites, for instance, before making a kinetic kill. We are trying to build a credible deterrence capability.” At the same time Saraswat made it clear that such an anti satellite device “will not be tried out in real life conditions unless there are exigencies.” On the face of it, Saraswat’s statement appears to be a ‘certain hint’ at a major initiative aimed at taking the neighbouring China head on in strategic technologies related to developing space based weapons. For way back in January 2007 China had stunned the world by successfully accomplishing an anti satellite test. In this controversial experiment, Beijing destroyed its aging weather watch satellite FENGYUN-1C located at an altitude of 865-km by deploying a ground based medium range missile. By its head on collision force, the missile reduced the satellite into “hundreds of thousands of pieces.” In the aftermath of this Chinese anti satellite test, which had come in for flake from across the world, India too had expressed its concern over the ‘safety and security’ of its space assets. India, which is now a major space faring nation, has in orbit a substantial number of satellites for communications, weather watch, earth observation and scientific research. In fact, while addressing the United Commanders Conference in New Delhi in mid-2008, Indian Defence Minister AK Antony had pointed out to the threat faced by the “Indian space assets” from the developments in the neighbouring country. Antony was clear and forthright in his observation that India is very much concerned about the emergence of “anti satellite weaponry, a new class of heavy lift off boosters and an improved array of military space devices in our neighbourhood.” Rightly, he wondered as to how long India can “remain committed to the policy of non weaponization of the outer space even as offensive counter space systems are emerging in the neighbourhood.” In the similar vein, Indian army chief Gen Deepak Kapoor to had expressed his concern over the rapid growth of well funded Chinese space programme—“especially in military terms with a thrust on offensive and defensive contents.” Interestingly, the official position of both India and China is in conformity with the 1967 UN Outer Space Treaty which clearly and specifically forbids the weaponization of outer space through the placing of destructive devices including nuclear weapons in earth orbit. In fact, in response to the Chinese killer satellite test, the then chairman of Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) G Madhavan Nair had stated that though it is well within the capability of India to develop and deploy a system to knock down a rogue satellite, India’s concern is to keep outer space a zone of peace and tranquillity . Evidently, ISRO being a civilian research agency with a mandate to explore and exploit outer space for peaceful uses, cannot openly associate itself with project focussing on the development of an anti satellite device. But then DRDO will be in a position to make use of the technologies developed by ISRO to give a quickening impetus to the development of a killer satellite system. Chemical fuel, navigation as well as control and command systems are among the hardware that are common to both a satellite launch vehicle and a missile. However the hitting accuracy of a missile should be more precise than that of a launch vehicle.