Tuesday, November 12, 2013

EU’s New Space Code: A Significant Improvement, my OpEd on the EU's new space code, published in this week's Space News....

Here's an OpEd of mine on the EU's new Space Code published in this week's Space News.

A new draft of the European Union (EU)-initiated International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities is out. The text of this draft is a huge progress from the previous versions, incorporating many of the comments and suggestions from countries around the world. The language of the new document is tighter and avoids some of the vagueness of the earlier drafts, which had been a cause for concern.

For the full essay, click here.






A new draft of the European Union (EU)-initiated International Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities is out. The text of this draft is a huge progress from the previous versions, incorporating many of the comments and suggestions from countries around the world. The language of the new document is tighter and avoids some of the vagueness of the earlier drafts, which had been a cause for concern.

One of the key changes is that the new draft has made it amply clear that it is not in conflict with any of the existing treaties and conventions and that it is fully consistent with other U.N. instruments, including previous international legal instruments, declarations, principles and guidelines.

Starting with the Preamble, the new draft makes explicit the objectives of the code, highlighting “greater international cooperation, collaboration, openness and transparency.” More importantly, the new text omits the reference to the “legitimate defence interests of States.” This clause was seen as particularly troublesome by many states given that it could be interpreted subjectively, favoring certain states to potentially weaponize their space capabilities.

Under General Principles, the new draft clarifies the right to individual or collective self-defense in the face of vehement criticism that the right may be pursued by states to legitimize acts of weaponization. While the reference to the right to self-defense has been retained, it has been balanced with the principle of refraining “from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state or in any manner inconsistent with the purposes of the Charter of the United Nations” in an effort to reflect customary international law, as enshrined in the U.N. Charter. Oddly, this clause generated no debate in the Asian context or even among the major spacefaring powers. The principle is also mentioned in the draft treaty proposed by Russia and China (Article 5) — a fact that could infuse confidence among a large number of developing countries.

In the section on Safety, Security and Sustainability of Outer Space Activities, clause 4.2 avoids a troubling qualification (contained in the 2012 version) that in conducting outer space activities, states will “refrain from any action which brings about ... damage, or destruction, of space objects unless such action is conducted to reduce the creation of outer space debris” (emphasis added). The new version has removed this qualification. The earlier version raised problems because of the subjective manner in which actions could be justified as legitimate and also who determines what actions can be deemed legitimate and that a particular activity has been undertaken to reduce creation of outer space debris.

The one area where some concerns continue is the distinction made between countries that sign the code and those that do not.

Section 5 of the new version, Cooperation Mechanisms, is a good example. Clause 5.1 of the new text says that subscribing states “resolve to notify, in a timely manner, to the greatest extent practicable, all potentially affected Subscribing States of any event related to the outer space activities they are conducting which are relevant for the purposes of this Code, including: scheduled manoeuvres that could pose a risk to the safety of flight of the space objects of other Subscribing States.” Similarly, clause 5.2 says, “The Subscribing States resolve to provide the notifications on any event related to the outer space activities described above to all potentially affected Subscribing States.”

This distinction continues in Section 6, on Information on Outer Space Activities, which also calls for sharing information only among subscribing states. Indeed, the new text actually omits the reference in the previous text to sharing information with nonsubscribing states. Clause 6.2, for instance, states that subscribing states may provide “timely information on outer space environmental conditions and forecasts ... to relevant governmental and non-governmental entities of other Subscribing States.”

Such distinctions between subscribing and nonsubscribing states may have been included in order to create pressure on states to endorse and become parties to the code, but there are two problems, especially when it comes to information sharing:

n It goes against many of the U.N. and other multilateral instruments on space that encourage sharing of information among all states.

n Outer space being truly global commons, any threat to space assets that could cause damage or destruction through collision or other means needs to be shared irrespective of whether a particular state is a party to the code. Space debris does not make a distinction between subscribing and nonsubscribing states, and a collision will result in polluting the outer space environment further. Sharing information with nonsubscribing states might create free-rider problems, but is it really in the interest of any state, including those that accept the code, to not share information when all states could be potentially affected?

The second area of concern is with regard to the terms and conditions for international cooperation, which the new code leaves to individual states to determine. While the code should not be restraining those that are aspiring to emerge as spacefaring nations, leaving it to individual countries to formulate rules of engagement and cooperation could make the situation far more dangerous. Cooperation between states could be seen as positive, as a means of building greater confidence. But unregulated cooperation could increase regional or international insecurities, affect regional military balance, and even contribute to an arms race in space. Therefore, cooperation in space needs some regulation, and regimes need to spell out rules of the game for such cooperation.

Of course, this should not be in the form of technology controls and arms control in space, which are unlikely to work. What needs to be pursued is regulation in terms of how space technology is used, which would involve establishing rules for operations and activities rather than control of technology.

Thus, the new draft is a significant step forward. The language has been tightened to make it more precise and thereby avoid ambiguity and loopholes. The document is particularly mindful of the interests of emerging space actors and instituting measures for greater international cooperation. There have also been several practical measures suggested for more transparency (influenced by the language of existing instruments such as the Report of the U.N. Group of Governmental Experts on Transparency and Confidence-Building Measures in Outer Space Activities) that could instill greater confidence among states, which also could address the political difficulties among major powers.

Given the growing number of challenges to safe and sustainable exploitation of outer space, it is time for concerted action by the global community. Outer space is truly a global commons and the responsibility for its safety and sustainability needs to be shared. One state’s action in this domain can affect a large number of states and their assets, which also suggests the need for greater cooperation and mutual consideration. Space is also a limited commodity and therefore measures to strengthen sustainable use of outer space should be actively pursued.

Monday, November 11, 2013

MARSMERISING, on India's Mars Mission in The Gulf Today....

Here's a story on India's Mars mission published last week in The Gulf Today... with my comments as well.

ndia launched its first rocket to Mars on Tuesday, aiming to reach the red planet at a much lower cost than successful missions by other nations, positioning the emerging Asian giant as a budget player in the latest global space race. The Mars Orbiter Mission’s red and white striped rocket blasted off from the southeastern coast, streaking across the sky in a blazing trail, and is scheduled to orbit Mars by next September.

Probes to Mars have a high failure rate and a success would be a boost for Indian national pride, especially after a similar mission by China failed to leave Earth’s orbit in 2011. Only the United States, Europe, and Russia have sent probes that have orbited or landed on the planet.

“The ISRO team will fulfil the expectations that the nation has in them,” said K. Radhakrishnan, head of the state-run Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), after the spacecraft was successfully placed into orbit around Earth. “The journey has only begun. The challenging phase is coming.”


















India’s space programme began 50 years ago and developed rapidly after Western powers imposed sanctions in response to a nuclear weapons test in 1974, spurring its scientists to build advanced rocket technology. Five years ago, its Chandrayaan satellite found evidence of water on the moon.

India’s relative prowess in space contrasts with mixed results in the aerospace industry. State-run Hindustan Aeronautics has been developing a light combat aircraft since the early 1980s with no success so far.

Reaching a new horizon

“The point is we don’t have the sound technological base for a car, forget about a fighter jet,” said Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan, senior fellow at the Observer Research Foundation.

The mission plans to study the Martian surface and mineral composition as well as search the atmosphere for methane, the chemical strongly tied to life on Earth. Recent measurements by Nasa’s rover, Curiosity, show only trace amounts of it on Mars.

India’s space programme has drawn criticism in a country that is dogged by poverty and power shortages, and is now experiencing its sharpest economic slowdown in a decade. India has long argued that technology developed in its space programme has practical applications to everyday life.

“For a country like India, it’s not a luxury, it’s a necessity,” said Susmita Mohanty, co-founder and chief executive of Earth2Orbit, India’s first private space start-up. She argued that satellites have applications from television broadcasting to weather forecasting for disaster management.

The mission is considerably cheaper than some of India’s more lavish spending schemes, including a $340 million plan to build the world’s largest statue in the state of Gujarat.

Analysts say India could capture more of the $304 billion global space market with its low-cost technology. The probe’s 4.5 billion rupee ($73 million) price tag is a fraction of the cost of Nasa’s MAVEN mission due to launch this month.

ISRO designed the craft to go around Earth six or seven times to build up the momentum needed to slingshot it to Mars, a measure that will help it save fuel, said Mayank N. Vahia, a scientist in the department of astronomy and astrophysics at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research.

It costs India about 1,000 rupees ($16.20) to put a gram weight into space, less than a tenth of Nasa’s cost, he said.

India’s space programme still has challenges, including the need to import components and the lack of a deep space monitoring system which means it will rely on the United States to watch the satellite once it nears Mars.

There’s much at stake in the global space business, where revenues for the satellite industry in 2012 was $189.5 billion, according to the US Satellite Industry Association.

Space is the limit

“Given ISRO’s broad portfolio of space capabilities, India could, if it does things right, get at least a quarter of (the space industry) market if not more in the coming decade or two,” said Earth2Orbit’s Mohanty.

India’s relations with its giant neighbour China are marked as much by competition as cooperation, and analysts say New Delhi has stepped up its space programme because of concerns about China’s civilian and military space technology.

“The reality is that there is competition in Asia. There’s the angle of the potential space race,” said Rajagopalan.

Although India’s programme is largely for peaceful purposes, it has increasingly realised the need to grow its deterrence capability after China’s 2007 anti-satellite missile test.

“That was a wake-up call for India,” said Rajagopalan. “Until then we were taking it easy.”

China’s space programme is far ahead of India’s, with bigger rockets, more launches and equally cost-effective missions.

Officials dismissed the suggestion that India raced to prepare Tuesday’s launch to trump China’s failed attempt at Mars.

“We’re not in a race with anybody,” said ISRO spokesman Deviprasad Karnik, noting that the voyage can happen only every 26 months, when the spacecraft can travel the shortest distance between Earth and Mars. “The mission to Mars has to be organised whenever there is an opportunity available.”

Mangalyaan Mission Plays Vital Role in New Delhi’s Development Plans, my OpEd on India's Mars mission published in yesterday's Global Times

Here's my OpEd on India's Mars mission published by Global Times (China) yesterday.

My core argument is that India's space program was not originally driven by big ambitions. As noted by Vikram Sarabhai, one of India's space pioneers, India did "not have the fantasy of competing with the economically advanced nations in the exploration of the moon or the planets or manned space-flight."

But this has changed. India is no longer as poor and backward as it was in the 1960s when Sarabhai spoke. The increasing intensity of international competition means that India needs to show off its abilities once in a while.



India successfully launched a Mars mission, the Mangalyaan, on November 5. The mission is a major demonstration of India's technological capabilities, and a reflection of the growing competition in the Asian space race.

At $73 million, this is one of the most cost-effective Mars missions. But the political and security considerations are also important. Being the first Asian country to conduct such a mission must also have been an important factor in India's calculations.

Despite being one of the most cost-effective missions yet, questions have been raised as to why India spends money on such efforts when it is faced with dire poverty and developmental issues at home.

There has been criticism, both in India and outside, about the waste of resources on spectacle while developmental needs remain unmet.

It is undoubtedly true that India has significant developmental challenges on which it needs to spend money and effort. Nevertheless, there are at least three important reasons for conducting such missions.

First, while India has poverty and developmental issues, it also has to develop its scientific and technological base. It would be foolish to suggest that India should ignore scientific and technological advances until all developmental issues are resolved.

High technology projects such as the moon mission in 2008 and now its Mars mission are important both for technology development as well as to motivate the scientific community and the general populace.

Space technology and assets are needed for everything from communications to weather forecasting. No nation, especially a developing one, can ignore such technologies. But such technologies and capacities cannot be developed without also developing India's space capabilities in general, which is why the Mangalyaan is important.

Space is a vital aspect of India's security. India does not live in a benign neighborhood and it has had to balance between its development and security needs. No major power can afford to ignore the importance of space technology for its military needs.

India has launched its first dedicated military satellite for the Indian navy, in recognition of the increasing geopolitical and military rivalry in the Indian Ocean. Staying in the space race is thus an important consideration for India because it affects other aspects of India's security.

There are increasing worries that space itself might become a direct security threat. The threat of the militarization of space is gaining greater momentum. And the idea of establishing an Indian aerospace command has been gaining greater traction.

Given its experience in the nuclear arms control area, India has to come to understand the importance of crossing a certain technological threshold if it wants to sit at the high table.

In the nuclear arena, India did not conduct an atomic test in the 1960s even though it had the capacity to do so and therefore found itself left out of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and various other aspects of the NPT regime.

Today, world powers are debating a regime to regulate outer space activities. India cannot let itself be left out of any space regime as happened over nuclear weapons.

But in order to be heard in the discussions of any new rule-making effort, India needs to demonstrate its capabilities in space research and technology, something that the Mangalyaan amply did.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

India’s Race to Mars Goes Way Beyond Science, my essay in Asian Wall Street Journal on India's Mars mission....

Here's a short essay of mine on India's Mars mission on November 05, published in Asian Wall Street Journal.

India’s space program did not begin with big ambitions. Vikram Sarabhai, one of the original leaders of the Indian space program in the early 1960s, said that India did “not have the fantasy of competing with the economically advanced nations in the exploration of the moon or the planets or manned space-flight.”

Even if we take Mr. Sarabhai at his word, India’s maiden mission to Mars, set for lift off today, shows that things have changed.

For the full essay, click here.


Firstly, it provides an indication of a growing space race between India and China. Fielding its Mars mission before China has reached the Red Planet is clearly a big factor in Delhi’s calculations. China attempted a Mars orbiter mission in 2011, piggybacking it on a Russian Mars spacecraft, but that failed to leave Earth’s orbit.

Setting off to Mars is a demonstration of India’s technological capabilities and an attempt to join the US, Russia and the European Union in successful interplanetary exploration before China.

The mission is not without its critics, including some former officials of Indian Space Research Organisation, India’s space agency, who argue that it is a waste of money, especially in a country where so many live in poverty. It is unlikely that critics will get much of a hearing.

India claims that its missions are much cheaper than similar ones elsewhere, with this attempt costing $73 million, about a tenth as much as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration spends on comparable programs.

The bread or gun argument is real for India, but the country doesn’t live in a benign neighborhood and the security imperative also requires it to focus on those capabilities which can prepare it for the challenge presented by its location.

India’s security compulsions are becoming a more compelling driver for its space program. Countries around the world have so far used space for so-called passive military applications such as communications and reconnaissance but there is a growing trend towards ‘weaponizing’ outer space.

The U.S.’s Prompt Global Strike program, which includes using long-range missiles and hypersonic vehicles that will transit through space, has created the impression that it plans to weaponize space. This could provoke reactions from Russia and China and set off a broader arms race in space.

China’s anti-satellite test in January 2007 served as a wake-up call to India about the challenges that exist in its neighborhood. The test sparked a new debate, both within the Indian security establishment and the larger Indian strategic community about the country’s traditional policy against the militarization of space and put pressure to develop its own anti-satellite system. While India is yet to demonstrate such capability, the scientific establishment has made it amply clear that they have the technological blocks ready should there be a political decision to do so.

One indicator of Indian concerns about the nature of the space race, is the likely establishment of an Indian aerospace command. Many of the key global powers such as the U.S. and Russia have such commands, India does not. While the Indian government has been debating the issue for close to a decade, there are indications that it is moving forward with the proposal. In 2008, India established an Integrated Space Cell under the aegis of the Integrated Defence Staff. The cell has functioned well in coordinating between the military, the Department of Space and ISRO.

India also launched the first dedicated military satellite this August for its navy, reflecting a gradual shift in the country’s approach to security. The maritime communications satellite is a necessary tool for the marine force as the competition for the Indian Ocean, particularly with China, gradually gathers pace.

From the outset of its space program, demonstrating technological pride and capability has always been an important consideration for India. No less so today. But the Mars mission is as much about demonstrating India’s capabilities as a force in space, as it is about scientific skill.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Staying away from CHOGM meeting will be a strategic blunder, my take on India's indecisiveness reg. CHOGM in Colombo and what it means for IFP...

Here's an OpEd of mine on India's indecisiveness regarding CHOGM to held in Colombo next month and what it means for Indian foreign policy.

If Prime Minister Singh decides not to go to Colombo for narrow political interests, it will be a strategic blunder. India's foreign policy interests cannot be driven by such narrow political interests of just staying in power. This is a dangerous trend in Indian foreign policy.










Sri Lanka is all set to host the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) on November 15, 2013. India still appears to be uncertain whether it should take part or boycott altogether the meeting on account of mounting pressure from Tamil Nadu. On October 24, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalitha sponsored a resolution calling for a "total boycott" of the meeting and the State Assembly unanimously adopted the resolution. The resolution noted that "only a boycott would bring about a genuine change in Colombo's attitude to the Tamils on the island." In addition, the state opposition party, the DMK that has remained traditionally supportive of the Tamil cause, has also asked the central government to boycott the meeting in Colombo. Congress Party MPs from Tamil Nadu are also raising the pitch asking for a boycott of the meeting.

The political pressure displayed by all the political parties appears to be a stunt in the backdrop of the national level elections in 2014. The UPA Government is concerned about losing the 39 seats from Tamil Nadu, either to the AIADMK or the DMK in the forthcoming elections. The government should have the guts to call the bluff and face the consequences. India's foreign policy cannot be run by such narrow political interests. India's decision to do a total boycott or a decision on who should represent and at what level, will have consequences beyond its domestic politics. Therefore, the decision should not be left to be driven by domestic interests alone.

Tamil Nadu politicising the Sri Lankan Tamil issue is also full of ironies and contradictions. While the AIADMK and the DMK have postured themselves as the ultimate guardians of the Tamil interests and therefore do not want to engage the Rajapakse Government until Colombo has acted on the alleged war crimes and violations of human rights in the final phase of the LTTE War, Tamil politicians based in Sri Lanka are on a pro-active mode with the Rajapakse government to strengthen their influence and leverage. The new Chief Minister of Sri Lanka's northern provincial council, CV Wigneswaran, in a message to the Indian government, was categorical that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh should attend the CHOGM meeting, highlighting that the Indian leader could use the CHOGM forum to send a clear message.

India's indecisiveness on the CHOGM issue throws open opportunities to Sri Lanka to deepen and widen Colombo's relations with Beijing and Islamabad, among others. With the exception of the Canadian Prime Minister, all the other leaders from the Commonwealth countries are attending the meeting, implicating India negatively. Should India isolate itself at a major forum such as CHOGM when it is being held in its backyard?

Sri Lanka is generally seen in India as a potential area where China could create mischief and if the Indian Prime Minister decides to abstain, that only provides opportunities for Sri Lanka's friends to consolidate their ties at the cost of India. Given particularly the importance of Sri Lanka in India's Indian Ocean strategy, New Delhi cannot afford to isolate itself from Sri Lanka. In that context, India must remind itself that it is doing no favour to the Rajapakse Government if the Prime Minister finally decides to attend the CHOGM Summit. New Delhi's participation will create new avenues where it can highlight the deficiencies on the part of the Sri Lankan government. India's participation will also help keep the channels of communication open and the acceptability of India as a neutral party in dealing with the Tamil issue.

If India decides to abstain from the CHOGM meeting, New Delhi should be clear that it will isolate itself totally vis a vis the Sri Lankan leadership and thereby lose any opportunity to influence affairs in Sri Lanka, including the interests of the Tamils and that of (Indian) Tamil fishermen.

Commenting on the Indian dilemma, Sri Lankan High Commissioner to India, Prasad Kariyawasam, in a television interview, commented along the same line: "Sri Lanka would be going ahead hosting the conference and we are happy at the level of participation that we have. It will be those who do not participate who will be isolated, not those who are participating." In addition, India's abstention will strengthen the impression that the Tamil interests solely drive India's interests in Sri Lanka. India's efforts to create multiple constituency articulating closer India-Sri Lanka relations will be hampered as well.

Lastly, an OpEd in the Hindu highlighted Prime Minister Nehru's viewpoints on multilateral forums and how India must not waiver from its principled stand on "full participation in international conferences." Whether India has such a principle or not, the more important point is that it will have an ability to shape and influence events and actions if India is in the room than outside. Staying outside the camp and protesting also does not bode well for a major regional power such as India.

If Prime Minister Singh decides not to go to Colombo for narrow political interests, it will be a strategic blunder. India's foreign policy interests cannot be driven by such narrow political interests of just staying in power. This is a dangerous trend in Indian foreign policy.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Proliferation of Space Technology and Its Impact on Space Security, my presentation at the recent UNIDIR conference held in Kazakhstan

Here's my presentation on space technology proliferation and how it might impact on space security as also what might be done to stem the dangers of such proliferation, at the recent UNIDIR conference held in Kazakhstan on October 4-5, 2013.

For the presentation, click here.




Type rest of the post here

Monday, October 14, 2013

No, China Is Not About to Overtake the US in Space

Here's an essay written by my colleague Arvind and I on China's growth particularly in the space domain, published by the Diplomat on October 02, 2013.

China’s growth trajectory overall and more particularly in the space domain has been impressive. However, John Hickman’s categorical assertions in a recent Foreign Policy article that China is catching up and “may surpass the United States… to become the world’s preeminent spacefaring power” seems to us a touch far-fetched.

For the full essay, click here.




Certainly Hickman is right about Chinese determination and the “unquantifiable” factor of “an extraordinary sense of historical grievance” being a major driver of Chinese space dreams. China attributes its “military technological backwardness” to its past national humiliation at the hands of other major powers. Indeed, this is an important part of the national psyche and helps drives the Chinese space programs.

The problem lies in the tools needed to turn determination into material outcomes. The most important: China has nothing near the commercial space sector that the U.S. boasts. Sure, NASA now gets less than 1 percent of the U.S. federal budget, but much of America’s true capabilities are embedded in its private sector, which plays a much larger role than its equivalent does in China’s space sector and gives the U.S. a major advantage in space technology innovation. Not to mention the fact that the high-tech and defense sectors also contribute and the U.S. lead there is not going to disappear anytime in the next several decades.

China is taking steps to beef up its own commercial space sector (read: state-owned enterprises) but it still lacks the massive private-sector investment in R&D that will be vital to sustaining the success of any space program. For now, China must rely on public investment to advance its space program.

A Need for Innovation

More importantly, China does not innovate, it copies. That helps it catch up, but without innovation China will have difficulty taking over the top spot. Its growth looks like a parabola, approaching the number one spot before falling away.

Although China’s space program has come a long way since its launch failures in 1995 and 1996, that dramatic rise has been aided by the reverse engineering of Russian technology. For instance, many observers believe that the Shenzhou space capsule that heralded China’s manned space flight was based largely on the Russian Soyuz capsule. However, China’s ability to catch up with the other space superpowers by copying alone is fast approaching its limits. This is not helped by U.S. moves to isolate China with regard to international cooperation in space. The latter’s access to the latest technologies has consequently been restricted, a fact that even the Chinese are realizing, reflected in their recent drive to focus more on innovation.

Moreover, China lags significantly behind the U.S. generally in scientific innovation. Consider, as an example, that the U.S. is at the vanguard of revolutionizing manufacturing techniques with the use of 3D printing, which it intends to utilize in the International Space Station, or the involvement of NASA scientists in experiments that could bring them closer to the development of a warp-speed engine.

If ambition is cited as a factor for the possibility of Chinese dominance in space, then surely one must consider the U.S. aspiration to explore the far reaches of space. Even if China is quickly catching up with U.S. dominance in Low Earth Orbit (LEO), its program is largely restricted to that realm. The U.S. meanwhile has set its sights beyond our planet’s periphery.

While American satellites are exploring the far reaches of our solar system, with the Voyager 1 having reached interstellar space, closer to Earth satellites belonging to the U.S. and its partners outmatch Chinese satellites in number and scope. The former owns more than half of all satellites currently orbiting our planet. In terms of their capabilities, American satellites are still far superior to their Chinese counterparts.

Concerns regarding the decommissioning of the U.S. Space Shuttle Program may also be unfounded. NASA has already tapped the commercial sector to fill the gap in its human spaceflight capability. In the final phase of the Commercial Crew integrated Capability program (CCiCap), NASA signed an agreement with the Sierra Nevada Corporation, Space Exploration Technologies and the Boeing Company to develop commercial spaceships to launch American astronauts into orbit by 2015. This is not a sign of weakness; it is an indicator that U.S. national interests are closely aligned with the interests of the country’s commercial space sector.

In contrast, China’s commercial space sector is still very much nascent. In fact, China’s space sector is comparable to the Russian model: state sponsorship and commensurate state interference. Even though Russia continues to be one of the foremost space powers, it has experienced a sustained decline owing to financial constraints and manpower concerns. For China, the PLA’s stakes in aerospace companies are likely to encourage protectionist tendencies, which in turn block the emergence of other innovative thinkers. An underdeveloped private industry will limit the potential for innovation.

China’s impressive ascent in space capability has been driven by massive state financing. While this has undeniably worked well to date, the sustainability of this model as the Chinese economy rebalances is questionable. If state support is capped, or tapers, then with only a modest private sector to fill the gap it is difficult to see how China will sustain the extraordinary progress it has made over the past 15 years.

And finally another factor that must not be discounted is experience. American astronauts have logged thousands of hours of space flight. That gives them long experience dealing with issues China is just beginning to encounter.

Future Potential – With Reforms

Yet despite these limitations, China’s space program could continue to impress given sufficient time and patience. Maintaining the growth trajectory will, however, require reform. More opportunities and incentives for private-sector participation will encourage innovation, while reducing the burden on the public purse. While a political mandate has been issued for innovative thinking, Beijing needs to make the requisite institutional and structural changes that will allow that to happen. Those changes may also help protect the Chinese space program from economic vicissitudes.

In fact, China has shown it understands the importance of commercializing its space efforts. Fortunately, it does enjoy some tremendous commercial opportunities. In Latin America, countries like Venezuela are looking to the Chinese to supply space technology and launch services. There is also demand in Africa, which has already developed strong economic ties with the Chinese. Given that China also has the fastest-growing market for commercial space services on its doorstep, namely in Southeast Asia, there is ample potential to generate revenue to fund R&D. China should aggressively seek potential clients around the world and invest heavily in education.

Meanwhile, China could try to attract technical talent from abroad. This will, however, require more than generous remuneration, since it will be tough to match the American private sector in that regard. For China, this should be a long-term plan for educating the next generation of engineers. If the Chinese are willing to invest time and resources, a new generation could innovate and develop new technology, instead of reverse engineering, creating a slow but more certain path to preeminence.

Finally, dominance in space requires more than just technology. China will need to become a persuasive force in the making of space policy, and this in turn will require that it demonstrate an ability to act responsibly. Beijing’s 2007 anti-satellite test and the resulting space debris was an example of what not to do, especially as the U.S. managed to shoot down a satellite with minimal residual space debris.

So, yes, China has clearly made very significant strides in its space capability. However, it is still a long way short of matching U.S. capabilities and alarm bells need not ring just yet. China’s rise is a function of heavy state investment based on a model that is unlikely to be sustainable. The American model of public-private partnership is more innovative and less of a taxpayer burden. China will need to undertake significant reforms before it supplants the U.S. as the world’s leading space power.

Synergies in Space: The Case for an Indian Aerospace Command

Here's an Issue Brief of mine, articulating the need for an Indian aerospace command published by ORF.

Introduction

The Indian Armed Forces have been mulling over the establishment of an aerospace command for close to a decade now. Over those years, international circumstances and geopolitics relating to outer space have changed, making it imperative for India to make decisions now. Though outer space is part of the global commons, it is increasingly getting
appropriated and fenced as powerful States are seen seeking to monopolise space.

The growing advanced military space capabilities of some nations, which include the development
of their anti-satellite missile capabilities, are also a worrying trend. With much of outer space having
been utilised by a small number of great powers and the increasing presence of non-state players in
the recent years, even a nominal increase in terms of space activity by some developing countries is
leading to issues related to overcrowding and access. In order to protect its interests, India must
institutionalise its own strengths in the form of an Aerospace Command.

For the full paper, click here.


While all the three services are becoming increasingly reliant on outer space assets, the Indian Air
Force (IAF) has taken the lead, at least going by open sources. Back in 2003, Indian Air Force Chief
Air Marshal S Krishnaswamy had already articulated the need for an aerospace command: “Any
country on the fringe of space technology like India has to work towards such a command as
advanced countries are already moving towards laser weapon platforms in space and killer satellites.”

Some years after that, in 2006, the IAF established a Directorate of Aerospace in
Thiruvananthapuram in South India, which can be referred to as the initial avatar of the Indian
aerospace command. What was visualised was a separate command with communications,
navigation and surveillance as major functionalities. The directorate was headed by an Air
Commodore-rank officer who reported to the Vice Chief's office through the Directorate of
Concepts and Doctrines at Air Headquarters. The government, however, refused to take decisive
action over the additional expenditure involved. It also feared that India might be accused of
militarising outer space.

India has come a long way since then. The government clearly recognises the need to have a triservice space command, particularly given the changing regional and global dynamics of security.

In June 2008, Defence Minister A. K. Antony announced the setting up of an Integrated Space Cell
under the aegis of the HQ Integrated Defence Staff. Outlining the background to the project, the
minister said: “Although we want to utilize space for peaceful purposes and remain committed to our
policy of non-weaponisation of space, offensive counter space systems like anti-satellite weaponry,
new classes of heavy-lift and small boosters and an improved array of Military Space Systems have
emerged in our neighbourhood.” Antony articulated the need for the cell which will operate as an
integrating window between the military, the Department of Space, and the Indian Space Research
Organisation (ISRO).

The debate surrounding the creation of an aerospace command began to gather greater momentum
in the aftermath of the Chinese anti-satellite (ASAT) test in 2007. Two weeks after the test, then
Indian Air Force Chief Air Marshal S. P. Tyagi publicly raised the issue, stating thus: “As the reach of
the Indian Air Force is expanding it has become extremely important that we exploit space and for it
you need space assets. We are an aerospace power having trans-oceanic reach. We have started
training a core group of people for the 'aerospace command'.”

Former Indian President and eminent scientist, Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, in March 2007 outlined the
force multiplier aspects of outer space assets. He said: “I visualize the Indian Air Force of the year
2025 to be based on our Scientific and Technological Competence in the development of
communication satellites, high precision resource mapping satellites, missile systems, unmanned
super-sonic aerial vehicles and electronics and communication systems. This capability will enable
the Air Force to succeed in the electronically controlled warfare in the midst of space encounters,
deep-sea encounters, and ballistic missiles encounters.” He emphasised the greater relevance of air
and space power in future warfare. The idea behind an aerospace command is to integrate all the
different capabilities and functions that exist today, particularly the military aspects of outer space.

Logic of an Aerospace Command

The logic behind the creation of a joint aerospace command in the case of India is abundantly clear.
First, as India's requirements for space increase, it becomes more important for the country to have a
single agency that will coordinate such different activities. Second, the presence of a single entity will
also allow India to better promote its national interests in outer space as this becomes increasingly
crowded and contested. India's security interests are now more than merely maintaining territorial
integrity; today those interests go beyond its borders. Accordingly, India's armed forces have to be
far more agile and dynamic with an ability to constantly understand, appreciate and respond to
emerging situations. The need to be ever vigilant to the rapidly changing security environment in
Asia cannot be underestimated.

Even as India has maintained the rhetoric of peaceful uses of outer space, the military utilities of
outer space are growing. At present, out of the country's 25 satellites, six are dual-use or military
ones, with utilities across passive military applications including surveillance, communications, and
navigation.

However, with the changing nature of warfare, it has become necessary to leverage space capabilities
for full-fledged military operations as witnessed in the US operations in the two Iraq wars and
Afghanistan. India cannot remain on the sidelines, as many other countries including potential
adversaries move ahead, utilising space for military purposes. China, for example, has learnt a great
deal from the US experience and accordingly streamlined its capabilities under the PLA. We can also
learn from the experiences of other powers that have made such attempts before.

Aerospace Commands in Other Countries

Many other powers have gone about establishing space commands given the increasing military
nature of utilities of the space domain. The United States Space Command (USSPACECOM) is one
of the earliest space commands, established in 1985 as a Unified Combatant Command of the US
Department of Defense.

The Command was established acknowledging the greater utility of space assets in military
operations and therefore the need to institutionalise it under one head. Military utility for passive
applications such as intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, and navigation, has been widely
prevalent and the potential for space assets for utility in active military operations is rising. The
USSPACECOM was established with a view to coordinate and strengthen several different space
utilities, including launching of satellites and other high-value payloads, enhanced communications,
intelligence, missile warning, and navigation.

Even though a Russian Space Command, as part of the Russian Aerospace Defence Forces, was
born only in December 2011, Moscow had set up the Russian Space Forces way back in 1992. The
new command, as in the case of the US, is tasked with important space utilities in functions such as
missile warning, space surveillance, and control of military satellites.

France, too, has a similar institution called the Joint Space Command, established in 2010. It has roles
and functions that are similar to those of its counterparts, including tracking and directing space
utilities in six key programmes: earth observation; signals intelligence; space situational awareness;
missile warning; military satellite telecommunications; and space-based navigation. The idea of the
Command was also to establish a single window for contact with international partners on all the key
programme areas.

One of the justifications for France's space command was that while the country had a fairly wellestablished military space programme, particularly satellite communications and optical surveillance
capability, there was a lack of a clear chain of command to get these space assets to be used for
tactical operations. Thus like the other two, coordination was the primary problem that France faced,
and it is an issue that India faces, too.

Looking at the experience of these three powers, a joint space command has been of great utility in
giving a sharper focus, particularly to military space activities, in coordinating with international
partners in identifying the challenges and finding solutions, and lastly in seeking better financial
allocations and human resources. In most cases, it is the air force that has taken the lead despite the
fact that it is a tri-service command with utilities across army, navy and air force.

India's own space command should have a similar outlook, with the IAF shepherding the command
and also similar functionalities: stepping up watch on India's immediate and extended
neighbourhood regions and developing better situational awareness across land, maritime and air
domains, easing integration of outer space assets across the three services while restricting the
destructive abilities of hostile forces that might target India's outer space assets, and bringing about
better integration among India's multiple space-related stakeholders including the ISRO, the
Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry
of External Affairs, and the Department of Space.

At a functional level, India's aerospace command could also be responsible for India's evolving
missile defence programme, providing missile launch warnings, managing a range of high-end
satellites with military utilities, among others. While ISRO has been so far managing India's satellites,
having a military command responsible for military satellites as well as the dual-use satellites with
military implications will free up the ISRO and enable it to focus on more scientific and
developmental missions.

India already has much of the hardware needed to effect these capabilities; bringing it all under a
single military command will be significant. India's all-weather and day and night satellites, with
synthetic aperture radars such as the RISAT-1, RISAT-2 and the maritime communication satellite
such as the GSAT-7, already implement many of these military functions.

It is important to ensure that while the Air Force may take a lead in shaping the command and its
activities, the burden and assets for the joint command be shared among all the services equally. The
burden should not be placed on the Air Force alone, making the command potentially a non-starter.
Moreover, the command should not be seen as a supporting, auxiliary unit but a full-fledged
command with utilities across the spectrum.

Conclusion

While India has the software in terms of its technological capabilities, it lacks the institutional
architecture in the form of an aerospace command. Given the centrality of space assets across
domains–socio-economic and development, weather monitoring, intelligence, surveillance, and
navigation–India has to coordinate the functions of these different compartments for greater clarity
and better allocation of resources, both human and financial. In addition to greater efficiency, an
Aerospace Command is also needed because of the manner in which other powers are using outer
space and its potentially dangerous consequences for India.

Space should be playground for humanity’s dreams, not new battlefield

Here's a short essay of mine on the global governance of outer space published by the Global Times on October 09, 2013. As two of the established space powers in Asia, India and China, have a responsibility in framing the evolving rules by rectifying loopholes. Legally binding mechanisms are ideal and desirable. However, the prospect of consensus among major powers in identifying challenges and introducing solutions seems distant.

Given these difficulties, India and China could start working toward common definitions of responsible behavior and greater transparency measures among major powers.

For full post, click here.


With the growing dependence on outer space assets for socioeconomic, developmental and military purposes, the number of players in outer space is growing rapidly. There are more than 60 such operators, including non-state actors, in this domain.

India and China, as two of the established space powers in Asia, have a responsibility in framing the evolving rules by rectifying loopholes.

Legally binding mechanisms are ideal and desirable. However, the prospect of consensus among major powers in identifying challenges and introducing solutions seems distant.

Given these difficulties, India and China could start working toward common definitions of responsible behavior and greater transparency measures among major powers.

A new regime should be guided by three key objectives: the security of outer space, order and stability, and sustainability. Most nations accept and acknowledge these objectives, at least rhetorically.

India and China face several common challenges. Operationally, these include space traffic management, overcrowding of satellites and debris in outer space. The debris increases the potential of collision with currently viable assets.

For example this May, the only Ecuadorian satellite, Pegasus, collided with Russian space debris and on August 28, it was officially declared "lost." The UN Inter-Agency Space Debris Coordination Committee predicted that space debris, unless tackled aggressively, will have grave consequences over the next 200 years.

The ongoing militarization of space is a concern. Several countries are using space assets for military functions, developing anti-satellite capabilities and offensive uses for space assets, and are making the threat of weaponization and a new arms race imminent.

With this congestion, the need for cooperative rules and regulation cannot be overemphasized, possibly through an institution similar to the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

Unregulated cooperation will only heighten insecurities at multiple levels. This explains the inadequacy of the current regime which has been hobbled by political differences and precluded a new cooperative architecture.

Consequently, different countries have been pursuing tangential solutions. The West has by and large favored Transparency and Confidence Building Measures (TCBMs) as a means to develop norms of responsible behavior in order to ensure safe, secure and continued access to space. While Russia accepts TCBMs, it has joined hands with Beijing to propose a draft treaty preventing the placement of weapons in outer space.

Similarly, a resolution on the Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space (PAROS) was passed by the UN General Assembly in 1981, but the Conference on Disarmament (CD) in Geneva is yet to have a productive session on PAROS.

The UN Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) is another mechanism to develop cooperative measures in outer space. India too has been active in writing new rules. With a consistent policy against the weaponization of space, it has been active in forums like the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space and the CD.

Even as it insists on working out a legally binding mechanism, it is pragmatic enough to recognize the need to start with a normative exercise and gradually move to legal measures.

Space, as a true global commons, must be protected for safe, secure and uninterrupted access. India and China, along with other spacefaring powers, must therefore utilize every opportunity to push for developing norms of responsible behavior, including strengthening measures in the area of active debris removal and on-orbit satellite servicing.

These two early space powers should take on an active role in bridging the gap between the West and the rest in formulating new rules including the Space Code of Conduct and should not allow a few Western countries to monopolize the process, given the huge financial stakes involved.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Space Fence Solution: International Collaboration... an analysis written by my colleague and I on possible ways to keep the programme running....

Here's an analysis written by Rahul and I on the proposed shut down of the U.S. Space Fence programme and what could be done keep it running until a replacement is ready. This is important given the vulnerabilities in the absence of such a programme. The essay was published in the Space News yesterday.

The proposed shutdown of the U.S. Space Fence programme or what is formally called the U.S. Air Force Space Situational Surveillance System (AFSSS) does highlight the increasing trend of budget cuts’ constraining the ability of nations to utilize their capabilities in critical areas. The absence of such programs leaves all of us vulnerable. Given such trends, states have to think of international collaboration to get things going. How this should be worked out is something for all the major spacefaring states to consider.

Should there be a consortium of countries to keep the Space Fence up and running under an international agreement? In the face of divisive politics, it might be more appealing if such an arrangement were routed through a dedicated U.N.-affiliated agency for space traffic, like the International Civil Aviation Organization for air traffic.

For the full post, click here.



U.S. Air Force Space Situational Surveillance System
The Space Fence, or what is formally called the U.S. Air Force Space Situational Surveillance System (AFSSS), operational since 1961, is being shut down. AFSSS, consisting of three transmitters and six receivers placed across the southern U.S. and using radio waves, has kept a watch on what is going on in outer space. Many may consider outer space to be uninhabited and empty, but the reality is that over the decades it has been filled with millions of pieces of man-made junk that could cause huge harm to functioning assets. We need several systems to have a comprehensive coverage of the space environment. The United States has the largest network, even though its coverage of the Southern Hemisphere is not adequate. Russia has the second-largest network, followed by the European Union.

With the U.S. having shut down one of its major space situational awareness networks, major spacefaring powers need to make it a priority to contemplate possible solutions to track satellites and orbital debris on a continued basis.

The United States plans to set up a new Space Fence, which is to enter service in 2018. It has the potential to track much smaller objects than its predecessor and is also believed to be more accurate.

Until the replacement is ready, the duties of the AFSSS will be distributed to other branches; U.S. Air Force Space Command says it has “devised modified operating modes for the Perimeter Acquisition Radar Characterization System at Cavalier Air Force Station, N.D., and for the space surveillance radar at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., which allows the discontinuation of AFSSS operations while still maintaining solid space situational awareness.”

However, the shutdown does highlight the increasing trend of budget cuts’ constraining the ability of nations to utilize their capabilities in such critical areas. The absence of such programs leaves all of us vulnerable. Given such trends, states have to think of international collaboration to get things going. How this should be worked out is something for all the major spacefaring states to consider.

Should there be a consortium of countries to keep the Space Fence up and running under an international agreement? In the face of divisive politics, it might be more appealing if such an arrangement were routed through a dedicated U.N.-affiliated agency for space traffic, like the International Civil Aviation Organization for air traffic.

Even as it sounds clich├ęd, outer space is becoming more crowded, congested and contested. With new players still emerging in the space domain, and newer and smaller satellites entering into service, the challenges of tracking are significant. Given the potential for damage that could be done if satellites or other objects sent into space collide with each other and the numerous challenges triggered by natural causes, there is a need to build a space monitoring mechanism. Due to the costs and technology involved in creating such a mechanism, international cooperation will be crucial.

So far there have been a total of nine accidents that involved accidental collisions in outer space. Out of these, the collision of the Russian Cosmos satellite with the U.S. Iridium 33 satellite was the only incident where two satellites directly collided. All other collisions involved debris from different activities in outer space. According to NASA’s Orbital Debris Program Office, “More than 21,000 orbital debris larger than 10 cm are known to exist. The estimated population of particles between 1 and 10 cm in diameter is approximately 500,000. The number of particles smaller than 1 cm exceeds 100 million.” These objects travel at a very high velocity and inflict significant damage on satellites if they collide. A Chinese anti-satellite test in 2007 created more than 3,000 pieces of space debris, further aggravating the problem. Space weather, caused by charged particles created by the sun and Earth’s magnetic field, also creates disturbing conditions for space objects. Given the dependence of military as well as civilian infrastructures on assets in outer space, these threats are likely to create enormous damage if they are able to disrupt the functioning of these assets. Therefore, maintaining a steady monitoring system such as the AFSSS is vital.

The concept of space situational awareness (SSA), which includes predicting collisions in orbit, detecting launches of new space objects, predicting re-entry of space objects into the atmosphere and detecting threats and attacks on spacecraft, is crucial in predicting and preventing such events. This can be done with the use of radars, optical telescopes, electronic signal sensors, infrared sensors and spacecraft that are in orbit between Earth and the sun.

With the shutdown of the old Space Fence program, Air Force Space Command said it would save about $14 million annually. However, the huge amount of data on space objects around the Earth made available through this program was significant. More importantly, as Brian Weeden of the Secure World Foundation writes, “The U.S. military also uses the data to offer a close approach warning service for owner-operators of the more than 1,000 active satellites in orbit.” Using this data, more than 10,000 warnings of potential collisions were issued, and 75 “avoidance maneuvers” were supported. This highlights the extent of vulnerabilities without a continuing tracking system.

Several established space powers, including India, have a range of technologies set in place to detect and trace objects in space. Russia has the second-largest network of radars and sensors, providing a catalog of space objects. As of now, Russia, through bilateral agreements, collaborates with some of the Central Asian countries where it has located its space surveillance systems. The Russian Space Surveillance System comprises mostly phased array radars and some dedicated radars and optical telescopes.

Europe has sufficient numbers of radars and networks to monitor space objects although they are not nearly as comprehensive as the U.S. or Russian systems. The European effort is also not a coordinated one at this instance given that it is run and operated by only a few countries, including the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Norway. In 2008, Europe initiated the SSA Preparatory Programme for creating a European Space Surveillance Network, and it has received support from a number of European countries. Most recently, in March, the European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union (EU), launched a new initiative to track and monitor space debris. While many European countries have national systems, radars or telescopes for tracking satellites and space debris, most of the European satellite operators have been relying on the U.S. space surveillance and tracking information. With this new initiative, the EU plans to combine all the different networks to track satellites and debris.

Another example of international cooperation in creating SSA is the International Scientific Optical Network — a collaboration between scientific and academic institutions with 20 observatories in 10 countries for tracking objects in space, instituted by the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow. The Space Data Association, a grouping of commercial entities, also has a good network in this regard. It operates an automated SSA system that aims to reduce the risk of collisions and radio frequency interference. Its members currently include government and private satellite operators such as NASA, Avanti Communications, Arabsat and Telesat. The costs incurred are shared by participants and therefore reduce individual costs; this particularly could be useful given the tight budgets under which most agencies are operating.

India too possesses a wide array of ground-based tracking facilities. The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) Tracking and Command Network of ground stations across India offers critical support for India’s space missions and operations. Additionally, the Indian Deep Space Network provides operational assistance to ISRO and other space agencies, and India’s two Swordfish tracking radars have the ability to track activities in space.

All of these cooperative arrangements increase security in space, but a global network for monitoring space would only contribute more toward this goal. It is beyond a single state’s capacity to monitor all activities that could threaten assets in outer space. This is why international cooperation will be crucial to prevent accidental collisions and to predict events such as the recent Chelyabinsk incident. There is a need for countries to come together and create a mechanism for sharing the information they collect about the space environment for improving security and minimizing threats in outer space.

There are several different issues in the shutdown of the Space Fence. SSA and space debris are important, but the larger and longer-term problem is space traffic control or management and safety of navigation in outer space. One could potentially look at strengthening the Space Fence in the first instance, but this has to grow into something bigger like an international space traffic management center. Such a center might come to work as a traffic controller for outer space and at a later stage could be tasked to move or remove space debris. But investment in technologies for removal of space debris is expensive. Given these realities, collaboration in technology development may be the only way to go. It may also be looked at as an incentive to secure greater support for an international code of conduct for space. Any technology developed under such a program should be freely available to all countries.

Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan is a Senior Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi. She served in India’s National Security Council Secretariat from 2003 to 2007. Rahul Prakash is a Junior Fellow at the Foundation.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

story by Ian Williams in the latest issue of Arms Control Today on India's efforts at enhancing its nuclear weapons...

Here's a story by Ian Williams in the latest issue of Arms Control Today on India's efforts at enhancing its nuclear weapons. The story quoted me as well where I argued that given the “changing security environment,” of Asia, it is “imperative that India makes advances in weapons and technology. Particularly, the Chinese ballistic missiles deployed near Tibet are a key motive for India’s ballistic missile ambitions.

For the full story, click here.




India is pushing to improve its nuclear counterstrike capabilities with a plan to finish development of its Agni-5 ballistic missile by 2015, according to Avinash Chander, India’s new head of defense research.

Chander, director-general of India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), told India’s Headlines Today on July 2 that he will reduce the time required to launch a retaliatory nuclear strike to “within minutes” by making the country’s ballistic missile forces “much more agile, fast reacting, and stable.” The DRDO is the main Indian government entity responsible for developing new, advanced military technologies.

Response time is the most critical factor for an effective nuclear second-strike capability, said Chander, who was appointed to his post in May. He previously served as the chief controller of the Agni ballistic missile program and is considered one of the main architects of the Agni-5.

The DRDO is preparing to conduct two more tests of the nuclear-capable Agni-5 this year, Chander said in a June 29 interview with The Times of India. The three-stage Agni-5 is solid fueled and can carry a 1,500-kilogram payload a distance of 5,000 kilometers, according to news reports. The Agni-5’s first and only test-flight, which took place in April 2012, was considered a success. (See ACT, May 2012.)

A range of 5,500 kilometers is generally considered the threshold between intermediate range and intercontinental ballistic missiles. A missile’s range can be extended by lightening its payload.

When asked in the June 29 interview about the feasibility of finishing the development of the Agni-5 within two years, Chander said that there is no longer a need to conduct a large number of trials because the DRDO now conducts “thousands” of flight tests through computer modeling and simulations. The actual flight tests, Chander said, “are just to validate what’s predicted in the simulations.”

Agni-5 Timeline Questioned

Tessy Thomas, the current head of the Agni-5 development program, echoed Chander’s comments at an engineering conference Aug. 2, saying that, after two or three more successful test-flights, the Agni-5 will be “ready for operational service by 2015.”

Deployment of the Agni-5 would give India the ability to strike targets almost anywhere in Chinese territory. India has an explicit no-first-use nuclear weapons policy, but will “respond with punitive retaliation” to a nuclear attack on Indian territory, according to its draft nuclear doctrine released in 1999. India’s two main strategic rivals, China and Pakistan, each have deployed ballistic missiles capable of reaching Indian territory.

Some analysts question whether the DRDO can finish development of the Agni-5 by 2015. Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, said in an Aug. 2 e-mail to Arms Control Today that he thinks two years is “too optimistic,” citing the technical problems that “can and tend to pop up on the road to full operational status.” Kristensen pointed out that even after its first successful test launch in 1999, the Agni-2 ballistic missile underwent 14 more years of testing before it finally was classified as “deployed” by U.S. intelligence earlier this year.

The DRDO “has often overpromised and underperformed” on past projects, said Michael Krepon, director of the Stimson Center’s South Asia program, in a July 16 e-mail to Arms Control Today.

Monika Chansoria, senior fellow at the Centre for Land Warfare Studies in New Delhi, said in an Aug. 21 e-mail to Arms Control Today that although she believes there will be an “operational version” of the Agni-5 in service by 2015, the missile will not be deployed in significant numbers until the end of that decade.

Chander said in the June 29 interview that India is developing more-flexible and more-resilient launch platforms for its ballistic missiles. One of the DRDO’s planned test flights for this year will involve firing the Agni-5 from a road-mobile launch truck, according to Chander. Road-mobile launchers are more agile and easily concealed than fixed-site or rail-mobile launch platforms, making them less vulnerable to a pre-emptive strike. Currently, India’s only deployed, solid-fueled, road-mobile ballistic missile is the single-stage Agni-1, with a range of 700 kilometers, according to a recent report from the U.S. National Air and Space Intelligence Center (NASIC).

India successfully test-fired an Agni-2 ballistic missile from a road-mobile platform on Wheeler Island, according to an April 7 DRDO press release. However, the NASIC report said the solid-fueled Agni-2, which can carry a 1,000-kilogram payload a distance of 2,000 kilometers, is currently deployed only in rail-mobile mode.

In view of Asia’s “changing security environment,” it is “imperative that India makes advances in weapons and technology,” Rajeswari Rajagopalan, senior fellow at the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi, said in an Aug. 22 e-mail to Arms Control Today. Rajagopalan specifically cited Chinese ballistic missiles deployed near Tibet as a key motive for India’s ballistic missile ambitions.

Advancing SLBM Capability

India also has been progressing toward a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) capability. (See ACT, September 2012.) In January, India conducted its third successful test-firing of the nuclear capable K-15 SLBM from an underwater pontoon, according to a DRDO press release. Sometimes referred to as Sagarika or B05, the missile has a maximum range of 700 kilometers and can carry up to a 700-kilogram payload, according to a 2012 article in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. China, France, Russia, and the United States are the only other countries currently capable of producing SLBMs.

The K-15 is expected to be the main armament of the nuclear-powered INS Arihant, India’s first ballistic missile submarine. (See ACT, September 2009.) In development since the late 1980s, the Arihant’s nuclear propulsion reactor “achieved criticality” sometime in early August, according to an Aug. 10 press release from Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s office. The indigenously produced Arihant is now expected to undergo sea trials starting this year. In his statement, Singh described the success of the reactor as a “great stride” in India’s technological progress and said he looks forward to the submarine’s “early commissioning.”

Monday, September 2, 2013

Should India Declare a Space Policy?, my short essay published by the Diplomat

Here's the link to an essay of mine published by The Diplomat on whether India should declare a space policy or not.

A low-intensity debate has been taking place in India as to whether India should have a declared space policy or not. The general consensus appears to be that there is no need. But there are several arguments to make in favor of outlining a policy in the open. In today’s world, the advantages of a declared policy far outweigh the disadvantages. A declared policy calls for a clear understanding of how it should be tailored, what it should contain and what should be left out.

For the full essay, click here.


First, open policy statements and declared policies have remained the best means to assuage fears, build confidence and avoid ambiguities. These are important measures for building transparency and reducing tensions in regional and global contexts. Since the Asian context is characterized by growing competition and rivalry and the potential for conflict, even relative openness and transparency will go a long way in diluting the levels of regional insecurities.

A declared space policy would be an effective tool of communication for both internal and external audiences. For both audiences, it will set limits as well as open up opportunities as the number of states engaged in space exploration and utilization continue to grow. The value of communication through such an exercise, with both internal and external communities, is important. However, it is worth remembering that as a policy is prepared and articulated, while an internal audience is important, the policy will also send a message to external audiences. As such, it must be written in a manner that does not aggravate insecurities. Fail to do that, and external audiences could be left with the wrong impressions about India’s space program and policy, further raising the risk of misperception and miscommunication. How external audiences will read the policy statement and what they perceive about India’s needs, objectives and plans for the future, therefore, must be an important consideration as New Delhi readies a space policy document.

Second, India should have a clear picture of its long-term objectives and these should become guiding factors for a good space policy. The long-term objectives should consider both where India wants to be in a 25-year framework, and the perspective of outer space itself. A long-term vision should be followed by prioritization of important capabilities (political, diplomatic, military and economic) and partnerships that will help India reach its destination. This should translate into national security strategies articulated by the political leadership and then national military strategies derived from the national security strategy.

The second set of objectives will come from a debate on what sort of future India wants to achieve in space and accordingly what sort of behavior will be counter-productive to achieving those goals. Once there is clarity on these issues, India should adjust the orientation of its own space program and its priorities while working towards a favorable framework that would allow it to meet those goals. India should also steer its efforts in developing rules that would affect and curtail certain space programs and activities that may potentially be destabilizing and irresponsible. In addition to creating a framework that will protect its own interests, the political impact of this exercise is important. India should also strengthen its ability to maneuver at the global high table by prioritizing and fostering partnerships with countries that might share India’s vision in space.

Third, India should articulate its interests and policies in the broader context of the region and beyond, rather than talk about its interests in a narrow sense. This will have multiple benefits. For one, India’s policy articulation will be perceived as less threatening to the region. There are apprehensions particularly in the immediate neighborhood because of India’s dominant presence in South Asia. India’s growing capabilities in the space arena as in several other areas has the potential to heighten insecurities among these smaller neighbors. It will benefit India in the longer run if it were to showcase its interests and benefits in the regional context. Moreover, India should be able to cultivate regional interests that are akin to its own interests. It should be articulated in a manner wherein the region is able to transpose its interests and ideals with that of India’s. India should be able to convey to the region as to how such a policy might be in the interests of regional peace and stability.

Fourth, the domestic debate on India’s space policy has tended to highlight the utility of being ambiguous about policy. However, it should be understood that ambiguity has its limits. Bringing clarity to India’s policy and program will have multiple benefits. Despite the fact that India’s space program has been predominantly civilian in focus, the rising trend towards militarization in the region and beyond is influencing India’s orientation as well. Categorization of India’s space program into civilian and military components followed by clear-cut departmental structures would allow for greater focus, clarity and better financial outlays. Currently, institutional and budgetary resources are stretched across different programs. Devising a military space program will cater for better budget allocations as well as dedicated human resources.

Fifth, articulating an open policy would also add to the credibility of India as a major spacefaring nation. It would be a major transparency and confidence building measure, which is particularly important in the Asian context. Apart from its value in that regard, the policy should also articulate in clear terms redlines and limits that should not be crossed. This should be in terms of both capabilities and activities that may be considered irresponsible and contributing to regional and global uncertainties. Indicating such boundaries is important both for national security and deterrence as well as an international rule-making perspective. A national policy that would categorize certain activities as irresponsible and destabilizing will be in a position to determine when defensive responses can be activated and justified.

Similarly, defining what may be considered a space weapon or how one may define peaceful or defensive use of space will be significant in deterring accidents in outer space. This may be truer in the case of Asia, but space being a truly global commons, it has the potential to trigger conflicts even among the larger community of spacefaring powers. Being ambiguous about these boundaries and redlines undermines deterrence and increases the potential for accidental conflict. From an international framework perspective, a code of conduct that would set restrictions and limits and categorize certain capabilities as irresponsible or unacceptable might deter such actions. India should take a lead role while framing these restrictions at the global level in order to have its own interests protected.

Apart from the Cold War rivalries between the U.S. and U.S.S.R., space was seen as a benign domain with great utility in the civilian and developmental sectors. However, growing space capabilities are increasingly part of comprehensive national power. Growing facets of space use from space exploration to a quest for resources, including minerals, exploitation for energy resources (space-based solar power), operational response to natural disasters, and military use are changing the nature of our engagement with outer space. The technological spin-offs of ambitious projects such as space-based solar power have tremendous potential to bolster the science and technology base of any country.

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) should be commended for its achievements, particularly given its modest budget. However, as recently noted by the ISRO Chairman, private sector involvement will inject a much-needed stimulus to India’s program. India must aim at creating a strategic space industry if it is to keep pace with growing commercialization. Launching satellites is becoming a lucrative business and India should not lose opportunities in this regard. Also, the number and types of players have undergone a major change in the last few years. India needs to respond to these changes and become a leading figure by articulating its needs and objectives for the future. As in many other areas, articulating a policy along with its broad orientations would also bring much-needed clarity internally within the space sector. Additionally, partners that look to India for collaboration across fields including the use of space-based assets and space situational awareness will only benefit India’s capabilities.

Finally, India’s space policy should also outline its efforts in the area of international rule-making. Given the potential for space exploitation to affect every aspect of our daily lives, actions could have serious consequences. Therefore, laying down the rules of the road is a task that should not be left until space is highly weaponized. Aside from the political and strategic value, India has a huge financial stake given its investments and reliance in this regard.

Friday, August 30, 2013

on GSAT-7: India's first dedicated military satellite...

Here's a short essay on today's satellite launch, the first dedicated military satellite for the Indian Armed Forces, written by me and my colleague, Rahul.
ISRO has just launched GSAT-7, India's first dedicated military satellite. The satellite was launched into the Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit (GTO) from French Guiana using the European Space Consortium Arianespace's Ariane-5 VA 215. India's own GSLV rocket, using the indigenous cryogenic engine, is still in the works and will have to undergo a few more rounds of tests before it becomes operational. Until then, India will have to rely on foreign rockets for heavy payloads. The launch, including insurance charges, will cost India INR 470 crores, but capability building in terms of India's maritime security is huge. GSAT-7 will improve India's overall MDA (Maritime Domain Awareness) capabilities as well.

For the full essay, click here.


The 2625 kg GSAT-7, developed at a cost of INR 185 crores, will be the first dedicated satellite for maritime communications. The satellite will provide India with UHF, S-band, C-band, and Ku band relay capacity over the Indian landmass and surrounding seas. The deficiency faced by the Indian Navy in terms of both line of sight and ionospheric effects will be rectified to a large extent. Earlier, satellite communications for the navy was ensured through Inmarsat (International Maritime Satellite Organisation; the name was later changed to International Mobile Satellite Organization), originally a non-profit international organization but now a private British satellite telecommunication firm. Inmarsat, established in 1979 at the behest of International Maritime Organization (IMO, a UN body) for building a satellite communications network for the maritime community, provides maritime communication services to a large number of states including governments, airlines, oil and gas industry, mining and constructions, aid agencies among others. With the launch of GSAT-7, India will have its own set up and will not have to rely on foreign agencies. This launch, as an ISRO official commented off the record, is thus important from maritime security and surveillance points of view.

The launch, including insurance charges, will cost India INR 470 crores, but capability building in terms of India's maritime security is huge. GSAT-7 will improve India's overall MDA (Maritime Domain Awareness) capabilities as well. MDA is essentially better understanding of the maritime environment in the realm of safety, security, economy and environment. Without adequate MDA, India's abilities including surveying activities in the Indian Ocean Region and the surrounding seas are going to be limited. Increasing sea-borne traffic for energy transportation and cargo trade increases the potential for disruption of SLOCs and incidents of piracy and terrorism at sea, calling for greater understanding of the maritime domain on a continued basis. MDA is thus important for responding to rapidly evolving crisis situations. However, its relevance for anticipating situations or shape scenarios in the maritime security domain must also be an important consideration.

Nevertheless, the Indian military satellite network has a long way to go. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, India is currently operating 25 satellites, including those shared with other countries such as France. Of these, 4 satellites are dual-use in nature and are being used by the military. Besides, India launched its own (much smaller) version of GPS with its Indian Regional Navigational Satellite System (IRNSS) in July 2013. In comparison, China, a major driver for the Indian military modernization, operates more than 100 satellites, of which at least 31 are being used by their military. Additionally, China is in the process of completing its own GPS system - BeiDou - by the year 2020 with a total of 35 satellites in its constellation. As of now, the BeiDou Satellite Navigation System has 14 operation satellites and is capable of providing data and location services to the Asia-Pacific region. Upon completion, it will provide global coverage -- benefitting the Chinese military along with the civilian sector. Additionally, China is also developing a space station which is likely to be operational by 2020, adding further into China's capabilities in outer space.

To bridge this gap, New Delhi could cooperate with other like-minded nations such as the US and Japan. To this extent, cooperation on creating Space Situational Awareness (SSA) could also be explored, apart from MDA. On the domestic front, the GSAT-7 is a significant achievement, but delays caused due to technological and financial constraints need to be addressed to create a robust network of satellites to increase the capabilities of the Indian armed forces. Creating an Aerospace command of the armed forces could also contribute in these efforts by enhancing coordination among the three different wings.

The Indian armed forces cannot afford to lag behind, given the likelihood of an arms race in outer space, the possibility of which is increased by Chinese activities in developing Anti-Satellite (ASAT) technologies. Besides advancing its space technology to meet operational needs, India should also focus on using military space capabilities as a deterrent.

Monday, August 26, 2013

"Reassessing the US Pivot to Asia," my take on the continuing debate on the US pivot policy....

As the US continues its 'pivot' back to Asia, three important points need to be reiterated. First, is there really a 'pivot'? Did the US really leave Asia to pivot back? While Asia may have had attention deficit from the US, the reality is that the US never left the region and the US pivot or rebalancing, as it is now called, is more of an attempt of reassurance to its friends and allies in the region.

For the full post, click here.



This strategy is arguably an effort to rationalise its priorities after over reaching itself in Iraq and Afghanistan in the last decade. Fiscal compulsions and the emerging dynamics in the Asia Pacific region also demand this new rationalization. The changing nature of warfare along with an increasing emphasis on hard power has meant that there is a potentially dangerous arms race in the making. The resulting newer capabilities and strategies including the anti-access and area denial capabilities have caught the attention of the US military and defence department.

Why Is Assurance Needed?

Second, while the US pivot strategy is not a China-specific one, the US has had to pay attention and factor in China as it outlines its priorities for the Asia Pacific region. Therefore, China is only a part of the story, although a major part. China can be in fact seen as a major trigger for the changes that one witnesses in Asia.

While China has continued to articulate that it is 'rising peacefully,' its actions on the ground leave a different message, particularly to its neighbours. China's actions in some of the conflict areas in the region have been threatening. Looking at the emerging trends, states have come to firm conclusion that it is the Chinese actions and not words that needs to be counted.

Growing Chinese military capabilities including some of the asymmetric capabilities are of concern to many countries in the region, prompting them to acquire new weapon systems in response. AMI International, a US-based consultancy firm forecasts that Asia Pacific accounts for about 25 per cent of the projected global new ship market, spending about $180 billion for almost 800 new ships including surface vessels and submarines through 2013.

This region houses some of the busiest maritime and trading routes essentially for transporting of energy resources and cargo. For major energy hungry powers such as India, China, and Japan, protection of Sea Lines of Communication (SLOCs) is a major preoccupation. India's dependence on oil imports, for instance, at the current level of consumption, is expected to reach 91.6 per cent by 2020. The same story goes for all these other players as well.

All of these developments would result in what is traditionally called the security dilemma in Asia. How the US would respond to crises in the region is a big consideration for some of the smaller countries as well as its allies.

Thus, there is still strong support for an active US role in Asia even among potential adversaries. Whether this will stay the same depends to a great degree on how China behaves. A reasonable China might make the US less important to regional stability. On the other hand, continuing aggressiveness will make the US role necessary, whether or not China accepts it.

Third, clearly, Washington's friends and allies do feel reassured with the US refocus on Asia. Even as there is apprehension of the intertwining economic relationship between the US and China, allies such as Japan support the new strategy. While these countries are still uncertain about the ramifications of a rising China, states that are not typical allies of the US are also enthusiastic about the US rebalancing. It is also clear that China too would welcome the US in the region (even while it will not acknowledge the utility of the US presence) in order to check potential instability. So it could be said that the US rebalancing contributes to much-needed regional stability.

However, the relative decline of the US or at least the perception of decline could instill concern among the allies and others such as India. How this should be managed is an issue that China should seriously ponder over. Filling that power vacuum may be one issue but doing it without furthering additional insecurities is important.

The US pivot to Asia has, in this regard, provided new choices and options for countries in the region although it may be years before this strategy fructifies into something concrete. While hedging was the preferred strategy in Asia since the end of the Cold War, this is now undergoing change. The tendency among a lot of countries in Asia is now to embrace open balancing as a strategy.

Finally, these strategies and counter-strategies are still in their early stages and nothing is yet written on the stone. China clearly mishandled the relations with its neighbours, both big and small. China needs to re-think why it handled its relations so badly. It still has time to take corrective measures and reverse some of the security trends in the region. Many countries in the region are not comfortable playing the balance of power game but have been forced into it. So if China is willing to introspect and become more accommodative, a lot could change in Asia.