Saturday, June 29, 2013

IRNSS: India's Own Satellite Navigation System, a short essay of mine on the July 01 launch of India's satellite-based navigation system...

Here's a short essay of mine on India's new satellite-based navigation system to be launched on July 01, 2013...

India's own satellite-based navigation system, similar to the well-known American Global Positioning System (GPS), is being readied. The first satellite of the seven satellite constellation is to be launched on July 01, 2013 aboard a XL-size Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) - C22 from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre near Sriharikota. The Indian system is called the IRNSS for 'Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System'. Previously, PSLV XLs were used for some of the other important missions, including Chandrayaan-1 and RISAT-1.

For the full post, click here.


The American GPS-system is of much larger scale covering the entire globe using 24 satellites in addition to several networked ground stations. IRNSS, on the other hand, is being undertaken on a much smaller scale. The Indian system is intended as an independent regional system providing "position accuracy better than 10m over India and the region extending about 1500 kms around India."

The IRNSS, with a total of seven satellites, placed at a height of about 36,000 kms, and using two microwave frequency bands, L5 and S, will relay information 24x7 for two types of services: Standard Positioning Service (SPS) for general use and Restricted Service (RS) meant for special authorised users - military and other government actors. Three satellites will be placed in the geostationary equatorial orbit, matching earth's rotation and the other four (pair of two) will be placed in two inclined geosynchronous orbits. Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) Chairman K Radhakrishnan says (according to The Hindu) that the coverage, if necessary, could be improved with an addition of four more satellites.

Cost has been an important consideration. For nine years, the ISRO has been exploring ways to develop a navigation system for India. The IRNSS project, involving a cost of Rs. 1,420 crores, was approved by the government in June 2006.

The significance of IRNSS cannot be underplayed. Navigation systems, once used by the most powerful militaries around the world, are also being used by civilians through their smart phones. In addition, many militaries are using them for a wide range of applications. India's ability to develop its own system without having to rely on any external source will go a long way in securing itself. An ISRO official has said that "It will be our own system. It will make us independent in the area of navigation. At the moment we depend on US' GPS or Russia's GLONASS system. They can block signals anytime if they want."

The US-managed GPS became available for large-scale use a decade ago or so, although the importance of location precision technologies in the military arena with an emphasis on accumulating hard power has prompted many countries, particularly in Asia, to develop their own versions of GPS and other space-based navigation systems. Some of the proven and more popular systems include the Chinese Beidou, Russian Glonass and Japanese Quazi-Zenith Satellite System (QZSS) that is making slow progress.

China's Beidou satellite navigation system, that launched its first navigation satellite in 2000, plans to have a full global coverage by 2020. China has already launched 16 satellites and four experimental ones onto space as part of the Beidou system. Ye Peijian, chief commander of Chang'e-3, China's lunar probe mission, recently stated that Beidou will have an additional 40 satellites, enhancing the coverage capabilities.

In spite of the sovereignty and territorial disputes, including recent flare-ups with several Southeast Asian countries, China has been successful in selling its system in many countries in the region. Among other countries, Thailand, Laos and Brunei have already subscribed to the Beidou navigation system. Pakistan and Sri Lanka in South Asia have also opted for the Chinese navigation system.

In terms of the Chinese domestic market, growth for the Beidou system has been at a slow pace. By 2015, China expects to capture a domestic market share of 15-20 per cent, predicted to go up to 70-80 per cent by 2020. The forecast is that it potentially will have a market worth 22 bn yuan. Meanwhile, China has plans to create strategic industries around the navigation system, evincing interest among the business community to invest big time in this area. The Chinese central government is expected to make a total investment of 7 bn yuan, and according to official figures, it has already invested 3.5 bn yuan to strengthen industry presence in the space arena. China foresees that with the entry of industry, Beidou system will spur economic growth in a big way.

Russia's GLONASS was a response to the US' GPS, and the GLONASS is run by Russia's space forces. It has a 24 satellite-constellation, with 21 in operation and 3 as back-ups. Placed at an altitude of 19,000 km, each of the satellites orbit the earth in 11 hours and 15 minutes. The satellites are positioned in a manner to allow at least five satellites to be in view at any given time. India entered into a pact with Russia on satellite navigation collaboration way back in 2005 although it took them another six years to sign an agreement for India to receive military signals from Russia. In fact, though there have been several agreements signed in this regard, the Russian government has been unwilling to part with "precision codes" (which provides data to navigate up to one metre).

Japan is set to be making progress with a few important decisions taken this year. Japan is developing the navigation system in order to enhance the GPS navigation signals and data availability in the Asia-Pacific region. Speaking to the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs, Japanese space officials are believed to have said that currently, data is available only 90 per cent of the time in Japan whereas the QZSS will improve it to a 99.8 per cent level, in addition to improving the accuracy.

The first Quazi-Zenith satellite, Michibiki, was launched on September 11, 2010. Earlier in 2013, the Cabinet Office decided to expand the Japanese satellite system, ordering an addition of three satellites, making it a four-satellite constellation. The government sanctioned a $526 mn contract with Mitsubishi Electric for building the additional satellites, to be launched by 2017. Two will be positioned in inclined orbits, whereas a third one will be placed at geostationary equatorial orbit. The government has reportedly sanctioned another contract worth $1.2 bn, with "a special-purpose company led by NEC Corp." This contract obligates NEC Corp. to operate QZSS for 15 years, including design, verification and maintenance of the ground system for the QZSS. Japan has plans to invest in seven satellites by the next decade although the first four constellation system is set to be in operation by 2018.

Given the growing importance of location data for a variety of purposes including in the civilian, disaster management and military domain, India cannot be lagging behind. A decision by the ISRO to involve Indian industry in developing communication satellites and PSLVs will lighten the burden on the ISRO while helping to refocus their attention on some big science projects and remote sensing satellites. This move will also step up the process of establishing a much-needed strategic industry around outer space.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

As China rises, will it become liberal?, my short essay on what China's rise means in terms of the global order...

Here's a short essay on what China's rise means in terms of the global order. Will it become truly liberal embracing some of the universally accepted principles and ideals such as rule of law, democracy, individual, media freedoms, among others?

It is not in India's interests to see a weakened US being replaced by China that pays no heed to some of the universally accepted principles and ideals like democracy, rule of law, individual freedoms, among others. India should be mindful of what awaits them in a post-US dominant world. What will the global order look like under Chinese dominance? Does India have the ability and willingness to try and shape a world order in the coming decade that is more congenial to its interests?

For the full essay, click here.



This is not to suggest that China may never come to accept the above-said universal values. In fact, in 2010, while addressing the graduates of the leading business schools, Qin Xiao, chairman of a state-owned bank, China Merchants, urged them to follow "universal values" like freedom and democracy. While this debate has caught on in China as well, this is not across the board. But more importantly, this may only be a means to achieve a larger objective of becoming number one power. Until and unless the power transition happens where China clearly emerges as the number one, Beijing may adopt or embrace the values and practices that it thinks might help it get there.

On the other hand, one might argue that China does not need these principles to get there and that it is primarily its economic might that has made its rise so phenomenal in the last few years. While there is merit in such articulations, the threat and destabilising consequences of China's rise have been debated intensely over the last decade. Chinese leadership has tried to convey that its rise is going to be peaceful but there has been a teeny-weeny problem - the Chinese actions have not matched their words. Others, particularly China's neighbours, are not convinced that China's rise will be peaceful, considering China's behaviour over the last few years. In such a scenario, embracing such universal values and ideals may help in diluting or softening China's image. It may also help build up China's image - an image of a China that is respectful of rule of law, individual and media freedoms and adherent of human rights and such practices. This might provide China a shield, contrasting with the image that China does not shy away from the threat or even use of force, in its dealings with other states.

On the other hand, it is unlikely that China will ever embrace these universal values as these are seen as threats to the one-party rule by the Communist Party.

What has strengthened China's claim to be a great power in the last few years was their ability to come out relatively untouched by the 2008 global financial crisis. This along with their ability to lend money to the financially-battered Europe gave China a huge boost in their dealing within the region and beyond. This new-found confidence has not created a China that is at peace with itself. During the same period that China became economically powerful, one has seen further tightening on personal freedoms of citizens, in terms of stringent online censoring, serious actions against dissidents, human rights activists and so on. Therefore, the argument that better economic performance and greater economic interdependence in a globalised world will lead to greater political and other kinds of freedoms is unfounded, at least in the case of China.

It is also a fact that China's economic performance over the last decade has changed the economic status and living standards of a large section of its people and that the citizens were willing to forego some of their freedoms for a better life, though it is doubtful how long this compromise would last. The continuing rhetoric of social good, harmony, mostly publicised through neo-Confucianism, also helps the party to strengthen its political legitimacy. All these may be amenable to Chinese citizens. But if China were to shape a world order that might be bereft of some of these universally accepted principles, it may be problematic for many countries, including India.

Having said that, China has time on its side for reforms. After all, the 19th century Japan and Germany did not embrace liberal ideas until much later in their development process. A strong centre with less space for individualism marked those regimes too in the early stages of their growth. With major emphasis on public good and welfare, individual freedoms fared no chance.

China already has some of the trappings of a major power, but it is not there yet. So it could set in motion the process of instituting political processes at a pace that does not break the system.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Not So Fast..., my third essay for the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists on societal verification in arms control....

My third essay for the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists on societal verification in arms control was published in the latest issue.

As this Roundtable nears its conclusion, I continue to believe that the success of societal verification will depend above all on arms control itself gaining greater acceptance in developing countries. A useful first step would be to make arms control processes more transparent and inclusive. Societal verification itself can follow at a later stage -- once arms control has gained more acceptance, developing countries have achieved greater freedom and established less dangerous security environments, and states themselves feel ready to implement and encourage societal verification measures. This is a long list of conditions. So though I believe that societal verification might one day make a meaningful contribution to treaty verification, I don't believe that its widespread use is imminent in most of the developing world.

For the full article, click here.


I accept Jamal Khaer Ibrahim's argument that informal, person-to-person approaches, in the vein of track 3 diplomacy, seem to be among the most promising ways for societal verification to gain acceptance in the developing world. But at the same time, I agree with Ibrahim Said Ibrahim's assertion that societal verification can't truly thrive in places where sustainable development, good governance, and the like have yet to take hold. Jamal Khaer Ibrahim speaks of support for societal verification bubbling up from the business community to high levels of government -- but this will only happen in nations that are reasonably open to begin with. Elsewhere, societal verification will have to gain acceptance in bureaucracies and the political class before it can percolate down to the public level.

But even in countries with open forms of government, dangerous regional security environments will often pose obstacles for societal verification. India's neighborhood, for example, is not benign, and it is not perceived as benign either in official circles or among the public. And in a nationalistic environment such as that which exists in South Asia, security concerns are intensified and real threats are sometimes exaggerated. So India's public discussions of security issues focus on issues such as military modernization, offensive capabilities, force multipliers, and strategies allowing vigorous responses to regional security realities. Societal verification is not close in spirit to any of these topics, and it is unlikely to enter public discussion any time soon.

External threats can be major obstacles to societal verification; in a nation like India, so can internal pressures. India faces internal security threats from religious fundamentalists, ethnic secessionists, and a rural Maoist movement that aims to overthrow the state. When a nation faces such menaces within its own borders, the last thing on decision makers' minds will be societal verification. Indeed, societal verification might strike leaders primarily as a threat to the state: The same techniques that could promote treaty verification efforts could also be used for harm if they were taken up by terrorists and other radical elements.

As this Roundtable nears its conclusion, I continue to believe that the success of societal verification will depend above all on arms control itself gaining greater acceptance in developing countries. A useful first step would be to make arms control processes more transparent and inclusive. Societal verification itself can follow at a later stage -- once arms control has gained more acceptance, developing countries have achieved greater freedom and established less dangerous security environments, and states themselves feel ready to implement and encourage societal verification measures. This is a long list of conditions. So though I believe that societal verification might one day make a meaningful contribution to treaty verification, I don't believe that its widespread use is imminent in most of the developing world.

CBR Security in India: Threat Analysis and Role of Industries, an Issue Brief written by Rahul and me....

Here's an Issue Brief written by Rahul and me on the CBR security in India, looking specifically at the role of industries in setting security standards, among other issues.

The paper examines the current state of security and safety of chemical, biological, radiological materials in India's industrial sector, with particular focus on small and medium-sized industries. It argues that an integrated approach that includes prevention, mitigation and response is required to meet the nation's CBR related security challenges.

For the full report, click here.


Type rest of the post here

Friday, June 14, 2013

International Space Code: EU needs to be patient, my analysis of the EU code making process....

Here's an analysis on the EU space code making process.... The EU setting a deadline of 2014 at the first international consultations in Ukraine is not helpful.

The EU having taken the lead in initiating the international space code must be patient in taking it to a meaningful conclusion. The EU in this regard must engage in wider consultations at bilateral, regional and multilateral levels as a means to bridge the political divide between states and have it endorsed by as many states as possible. However, such endorsement in large numbers can come about only if the EU were to move at a pace that is comfortable to all and not hasten the process by setting artificial deadlines.
For the full article, click here.



Concluding the first round of the open-ended consultations on a Code of Conduct for Outer Space Activities in Kiev, Ukraine in May 2013, Principal Adviser and Special Envoy for Non-Proliferation and Disarmament of the European External Action Service Jacek Bylica, in a press statement, said that the EU plans to complete the process and finalise the code by next year. Ambassador Bylica rightly emphasised the worsening of the outer space domain including the growth of space debris even over the last five years when the draft of the Code was being discussed. Meanwhile, the number and types of actors engaged in outer space activities have gone up significantly. Militarisation and potential weaponisation of outer space are also issues of concern. All of this makes outer space crowded, congested and contested. However, as Amb. Bylica also pointed out, there is no one single UN department that looks at both the safety and security of outer space in a holistic manner. There are institutions and mechanisms such as the UN COPUOS that looks at the peaceful activities and the Conference on Disarmament (CD) that looks at the security aspects pertaining to outer space. A code may be an apt instrument to cover both these aspects while bringing the existing mechanisms and treaties under its purview. Against this backdrop, the EU has argued that the process of establishing the Code should be completed by 2014.

While this exercise is not an easy process and the Kiev meeting was meant to be part of this process, it certainly was a forward step as it brought together a larger number of countries to start the conversation around the Code. The meeting in Kiev, attended by more than 60 countries, proved itself as an important platform for countries to air their reactions and responses to the EU-proposed Code, both on the process as well as the content. However, setting a deadline of one year appears to be hastening the process a bit too quickly.

Most space-faring states understand and appreciate the need to establish the rules of the road to govern activities in outer space as a means to ensure the long-term sustainability. Nevertheless, the process leading to the formulation of an instrument cannot be hastened to be concluded in such a short span of time. States need to spend considerable time debating issues, from the need for such a mechanism to the principles and scope of such an instrument, as well as the process. For many states, the process is as important as the instrument. To hasten the process may not help in enlisting the support of a large number of countries.

On the other hand, it is understandable that the EU has expended considerable amount of energy and resources into this exercise. However, it has to be more patient in letting the process take its due course if it has to muster the critical support it requires. A process such as this should ensure that it is supported not only by a significant number of countries but also supported by those countries that are seen as significant. Second, a truly international effort in the code formation began only in 2011-12 and it appears that a measure of this nature cannot be concluded in a span of two years.

This is not exclusive to the space code debate but holds true in the larger context of arms control. Any arms control measure must be initiated at the global rather than regional level. These should ideally be taken up in the CD or other UN institution that may carry larger legitimacy at least in the context of many of the developing countries. Enlisting the support of these countries is critical in ensuring the endorsement, and thereby longevity and effectiveness of the instrument. Such measures could also be initiated through pre-proposal consultations among a smaller working group, an inter-governmental group, space agencies of established space-faring powers or even a group within the CD that could deliberate upon and consider the utility of different measures in the context of developing a code or any such measure.

However, the more important aspect in gaining greater traction for any arms control measure is to proceed at a pace that is comfortable to all. This is particularly important for the Code that has seen a bit of resistance from outside of the EU capitals. Countries are going to be skeptical when a group of countries or a particular region takes the initiative to produce a mechanism, particularly if it is an arms control measure, as has been the case with the space code. One group of countries cannot decide upon a course of action and expect it to be endorsed by the rest. These exercises have to be truly global and inclusive if they have to be endorsed by a large number of states.

Meanwhile, other established and emerging space powers also need to make earnest efforts and participate in these processes. Major space powers sitting on the fence need to start shedding their political differences and start contributing to the process in a constructive manner. This is critical given that the challenges facing outer space are huge and space is truly global requiring global attention and action.

In conclusion, the EU having taken the lead in initiating the international space code must be patient in taking it to a meaningful conclusion. The EU in this regard must engage in wider consultations at bilateral, regional and multilateral levels as a means to bridge the political divide between states and have it endorsed by as many states as possible. However, such endorsement in large numbers can come about only if the EU were to move at a pace that is comfortable to all and not hasten the process by setting artificial deadlines.