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.

Friday, August 2, 2013

India's Interests in Sri Lanka: Balancing Tamil vs Strategic Interests

Following discussions with a senior Sri Lankan official from Colombo, it does not instill any confidence that the ethnic reconciliation issue is reaching any settlement!  The fact that the government is not in favour of devolution of power is an indication of this.  Heavy military presence in the north and east -- another indicator -- is an issue that does not generate any confidence among the Tamils.  On the other hand, the government's fear is that there could be still radical elements present within the larger Tamil populace who could trigger problems for the government.  It has become a catch-22 situation!!

A second set of issues regarding Sri Lanka, from an India perspective is the role of external powers and how Sri Lanka may itself be maneuvering its position in the larger Asian geopolitical context.

This flows into what we at ORF have been debating for about two years now.  Our work will be brought out as a book in the next couple of months.  And I look forward to hearing more views in this regard.