New Delhi: Three Indian actions at the start of 2018 would contribute as a great source of insecurity in the regional and global strategic environment. First, India successfully launched 31 satellites, including the country’s 100th satellite of Cartosat series, on a single mission. Second, their army chief voiced readiness to cross the border to carry out any operation in Pakistan despite the nuclear deterrence. And third, India test-fired the Agni-V missile which covers China, Russia and even believed it could reach several European capitals. These developments are interlinked and have a causal relationship. The Indian military modernisation, especially in space and missile affairs, has encouraged the country’s leadership to enunciate hawkish and offensive comments against Pakistan.
India is militarising the outer space and this progress will disturb the fragile strategic equation of South Asia. The militarisation of space involves utilisation of peaceful space technology for exploiting weapons on the ground and on the earth’s atmosphere with more accuracy. There is a dual nature of the peaceful application of space technology and a satellite guidance system meant for peaceful use can be incorporated into a missile program for military purposes. Initially, India has always depended on the dual-use capability of satellite technologies for military and strategic purposes.
India successfully launched the first military satellite GSAT-7 in August 2013 with the ability to carry out wide network-centric operations and maritime domain awareness. Whereas in 2016, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) launched the seventh and final satellite to complete its own Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS) which will be called Navigation with Indian Constellation (Navic). Several Indian sources confirmed that the main objective of the system is military use and the chief beneficiary of this system will be the Indian military.
The navigation system will offer an encrypted service for the Indian military and agencies. Along with Navic, India is already working on the fourth generation GSAT dedicated military communication satellites. It will connect all three domains that are sea-based assets (warships, nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers), land-based assets (troops formation, conventional war tech, ballistic and cruise missiles) and air force assets (combat aircraft). The Indian progression in space is reinforcing a belief within New Delhi’s policy pundits to exploit sub-conventional military options under the nuclear umbrella such as the Cold Start doctrine.
India intensified the war from space by launching record-breaking 104 satellites from a single rocket (PSLV-C37). This technological feat was a demonstration of potential Multiple Independently Targetable Reentry Vehicle (MIRV) capability because PSLV rocket can be used as a missile to carry nuclear warheads to target locations. There are reports that India is planning to induct an ICBM missile (Agni-VI) into its armed forces with the capability of carrying MIRV, which can hit the targets up to 6,000 km.
Interestingly, the payload of Agni-VI is almost the same as satellite payload carried by the ISRO’s much larger and heavier Global Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV). This fact evidently demonstrates that the very foundation of Indian missile is the space launch vehicle technology delivered to it by countries like the US, Russia, France and Germany at different times under the rubric of peaceful scientific development.
In the last decade, India has ramped up the pace of space modernisation and the driving force is the Indo-US nuclear deal of 2005. In 2005, when the US and India were involved in constructing closer ties in space exploration and satellite navigation, there were reliable reports that Indian scientists were attempting to develop an ICBM. The deal started to create new avenues for India with regard to technology transfer. The emerging space-related cooperation between the US and India has started to help in improving the efficiency of latter’s missile capabilities. Moreover, India’s inclusion into the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) last year has enabled technological development with significant military implications.
The status acquired by India in MTCR has already generated noticeable benefits for India, especially in the context of producing BrahMos cruise missile. Under the shed of MTCR, now it is easy for India to import “high-end, dual-use technology” from other MTCR members, a benefit Pakistan and China do not have. The membership of MTCR has scaled down the level of scrutiny on the Indian space program because the guidelines of MTCR are not designed to impede national space programs or international cooperation.
The militarisation of space by India is already posing security challenges for its nuclear-armed neighbours while strengthening the Indian battlefield strategy, robust system for location identification and navigational support. The Indian defence ministry has already hinted that space warfare is a priority area till 2025 under the “technology perspective and capability roadmap”. The offensive military posture coupled with international cooperation in modernising India’s space program will have a negative impact on the regional strategic stability.