An ideal aerospace command would provide the Indian armed forces the capability to monitor a vast region from outer space — the Strait of Hormuz in the West to the Strait of Malacca in the east, China in the north and the Indian Ocean in the south.
It would be an integration of various components of the air force, Indian satellites, radars, communications systems, fighter aircraft and helicopters. The aim: to thwart hostile intrusions from space and missiles launched by military jets or from land and ocean (submarines).
The Indian aerospace command would not be quite as sophisticated as the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), a US-Canadian command created in 1958 to guard against Soviet bombers (of the Cold War era), or Russia’s aerospace command called the ‘Strategic Rocket Forces’.
These two nations had sustained programmes for the deployed of a space-based strike weapon (SBSW) throughout the Cold War era, but have not done so. Meanwhile, some aspects of India’s aerospace command would be similar to NORAD and would cover surveillance, tracking, early warning and related areas.
According to sources in the Ministry of Defence, the command would incorporate a few Indian satellites: some low earth satellites (LEO) to map the terrain and monitor the deployment of enemy troops, battle tanks, missiles etc along the borders.
One communication and meteorological satellite would provide a communication link with ground stations and a picture of the weather beyond the Indian borders. It would also have a set of advanced infra-red (IR) sensors to spot surface-to-surface and surface-to-air missiles. In addition, a satellite with a global positioning system (GPS) capability would help in navigation and guidance operations during a hostile intrusion. These satellites would network with ground stations and radars to alert IAF fighter jets, which would in turn intercept a missile or enemy aircraft spotted by them (satellites) from outer space.
Advanced encryption of these satellites would be essential in order to prevent jamming tactics, the sources added.
Though the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) swears that all its programmes are civilian, it has provided support for the armed forces through its Technology Experiment Satellite (TES) which was launched by the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV C3) from Sriharikota Range in 2001. This Indian remote sensing satellite has cameras that map the terrain and beam home pictures of objects the size of a three-wheeler. Ever since the launch, the images beamed by TES have been handed over to the military headquarters to help keep an eye across the borders for possible deployment of troops or weapons.
This January 10, ISRO launched CARTOSAT-2, another satellite of similar capability (one-meter resolution) ostensibly for cartographic applications, but it could also support the armed forces. While these two are low earth orbit satellites, in 2009, ISRO plans to place a remote sensing satellite in geo-stationary orbit (GEO), meaning that its orbit would match the earth’s rotation and it would constantly watch over a particular region.
Meanwhile, the recent pact with Russia on GLONASS satellites would mean easy access to the constellation of Russian satellites deployed as an alternative to the GPS series of the United States, sources in ISRO said. Hence, the navigation and guidance component of the aerospace command envisaged by the IAF. “We will not put up a military satellite because our charter is for civilian applications of space technology. But a single transponder could operate on military frequency of communication to support their network,” the sources added.