Are you raising your eyebrows on hearing India’s decision to establish a strategic space cell to protect its interests in outer space? Well, you shouldn’t. The Indian Air Force came up with the idea in the late 90s when it called for an aerospace command to defend the nation’s growing reliance on communications satellites and communication technology assets. The Integrated Defence Services headquarters will house the proposed space cell, acting as an interface between the armed forces, Department of Space, and the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro). Military planners seek the high ground — it can be a hill, an observation aircraft or air superiority — to provide them with a decisive advantage. And you can’t have higher ‘high ground’ than space. Future warfare will be dictated by the electromagnetic spectrum, as remote sensing and communications satellites facilitate mission-critical processes.
New Delhi has always voiced support for keeping outer space free of weapons. But today, with neighbours like China testing offensive space systems like anti-satellite (Asat) weaponry and new classes of heavy-lift boosters, it is clear that we can no longer just keep watching the skies. India should cash in on its experience in developing and launching communication and meteorological satellites to augment the space cell. Technically, civilian and military satellite systems are little different from one another and dual-use technologies can be accessed quickly. These could provide India with high quality military intelligence to keep an eye on the world.
True, acquiring a robust offensive capability is still a long way off. But even with a modest and defensive space command, India will be in a better position to campaign for banning the weaponisation of space — and establishing a new form of international cooperation in outer space. Watch this outer space.