Skylight: Army carries out drill to test resilience of satellite-based systems

Published on Aug 05, 2022 04:01 PM IST

The entire range of the army’s satellite communication assets were activated from July 25 to July 29 during the exercise codenamed Skylight

The army is taking steps to enhance the capability of its space-based systems in the backdrop of lessons drawn from the Russia-Ukraine war. (AP (Representative))
The army is taking steps to enhance the capability of its space-based systems in the backdrop of lessons drawn from the Russia-Ukraine war. (AP (Representative))
ByRahul Singh

The Indian Army tested the operational readiness of its satellite-based systems deployed across the country last week during a complex exercise aimed at validating and showcasing the resilience of its communication capabilities in case terrestrial connectivity is disrupted in future conflicts, people familiar with the development said on Friday.

The entire range of the army’s satellite communication assets were activated from July 25 to July 29 during the exercise codenamed Skylight, which was kept under wraps, said one of the officials cited above, who asked not to be named. The exercise came at a time when the army is closely analysing different aspects of the Russia-Ukriane war to derive communication technology-related lessons.

“We have to leverage space capabilities for supporting a variety of military operations. The northern borders with China are a primary area of concern because of the challenges related to topography,” he said.

“As complex aerospace technology has begun impacting military operations, and communications, in particular, it is important to build and refine technical competence in this field.”

The army uses several Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) satellites and hundreds of communication terminals of different types are connected to them, including static, vehicle-mounted and man-portable terminals, the officials said.

“All satellite communication assets in the army were activated during the exercise and various technical and operational scenarios in the space domain were simulated. Different agencies responsible for space and ground segments and ISRO took part in the exercise,” said a second official, who also asked not to be named.

Space-based communications will prove to be decisive in a conflict as terrestrial systems are bound to get disrupted, experts said.

“The army is taking steps to refine and enhance the capability of its space-based systems in the backdrop of lessons drawn from the Russia-Ukraine war. In new-age warfare, space will be a critical domain and it will influence the outcome of military operations,” said former director general of military operations Lieutenant General Vinod Bhatia (retd).

Unlike the Indian Air Force and the navy, the army currently does not have a dedicated satellite. The army is on course to get its own satellite by December 2025.

“The indigenous multiband satellite with advanced security features will support tactical communication requirements of not only troops deployed on the ground, but also remotely piloted aircraft, air defence weapons and other mission-critical and fire support platforms,” said a third official.

The Defence Acquisition Council, the government’s top weapons procurement body, cleared an army proposal for a GSAT-7B satellite in March to sharpen its operational capabilities. The GSAT-7 series of advanced satellites built by ISRO is designed to provide communication capabilities to users over vast expanses including oceans.

The army has also carried out a detailed study of cyber and electromagnetic warfare in the Russia-Ukraine war, and established the efficacy of a reliable satellite communication system like Starlink that can provide high-speed internet services to remote areas, said a fourth official.

The importance of a tactical communication system that can be operated in a hostile area, with a suitable backhaul, was underlined as a key lesson from the conflict, the officials said.

“There will be an increased collaboration with the private Indian space industry for the realisation of complex satellite communication projects. The army is in touch with various startups, micro, small and medium enterprises and IN-SPACe [Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre]. This will power the vision of ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ (self-reliant India),” the fourth official said.

The army is also focussing on leveraging quantum computing for improving information secrecy, and collaborating with the industry and academia to develop applications for communications and cryptography, one of the officials said, adding that traditional cryptographic systems can be completely or partially cracked with quantum computers quickly, compromising sensitive systems.

“Complex data computations which involve processing voluminously structured, as well as unstructured data using advanced algorithms, will be enormously eased with quantum computing and associated technologies,” he said.

The army is closely tracking advancements made by India’s adversaries in this field to ensure that it inducts vital capabilities in the short term, he added.

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