Lt Gen (Dr) AKS Chandele PVSM, AVSM (Retd)
Humans have forever been fascinated with space. No sooner had they achieved the capability to fly, they started looking at what lies beyond. The early 20th century saw the pioneering efforts of rocket scientists such as Tsiolkovsky, Goddard, Von Braun (World War II V2 rockets). The cold war era was a period of hectic activity in space exploration. In the 50s, the Soviets surprised the Americans with the Sputnik flights, being the first to send a man into space. It was a wake up call for the US. They vowed to be the first to send a man to the moon. The ‘race for space’ had begun. A number of space exploration missions followed – Vanguard, Explorer, Vostok, Mercury, Gemini, Soyuz, Apollo, Skylab, Mir, Space shuttle and an orbiting international space station. Other nations joined in – China, UK, France, Germany, Japan, Koreas and India. There are over two dozen nations today having space exploration programmes with billions of dollars invested.
Space has numerous peaceful uses – terrestrial resources and environmental mapping, navigation (on land, sea and air), communication, weather forecasting and early warning of natural disasters etc., Over 5,000 satellites have been launched into space, of which about 10 per cent are presently functional. A large number are being launched every year. Satellites provide a host of communication (radio, TV, telephone, internet) and navigation facilities (GPS),which have transformed the world we live in.
While scientists were busy with their experiments, statesmen the world over were aware of the dangers which would accompany space exploration. They were concerned that this space race, and the possible militarisation and weaponisation to follow, would pose a serious threat to the security and safety of the human race. This concern was responsible in shaping the Outer Space Treaty (OST), which lays down that space should be reserved for peaceful uses by all nations for the benefit of mankind and prohibits placing of nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction in space or on other celestial bodies. But the militarisation, utilising space based assets for military communications, navigation, surveillance and targeting, had begun with the earliest satellite launches.
Every year, for almost 30 years, the UN General Assembly has adopted a majority supported resolution to prevent an arms race in space. Most nations of the world, including Russia and China, are against weaponisation (physical placement of weapons in space). However, pronouncements by policy makers and statesmen indicate that, whether by subtle circumvention or outright violation of existing treaty obligations and majority world view, the US intends to drive home its technological edge and maintain its position as the global military super power in space. The US military-industry-political caucas has too much at stake in pursuing the weaponisation of space. China, which feels that it is the primary target of this weaponisation, Russia and may be some other nations will have no choice but follow suit. Unfortunately for mankind, the momentum is building up for a full fledged arms race in battlefield space, the final frontier.