Lt Gen AKS Chandele PVSM, AVSM (Retd) Managing Editor
Satellites have come a long way since the SPUTNIK was launched by the Soviet Union in 1957 over five decades ago. Thousands of satellites have since been launched into space, as also some space stations. Currently there are a few hundred satellites in orbit, with numbers increasing everyday. Ten countries possess the capability to launch satellites, with some others likely to achieve the capability soon.
Applications of satellites range from military to civil communication, navigation, earth observation and research. Among the military applications, by far the most important, is the ability to obtain high-resolution photography. Satellites with sub-metre resolution can easily recognise objects such as tanks, guns, vehicles and bunkers etc. This photo imagery task can be performed by low-orbit satellites, suitably placed in adequate numbers, to ensure that there are no gaps and areas on both sides – ourselves and our adversary – and both sides are adequately covered.
As far as communication satellites are concerned, armed forces can continue to use transponders of civilian commercial satellites in the present scenario. However, with the increasing use of systems such as UAVs, which require substantial bandwidth for their control and sensor data download, bandwidth requirement will soon outstrip available capacity. Not only dedicated military communication satellites will be required, but technological solutions would have to be found to ensure more efficient use of the installed bandwidth capacities.
For precision guidance, missiles, rockets and even artillery shells are dependent on military satellites. A country cannot depend on other countries for these and other such critical applications. Indigenous dedicated military satellites are a must, with ground control stations to control and manipulate them. Such satellites can be designed by DRDO, built in collaboration with private industry and launched using ISRO’s facilities. ISRO is in the process of developing the Indian Regional Navigation System (IRNSS) to establish an indigenous GNSS, reliable and accurate to meet military specifications.
As a signatory to the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, India is opposed to the weaponisation of space. However, the use of space for military purposes, other than the actual placement of weapons , is not prohibited by this treaty. Space can be used for better surveillance, information gathering, imagery and navigation etc. An Integrated Space Cell has been set up at the Headquarters of Defence Staff for the unified planning, coordination, establishment and efficient utilisation of space based resources, in conjunction with ISRO. India must keep pace with developments in this field and progressively enhance its capabilities so as to ensure that our armed forces are not handicapped in any future conflict.