| India is developing formidable satellite capabilities |
|Printed headline: Lofting Ambitions|
| India is becoming a power in satellite development and a significant player in the use of space for military as well as civil needs.|
A number of Indian-built military satellites with surveillance, imaging and navigation capabilities are planned for launch in the next few years, to both keep “a watch on the neighborhood and help guide cruise missiles” should the need emerge, says V. K. Saraswat, scientific adviser to the defense minister. “[The satellites] will have tremendous applications.”
Saraswat’s statement confirms that India is becoming a space power. The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), however, refuses to comment about military satellites, saying its space program is for civilian purposes only. This position has its origins in the fact that some of its programs were stymied when the U.S. imposed trade sanctions against India in 1992 for missile proliferation. Some sanctions remain, and the U.S and India, despite talk of trust and confidence, have yet to sign the Joint Space Cooperation pact.
According to a Defense Ministry official, ISRO will launch the first dedicated military surveillance satellite, for the navy, late this year or in 2011. The multi-band satellite will weigh 2,330 kg. (5,137 lb.), be lofted into a geostationary orbit 1,000 nm. above the Indian Ocean, and network warships, submarines, aircraft and land-based operation centers through high-speed data links. Coverage will be 600-1,000 nm. “Maritime threats can then be detected and shared in real time to ensure swift action,” a naval officer says. The projected cost of the satellite is $212 million.
A new aerospace command is standing up that will provide a space-based military capability for monitoring a vast region, from the Strait of Hormuz in the west to the Strait of Malacca in the east, and from China in the north to the Indian Ocean in the south.
Many observers say the military is not ready to handle such a capability. “The space command should be consistent with a strategic aim. We should not venture into it until we cross the threshold of a critical mass, as we are still immature and training is not enough,” a senior military official says.
It will be some time, of course, before the fledgling aerospace command rivals similar commands of more experienced militaries, such as the U.S. It will, however, oversee surveillance, tracking, early warning and related areas, according to a representative of the Indian Defense Strategic Studies think tank. While initially the air force was to head the command, the three forces will jointly manage it.
India has been launching dual-use—military and civil—satellites for a while. One satellite with military uses, but not acknowledged as such by ISRO, was the Earth Observation Technology Experiment Satellite, with 1-meter (3.2-ft.) resolution, weighing 1,108 kg., and put into orbit from Sriharikota Range in 2001 by the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle. Cameras in the remote sensing satellite mapped terrain across the northern border of India for possible deployment of troops and weapons.
Cartosat-2A is a rugged satellite that provides scene-specific spot imagery for cartography and the armed forces. It carries a panchromatic camera with spatial resolution better than 1 meter and covers a swath of 9.6 km. “Imagery from this satellite is used for applications such as mapping, urban and rural infrastructure development, and land management,” says ISRO.
The latest incarnation, Cartosat-2B, launched in July by the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, has spatial resolution of 2 meters and covers a swath of 30 km. per camera.
In other satellite developments, ISRO launched Oceansat 2 in September for weather tracking and forecasting, identification of fishing zones and coastal zone studies. Its data is also accessible by the navy for bathymetric studies and antisubmarine warfare. Oceansat-3 is slated for launch in 2012.
Immediately following the Mumbai attacks of December 2008, ISRO launched Risat-2, which it hurriedly bought off-the-shelf from Israel Aerospace Industries for use by the National Technical Research Organization (NTRO), as part of the fast-track procurement of critical hardware for strategic deterrence. NTRO is India’s version of the U.S. National Space Agency. It controls the satellite with the military, especially the navy. Risat-2 is India’s first satellite with synthetic aperture radar (SAR), which provides night and all-weather surveillance. ISRO hailed the satellite’s “capability for disaster management.”
The indigenous $25-million Communication-Centric Intelligence Satellite (CCI-Sat), being developed by the Defense Electronics and Research Laboratory under the Defense Research and Development Organization, will be operational by 2014. It will reportedly be a test bed for antisatellite weapon technology. CCI-Sat, which also has SAR, has imaging and communication functions besides surveillance. “The satellite will orbit Earth at 500 km. and cover hostile regions in the area by passing on surveillance data to intelligence agencies,” says G. Bhoopathy, director of the Defense Electronics Research Laboratory.
The civil and military need for a national GPS and related applications is also affecting India’s space program. A pact with Russia on its Global Navigation Satellite System (Glonass) satellites would mean easy access to the constellation. One transponder could operate on a military communication frequency to support the air force network.
ISRO has planned an Indian Regional Navigational Satellite GPS System (IRNSS) of seven satellites. The constellation and ground support will be operational by 2014. Three satellites will be in geostationary orbit (34, 83 and 132 deg. E. Long.) over the Indian Ocean. Missile targeting could be an important military application for the constellation. The IRNSS will provide a standard positioning service and a restricted service, one in the L5 band and the other in S-band. It is also likely that the IRNSS by next year could be integrated into the Russian Navigation Information System-Glonass system for hybrid applications.
“The IRNSS system provides the dual-frequency user with targeted position accuracy of less than 20 meters in the coverage area,” says N. Suryanarayana Rao, ISRO project director.
Simultaneously, Navigation Information Systems (NIS)-Glonass will market, manufacture and jointly propose products in India that draw upon the Russian satellite navigation system.
NIS-Glonass recently signed a memorandum of understanding with HBL Power Systems of India to promote its Intelligent Transport System (ITS) for police and rail use. ITS manages automated traffic control, optimization of routes and emergency response.
NIS-Glonass is expected to sign an agreement with Antrix Corp., the marketing arm of ISRO, for navigation and integration of IRNSS into Glonass solutions.
Opportunities would be abundant in India, with 100 cities planning to evaluate ITS in the next 8-10 years. Pune, Kolkata and Chennai have ongoing projects. Mysore and Surat are looking at the system, while New Delhi recently floated a bid for traffic management. The NIS-Glonass system will provide automation for staff control of vehicles in normal and emergency situations; supply personnel with data on vehicle location for decision-making; and display data on vehicle position and other needs on a dispatcher’s monitor. It will also create and store data archives on vehicle routes and interact with other systems, an official says.