Sunday, July 14, 2024

What Are The Indian Defence Sector’s Future ‘Space-Based’ Requirements?

By Aritra Banerjee & Vaibhav Agrawal

Leading stakeholders of India’s evolving space sector came together to discuss the industry’s prospects and the nation’s national security requirements.

A recent event organised by the Indian Space Association (ISpA) was held to understand Indian space industry readiness and resource constraints for achieving India’s space aspirations. Promising Indian space startups were featured at the event. 

The panel of experts included Jayant D Patil, ISpA Chairman and Senior Executive Vice President, Whole Time Director (Defence & Smart Technologies) and Member of the Board of Larsen & Toubro Limited; Shekhar Dutt, SM, former Governor of Chattisgarh; AS Kiran Kumar, former Chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) & Secretary, Department of Space; Vice Admiral G Ashok Kumar (r), National Maritime Security Coordinator; Amit Ghosh Indian Administrative Service, Additional Secretary, Highways, Ministry of Road, Transport & Highways Director, ISpA; Former Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria (r) and Lieutenant General VG Khandare (r), Principal Adviser to the Ministry of Defence. The latter two are the newest members of IA&D’s Editorial Panel. 

Venture capitalist Ravinder Singh was the panel moderator. Lt Gen. AK Bhatt (r), Director General ISpA, and Wing Commander Satyam Kushwaha (r) were among the key dignitaries from ISpA present. IA&D’s Vaibhav Agrawal and Aritra Banerjee had received an invite to this exclusive networking event.

The IAF Looks Towards Space-Based Assets

ACM RKS Bhadauria (r) that space is critical- from the planning stage to mission execution. He cited examples of aircraft and weapons that use GPS to highlight the reliance on space-based technologies. It was also revealed that the Indian Air Force (IAF) needs mapping, ISR, new hardware and the latest technologies. “And everywhere, we are short of what we want even today,” the former IAF Chief noted.

Emphasising the IAF’s operational needs, he said that an integrated command and control where there is a space segment, along with a space ground infrastructure, is present. The vulnerability, he opined, is currently to cyberspace, which is a huge field for startups. ACM Bhadauria said that focusing on cyber protection and EW hardening are the immediate requirements.

Space plays a huge role when it comes to the nation’s defence requirements in terms of data and command and control. Noting that the gap between defence and space organisations needs to be filled, ACM RKS Bhadauria (r) then mentioned the government policies in 2020, referred to as “space reforms”, which included the opening of ISRO and the facilities to the private sector and startups among other initiatives.

Following comments on indigenisation, the former IAF Chief said that the next step would be catering to the requirement of situational awareness, so the Space Situational Awareness (SSA) firms for defence will have their own assets in the sky. He mentioned that the IAF had no experience in 2005 and was dependent on indigenous development. “It nearly took us 8-9 years, but we have an indigenous command and control system.”

What Are The Indian Army’s Space-Based Needs?

Lt Gen. VG Khandare (r) chalked out some immediate focus points in the space domain for the present startups. He said that space is going to become a crowded area. “Gradually, SSA will get utilised to even compete for space slots (orbital slots). That is when we will realise that whichever country has the most accurate, updated, predictive SSA, will be able to monetise the assets much better.”

The security sector will rely upon SSA for avoiding a particular satellite from being hit by another one. However, in the future, there will be several other types of satellites which will have their presence in outer space and may directly impact many other factors (as long as those satellites survive there and complete their optimum life).

The second issue that Lt Gen. Khandare (r) identified was data. He is of the view that India should be capable of handling big data, cleansing it, harmonising it with the legacy of data, ensuring the integrity of the same, and then storing it with adequate cataloguing and archiving. “That should be AI-ridden data, only then can all the work be utilised to the best possible commercial capability, and the same thing is also applicable in the security sector,” he opined.

He remarked that there will be continuous efforts to steal, manipulate, and pollute data, yet it is another specialised field where startups can do a lot.

Intelligence was the third issue.

Space-based technology is critical since it can provide maximum assurance of looking into enemy territory multiple times a day. “If a nation aims at becoming more potent for military intelligence from space, the payloads have to get more intelligent, and the sensors have to improve,” he said.

The General further explained that multiple types of sensors will come into use in the future. Much beyond remote sensing, he believes that the world will be looking at “how to pick up aerosols, how to pick up pollutants, and that will give the traces of movements which the security sector wants. These sensors will also be required to look deep under the sea.”

Space allows you to keep a watch far into the deep oceans. So that part in the military intelligence for land, space, air, everything possible one is capable of looking at.

Lt Gen. VG Khandare (r) clarified that the kind of resolution that is needed stands as a different requirement in the civil sector; it is a particular requirement within the services also – what the Navy needs, what the Army and the Air Force need.

These are different issues altogether. So, there are many requirements for different types of resolution, sensors, and onboard processing because the bandwidth for download also has to be conserved. So, these are again a few issues the startups can look at.

What Are The Indian Navy’s Space Requirements?

VAdm. G Ashok Kumar (r), National Maritime Security Coordinator, addressed the startups on the challenges faced by the Indian Navy in the space domain and what they are looking at. He said, “the problem that I am trying to highlight is the problem of identification, the issue of surveillance and the problem of domain awareness. These are the things which are critical for any maritime operations. Take the Navy’s case in 2013, the GSAT 7. Since then, the Navy’s backbone for the networks and co-operations has been those particular satellites.”

It was revealed that the Navy is looking at a large footprint along with the security of information as these are very critical for maritime operations. The Navy already uses naval maritime advancements in aircraft to carry out maritime surveillance operations, but the area is too vast; the number of aircraft which will be required will be humongous. The audience learned that in such a situation, the simplest way is to go to the satellite advances.

Most nations have promulgated future orders, which have made it compulsory for vessels more than 20 metres in length to have an ASR brand; these are again picked up by the satellites. So any fishing vessel which is more than 20 metres in length and out in the sea is actually picked up by them. Very interestingly, out of the three lakhs fishing boats that India has, about 2 lakh 45 thousand are less than 20 metres, so the Navy has no clue where they are.

The words of Wg Cdr. Satyam Kushwaha (r), Director, ISpA paints a clear picture of the journey ahead. “India’s share today is about 2% of the global space economy that comes to around 4 million and the vision is that in the next 25 years, India should be making around 400 million. The good part is that people within the system are realising the need for a dual approach. Some of the Defence Space initiatives that ISpA is working on with the MoD will propel the Indian Space Sector forward in the realisation of this vision.

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