Thursday, June 13, 2024

Outer Space – New Business & Security Alliance

Lieutenant General PJS Pannu (r) 

One thing that separates ‘Outer Space’ from other domains is that any ‘space asset’ sent into an orbit can influence the globe within minutes after being deployed. The orbital nature of satellites makes them available to any part of the world; therefore, collaborative use becomes a matter of convenient choice. Space laws and regulations are more concerned with maintaining space discipline and governance rather than laying restrictions on global reach. It is easy for any country or space company to do a space-based business globally. It also can throw up natural international trade partners. 

Where the global nature of space offers many and equal business opportunities, it also possesses security challenges. A nation can do little when the ‘space above’ is occupied or visited by a prying satellite of an adversary. At a more serious level, military space collaborations are becoming rather intense and increasingly occupying the centre stage of how countries collaborate. Beyond the military, it also allows keeping a watch on global business and trade activities, making business decisions in board-rooms more informed. International collaboration with allies thus offers ‘Information as a Service’ or ‘Intelligence as a Service’ (IaaS).

It is a matter of concern to see how China’s space program indulges in military space collaboration or how it provides intel services to its allies. China-Pakistan space collaboration poses another dimension of a ‘two-front threat’ to India. Both countries have established a ‘Space Silk Road’ under the spirit of being ‘iron brothers’ and ‘all weather’ allies. In 2014, Pakistan shifted from the American Global Positioning System (GPS) to China’s BeiDou, becoming the first country in the world to do so. This makes it possible for Chinese and Pakistani missiles to be used collaboratively and make drones and aerial platforms operate from either of the countries with tight geo-referencing and precision.   

In 2018, Pakistan launched two satellites into orbit using China’s Long March rockets; Pakistan Remote Sensing System (PRSS-1), purchased from China and the indigenous Technology Evaluation Satellite (PAKTES-1A). Pakistan recently purchased China’s Jilin-1, real-time satellite data comprising high-definition video and optical and hyperspectral imagery that can provide precise positions of Indian Army camps across the Line of Control (LoC). China’s satellite killer SLC-18 Radar could make its way to Pakistan; it can detect and track multiple LEO Satellites. This would diminish the Indian military’s dominance over Pakistan. 

In the recently concluded India Space Congress 2022, the whole gambit was deliberated on how India can leverage its space power, contribute to next-gen communications, and build businesses around it. Participation from the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre (INSPACe) and the private industry brought the most credible participants to brainstorm on the future of the private sector in the space business for both military and civilian purposes. 

It was realised that most space applications are dual-use. It was estimated that the Indian space sector is estimated to grow at a Compounded Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 13%, and by 2025, it is expected to be worth USD 13 billion. The defence applications would contribute about 8%. One of the key takeaways was that there is a dire need to build the industry through innovations and international collaboration.   

At a recent Tel Aviv space conference (6-7 November 2022), nicknamed Ramon, GeoInt 360-degree discussions were held on the theme ‘From Pixel To Intel.’ The presentations were made by the international stakeholders on the ‘economy of cooperation in making business and security collaboration on providing ‘intelligence on demand’ to the friendly partners. There was a display of galaxy ‘New Space’ satellites capable of providing high-resolution multispectral images on demand, with analytical platforms that could be available on lease. Lease-Operate-Buy-Build (LOBB) arrangements were on offer for the allies and business partners with complete fidelity assurance. It was evident that space has entered the arena for global space diplomacy and collaboration.  

The Artemis Accords bring together 19 signatory nations as of May 2022, including Australia, Bahrain, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Israel, Italy, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Luxembourg, Mexico, New Zealand, Poland, Romania, Singapore, Ukraine, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, and the United States. These nations affirm their commitment to key principles grounded in the Outer-Space Treaty of 1967: peaceful purposes, transparency, interoperability, emergency assistance, registration of space objects, the release of scientific data, protection of space heritage, safe and sustainable use of space resources, deconfliction of activities, and mitigation of orbital debris, including disposal of spacecraft. The Artemis program also seeks to put the first woman and first person of colour on the Moon and build the foundation for human missions to Mars. This would be the most diverse international human space exploration coalition in history.

The Indian space sector is among the top priorities of the Government of India. There are about 100 start-ups and over 350 private space companies seeking to enhance the space sector opportunities, which are expected to see a steep rise in private launch vehicles and low-cost advanced satellite manufacturers entering the global and domestic space market. The launch of a small, single-stage rocket by Skyroot Aerospace has marked the beginning of private launch activity, giving credence to the honourable PM’s vision of privatisation of the space industry. 

Launching multiple payloads of Pixxel and Dhruva Space along with four US payloads by the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) of ISRO through its commercial arm NewSpace India Limited (NSIL) would be an excellent demonstration to mark the partnership of public and private sectors with international players. With an active presence in space and existing cordial relations with major global powers, India can gain an important position in the worldwide space sector and develop strong bilateral relationships with Indo-Pacific nations and other space powers. India’s space ambition would get a fillip by increasing space exploration. The establishment of a space lab, building sea launch capability, ‘Service on Demand’ and ‘Intelligence as a Service’ through collaborations would make space diplomacy go beyond conventional diplomacy. India can realise its potential to become a ‘space hub’ of the world.

India’s geopolitical climate makes it mandatory for Defence Space Agency to be empowered by the domestic industry in equipping the satellites with multi-sensor and electro-optic capabilities, thermal sensors, high-resolution cameras, communication sensors and high-precision Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) capable of providing high-definition imagery. It is essential to monitor critical military information about adversarial neighbours by building Space Situational Awareness (SSA) and Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities to track space and ground military deployments, monitor border infrastructure, and identify troop, weapon and logistic build-up and movement of tactical military assets. 

It is time that the satellites provided a constant cover of areas of military interests with sub-metric resolutions capable of timely warning and decision-making from the strategic to the tactical level. Similarly, the Indian defence space needs secure, high-bandwidth communication links with smart ground stations. The rapid deployment capability in space, nano/micro satellites would be required to be launched on demand, and through collaborative arrangements, the Indian intelligence agencies should be able to get information/intelligence on demand from trusted partners.   

India learnt its lessons in the Kargil war and lately in the Galwan conflict that she needs better round-the-clock capability in ISR. The Defence Space Vision 2020 visualises the integration of dual-use assets and the building of dedicated military satellites. The Indian space industry has developed a multidimensional approach to using outer space for both strategic and operational purposes. 

However, there is a dire need to develop mechanisms for promoting home-grown innovation and industrial manufacturing in defence space systems (both in the public and private sectors) that will enable India to make technological advances in building next-generation systems that provide an edge in C5 I2 STAR 2 (Command, Control, Communication, computers and Cyber – Information and Intelligence with ability to carry out Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance energised by Robotics). The military focus must shift towards tactical intelligence needs in space with the right combination of aero-space interface. 

India needs a well-defined national space and space strategy with a clear vision and strategic goals laid out for the next decade. Recognising space as a strategic domain for national security and converging space and defence issues by adopting a military-civil fusion on space-enabled technologies is relevant. Space and technology diplomacy needs to be recognised as the most effective tool in the space business. 

The international business would be redefined by how space assets can be collectively shared to derive a complete value chain for security and economic growth across the continents. A satellite that passes over the domestic region (the country of origin of the asset) must not be allowed to waste its orbital journey over the other side/parts of the globe. It would be mutually beneficial for collaborating countries to commercially share the space assets and energise the ground segment in a manner that it downloads and analyses the data picked up from a friendly or collaborating satellite passing over the area of interest. 

India is set for the next Space Congress in July 2023, which would see the focused business at a global scale with a larger Indian stake. The discussions would be centred around use case specialised debates that would trigger business and manufacturing collaborations. There would be more time spent over constellations, new space satellites, automation, complex payloads, higher resolutions and swath capability. The Positioning, Navigation and Timing (PNT) and ISR combined tracking challenge with inbuilt analytics would bring enormous dividends, especially to the defence sector. 

Lt Gen PJS Pannu, PVSM, AVSM, VSM, is a former Deputy Chief of Integrated Defence Staff and has commanded 14 Corps deployed at Ladakh facing both Pakistan and China. He initiated raising of Defence Space Agency, Defence Cyber Agency and Special Operations Division. He is currently advising the space industry and is heading the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry task Force on Information and Communications Technology modernisation in defence and is a Chairperson of All India Council for Robotics & Automations for Articial Intelligence in defence. He is a distinguished fellow at the United Service Institution and is pursuing doctorate in indigenisation of the defence industry


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