By Staff Correspondent
The recently concluded Indian DefSpace Symposium 2023, a three-day event that brought together key stakeholders from the public and private sectors with an interest in India’s military space capabilities, witnessed an earnest attempt to conduct a need gap analysis. Organised by the Indian Space Association (ISpA), which represents the private space industry, in collaboration with the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), the symposium aimed to foster collaboration among the armed forces, government institutions, and private players to promote indigenous development, protection, and defense of India’s space assets, all while prioritising security and adhering to international laws and protocols governing the militarisation and weaponisation of space.
The pressing need for this collaboration was underscored on the first day, as speaker after speaker from all sides of the spectrum highlighted China’s overwhelming superiority in terms of satellite launches, payloads, and the ability to provide advanced Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) communication and navigation capabilities, as well as the capability to take down hostile or enemy satellites. In his inaugural address, Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), General Anil Chauhan, pointed out the clear and imminent threat posed by hostile nations’ rapid weaponisation and militarisation of space.
The subject of the panels and the distinguished panellists listed for the second day of the symposium clearly indicated the complexity involved in defining the scope and contours of the proposed collaboration between the military, private enterprise, academia, research institutions, legal luminaries, policymakers, and venture capitalists.
The first panel, chaired by the esteemed Lieutenant General VG Khandare (r), Principal Adviser, Ministry of Defence (MoD), focused on the role of various government institutions such as the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), the Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre (IN-SPACe), MoD, Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), Headquarters Integrated Defence Staff (HQ IDS), Defence Space Agency (DSA), Innovations for Defence Excellence (iDEX), as well as industry and academia in the research and development sector of space defence.
Lt Gen. Khandare (r) began by acknowledging that the country had undergone tremendous positive changes. While there had been attempts by the Indian Navy to streamline processes for improved speed and efficiency in operations and acquisitions, the defence services were still hindered by archaic processes and systems, often working in silos. He emphasised that in today’s world, ranks, awards, and seniority were increasingly becoming irrelevant, and what truly mattered was delivery. He also stressed the need to develop synergy between the defence and external affairs ministries to reduce bureaucratic red tape and streamline processes.
Dr N. Ranjana, Director of the Defense Space Technology Agency (DSTA) at the DRDO, concurred, noting that no course in India currently offers a M.Tech degree in space engineering, and there is a severe dearth of trained faculty to teach such courses. She also highlighted the need for a national cyber security policy for defence and policy guidelines for data sharing to support integration with defence needs.
The panellists also emphasised the need for knowledge sharing and collaboration among premier institutions such as the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs), which work in isolation. Dr Sudheer Kumar N, Director of Capacity Building & Public Outreach (CBPO) at ISRO, stressed the importance of percolating knowledge and fostering a culture of sharing to accelerate progress in space.
The discussion also touched upon the challenges posed by legacy systems and processes impeding interoperability. Shashank Saxena, Deputy Director of IN-SPACe, highlighted the need for innovation and modernisation in defence space procurement mechanisms to keep pace with the rapidly evolving space industry. Rajesh Muneshwar, Co-Founder and Chief Technical Officer of Vihaan Spacetech, emphasised the need to cultivate a space investment culture to promote space startups in India.
Another panel, titled ‘Defence Space Procurement Mechanisms for Industry: Need for Innovation,’ was chaired by Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria (r), former Chief of the Air Chief (CAS) and now Chief Nodal Officer, Uttar Pradesh Defence Industrial Corridor (CNO-UPDIC). The former IAF Chief asserted that outer space is fundamentally linked to defence and went on to share his unparalleled insights based on his experiances and perspectives garnered as both CAS and CNO-UPDIC.
Laxmesh BH, Vice President and Head of Missiles and Aerospace Business and Head of Precision Manufacturing and Systems Complex at Larsen & Toubro, moderated the panel, called for clear policy guidelines, and reduced paperwork to expedite decision-making.
Major General AK Channan (r), who served as the first Additional Director General (ADG) of the Army Design Bureau (ADB), emphasised the need for a dedicated procurement policy for space and urged the government and administration to trust the competence of professionals in the field and reduce unnecessary oversight. Air Vice Marshal Rajiva Ranjan, Assistance Chief of the Air Staff, Operations (Space), stressed the importance of adopting global standards and open architecture to drive interoperability and collaboration in the defence space sector.
Amit Cowshish, former Financial Advisor (Acquisition) at the defence ministry and now Partner at Dua Associates, lauded the Indian Navy for its proactive approach in announcing its own procedure for shipbuilding. However, he emphasised the urgent need for a comprehensive acquisition plan encompassing the armed forces, allied services, and institutes.
Lt. Gen. Anil Kapoor (Retd), former Director General of Electronics and Mechanical Engineers and Director General of the IIT Tirupati, aptly summarised the main problem by stating that many valuable capabilities developed within the system are not known to the system.
The symposium witnessed speakers from various domains expressing their needs and offering suggestions to streamline systems and processes in the Indian space industry. The leadership of ISpA took note of these suggestions and proposals and committed to compiling them for action at the end of the symposium.