Thursday, June 13, 2024

ISpA & DRDO Collaborate To Enhance India’s DefSpace Capabilities: Expert Insights on Industry’s Future

By Aritra Banerjee

Indian Space Association (ISpA) recently joined forces with the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) to host the DefSpace Symposium 2023, a high-profile event that underscored the pressing need for India to fortify its defence space (DefSpace) capabilities. While experts acknowledged Indian Space Research Organisation’s (ISRO) commendable achievements in the civilian space sector, they also said that there is a long road ahead for DefSpace technology development in the country, especially in comparison to adversaries like China.

Over the course of three days, the symposium delved into critical topics such as policy, technology, law, and strategic planning, with a strong emphasis on the development of indigenous technologies, stakeholder collaboration, and the cultivation of a skilled workforce. Stakeholders from various sectors lauded the event as an enlightening platform facilitating meaningful discussions on India’s DefSpace ecosystem.

The symposium served as a timely reminder of the need for concerted efforts to enhance India’s DefSpace capabilities and ensure the safeguarding of national security interests in an evolving global security landscape. With focused and collaborative efforts, India can strive to strengthen its position in DefSpace and address the technological gap with its adversaries.

What Were The Major Talking Points?

IADB was a media partner at this flagship event; Photo Courtesy: ISpA

One of the major highlights of the symposium was the discussion on the 75 DefSpace Challenges and critical technology disruptions in the sector. Experts emphasised the need for India to remain at the forefront of technological advancements and leverage cutting-edge innovations to enhance its DefSpace capabilities. The strategic implications of space as a contested domain, especially in light of the emergence of space power and its use in recent conflicts, were also deliberated upon.

Experts highlighted the importance of considering legal ramifications and policy decisions in space activities extensively. Space is a global common with no sovereignty, so the need for a robust space security architecture was emphasised. The possibility of India leading in drafting future space security agreements and treaties was also discussed.

Adversaries’ capabilities in space, with a particular emphasis on China, were critical to the discussions. Experts examined evolving capacities of rivals and underscored the importance of understanding and countering them to safeguard India’s national interests in space. The symposium stressed on the need to develop resilience in DefSpace– the capability of dealing with and surviving adversaries’ disruptive capabilities and ensuring the continuity of military operations.

The symposium’s second day focused on the research and development (R&D) ecosystem and defence procurement mechanisms. Hindrances in the military acquisition processes were examined, and experts deliberated on ways to refine the R&D ecosystem in India, enhance Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) protection, and improve the funding climate for DefSpace projects. The operational requirement for robust and seamless communication and the vital need for persistent and precision Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities for the Indian Armed Forces were extensively highlighted.

The third day of the symposium featured industry workshops that probed into various aspects of DefSpace. Discussions revolved around the role of satellites in Indian DefSpace, critical infrastructure requirements, ISR platform demonstrations, and the significance of Positioning, Navigation, and Timing (PNT). The latter included the proliferation of NAVIC, India’s indigenous satellite navigation system. Experts highlighted the potential of NAVIC and its evolving capabilities in enhancing India’s DefSpace capabilities.

Based on the discussions and deliberations during the symposium, a volume of action points emerged, outlining India’s strengths and weaknesses in DefSpace. The Thought Leaders Group (TLG) formulated recommendations for paving the way for the country in DefSpace, including the need for strategic R&D investments, strengthening legal and policy frameworks, fostering global collaborations, and building comprehensive capacities. The symposium laid a roadmap for the future, aiming to position India as a critical player in the evolving landscape of defence space.

What Did The ‘Thought Leaders Group’ Recommend?

ISpA TLG ideating & formulating well-considered recommendations; Photo Courtesy: ISpA

The ISpA TLG concluded a roundtable discussion on critical issues within the DefSpace industry.

The group consists of luminaries such as Dr AS Kiran Kumar, Chairperson TLG former Secretary, Department of Space (DoS) and Chairman ISRO; Air Marshal M Matheswaran (r), former Deputy Chief, Integrated Defence Staff (DCIDS), HQ IDS; Air Mshl. SS Soman (r), former Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Western Air Command (AOC-in-C, WAC); Air Mshl. SBP Sinha (r), DRDO Chair (Prof MGK Menon Chair) and former AOC-in-C, Central Air Command (CAC); Lieutenant General Vinod G. Khandare (r), Principal Advisor to the Ministry of Defence, former Military Advisor, National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS), and former Director General, Defence Intelligence Agency (DG DIA), HQ IDS; Air Mshl. BR Krishnan (r), former Chief of Integrated Defence Staff to the Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee (CISC), HQ IDS; Vice Admiral SN Ghormade (r), former Vice Chief of the Naval Staff (VCNS); Dr PVGS Jayaram, MIE (Coordinator, TLG), Chief Executive Officer and Advisor Technology, PVGS Consultants; Wing Commander Satyam Kushwaha (r), Convener, TLG and Director ISpA.

The resulting recommendations, which target various aspects of the defence space matrix, were highlighted as key points of emphasis at the end of the event.

Lt Gen. VG Khandare (r), Principal Advisor to MoD & member of the ISpA TLG shares his views with key stakeholders in the audience at the Indian DefSpace Symposium 2023; Photo courtesy: ISpA

Credibility & Realistic Projections in the DefSpace Industry: The ISpA TLG underscored the importance of realistically projecting performance and timelines, as credibility is paramount in the DefSpace industry. This recommendation reflects the need for quality and reliability in performance projections, which can help establish stakeholder trust and build a solid foundation for the industry’s growth.

Start-ups to Form JVs, Partnerships: The group pointed out that there are multiple companies, especially start-ups, in various specialised aspects of the DefSpace segment. However, the Armed Forces would look at a single package to be able to place an order for procurement. Thus, there is a need for the start-ups to form joint ventures (JVs), partnerships, and consortiums to provide a package of assets and services.

Collaboration with Established Agencies: It suggested collaboration with established agencies such as ISRO and DRDO. Leveraging their legacy and experience in complex technologies can help the DefSpace industry address challenges more effectively and expedite technological advancements.

Clarity in Contracts & Indigenous Requirements for SSA: Emphasis was laid on the need for precise contract language to eliminate ambiguity, particularly regarding terms such as “National Security”. Furthermore, the group requested defence services to clarify requirements such as timelines for various sensors, resolutions, swathes, area, revisit time, communication, launch-on-demand needs, and for ownership of assets to the DefSpace industry. Defining indigenous requirements for Space Situational Awareness (SSA) and global partnerships would ensure a robust framework.

Streamlining Procurement Procedures for Start-ups & Innovators: The ISpA TLG highlighted the challenges start-ups and innovators face in navigating the routine procurement procedures outlined in the Defence Acquisition Procedure 2020 (DAP 2020). These can be cumbersome and time-consuming, leading to delays that can be detrimental to the survival and growth of start-ups in the DefSpace sector. The group urged the ISpA and HQ IDS to streamline procurement procedures.

Dedicated Funding for R&D: The group urged the Indian Armed Forces to seek funding from the National Research Fund specifically for this purpose. Despite budget provisions for R&D funding, a significant portion still needs to be utilised. ISpA TLG emphasised the need for proactive efforts by the armed forces to secure these funds and allocate them towards R&D in the DefSpace sector, which can drive technological advancements and innovation.

DSA Membership in Geospatial Body: The ISpA TLG also recommended membership of the Defence Space Agency (DSA) in the proposed national geospatial body. Considering the vital role played by the tri-services in the DefSpace sector, the importance of their representation in the decision-making process was also highlighted. This suggestion reflects the need for participation and collaboration to ensure effective governance and coordination in the DefSpace industry. Tri-services’ representation in the Space Commision was another key aspect recommended by the group.

Facilitation of Trial Facilities & Performance Requirements: Emphasis was laid on the significance of making trial facilities available at subsidised rates or free of cost for start-ups and innovators. Trial facilities, including using aircraft for simulations, are crucial for testing products and services under space conditions. Additionally, the group stressed the need for defining performance requirements more precisely.

Coordination, Standards & Image Requirements: The group underscored the imperative of coordination, standards, and imagery requirements within the ISpA. Collaboration among diverse stakeholders, encompassing start-ups, innovators, ISRO, DRDO, and the Indian Armed Forces, is deemed indispensable for the triumph of the DefSpace industry. Furthermore, the group accentuated the significance of establishing robust standards and imagery requirements to safeguard that the DefSpace industry in India upholds exemplary levels of quality and reliability.

The Indian DefSpace Symposium 2023 provided a platform for thought leaders and experts to discuss critical issues and challenges facing India in DefSpace. The event highlighted the need for technological disruptions, legal and policy aspects, adversaries’ capabilities, research and development ecosystem, and the role of satellites in shaping India’s DefSpace capabilities. The symposium laid the foundation for strategic recommendations and a roadmap for the future, aiming to position India as a critical player in the evolving landscape of defence space.

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