Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Harmonizing Military Space Ambitions With India’s National Space Strategy: A Comprehensive Analysis

By Lt Col Narendra Tripathi (r)

Lt Col Narendra Tripathi (r)

The fascination with space exploration has spurred humanity to explore new realms, leading to conflicts and prompting nations to enhance their military capabilities. While actual warfare in space remains theoretical, tests and demonstrations have compelled nations to review their combat preparedness in this domain. Space warfare encompasses various forms of engagement, underscoring the dynamic nature of modern conflicts. In today’s world, space plays a critical role in national security and India is increasingly acknowledging its importance in fortifying defence and security frameworks in space. However, aligning military space aspirations with broader objectives outlined in the National Space Strategy demands meticulous planning and strategic foresight. This article delves into the challenges and roadmap for integrating military space aspirations with India’s Space Strategy, which seeks to harness space technology for national development, security, and strategic interests.

India initiated its space journey in 1969 with the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), emphasizing applications such as communication, navigation, earth observation, and scientific research. The inauguration of the Indian Space Program marked a significant milestone, further leading to achievements like the Chandrayaan and Mangalyaan missions, showcasing India’s space exploration capabilities. ISRO’s achievements range from rocket launches to interplanetary missions, including anti-satellite weapon development and an indigenous navigation system. Over time, India’s space initiatives evolved, shifting focus from human security to commercialization and now emphasizing national security, epitomized by the Gaganyaan Project for Human Spaceflight, signifying India’s technological prowess and entry into human space exploration.

(Artistic Conception of Gaganyaan, Pic Courtesy:


Post-independence, India embarked on a journey of scientific advancement and space exploration. The Space Commission later formulated policies tailored to national needs, overseen by the Department of Space (DoS), fostering socio-economic development. Spearheaded by entities like the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) and the National Atomic Research Laboratory (NARL), India’s space program prioritized innovation and efficiency, exemplified by initiatives such as the Indian National Satellite System (INSAT) for telecommunications and remote sensing. In the early years when the global focus was to use space only for the five so-called traditional missions of reconnaissance and surveillance, communications, navigation, meteorology, and geodesy India focused on socio-economic development however in recent years it has shifted towards ambitious space exploration and increased utilization of space assets, driven by heightened security concerns, shaping India’s space endeavours and emphasizing the need to enhance national security dimensions and foster space security collaborations.

India has made significant progress in launch vehicle and satellite development, contributing to economic growth, with ISRO introducing the indigenous Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS) in 2014, primarily designed for border surveillance. Now the private Indian space industry offers services ranging from satellite development to launch vehicle services and satellite imagery applications.

Moreover, India’s space aspirations extend to ambitious projects such as establishing its own space station by 2035 and the Gaganyaan mission, aiming to send three astronauts into orbit 400 kilometers above Earth with an approx. cost of ₹90 billion. Prime Minister Modi’s recent visit to the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre in Thiruvananthapuram and inauguration of three new space infrastructure projects, reasserts India’s commitment to space research and innovation. With plans for missions to explore Mars, Venus, and cosmic X-rays, alongside ambitious launch schedules, India’s rapid progress in space exploration positions it prominently in the competitive space race in Asia. ISRO’s achievements reflect India’s growing prowess in space innovation, exemplified by successful missions like the Aditya-L1 solar observatory deployment.

(Indian Air Force Officers as Crew for Mission Gaganyaan, Pic Courtesy: Times of India)


The unveiling of India’s Space Policy in April 2023 delineates objectives in both space exploration and security. The policy aims to incentivize private investment in the space sector, allowing state institutions to focus on fundamental science and deep space exploration. India seeks to elevate its share in the global space economy from 2% to 10%, emphasizing improved capabilities and international cooperation. It encourages private sector involvement in satellite-based services and communication, introducing the Indian National Space Promotion and Authorization Centre (IN-SPACe) to streamline authorization processes and foster industry growth. Today, the Indian space sector stands among the top priorities of the government, with approximately 3,683 private space firms and over 100 space start-ups. India envisions itself as a leading space service provider, with ISRO transitioning towards research while New Space India Limited (NSIL) spearheads commercialization efforts. Several policies have been introduced. Key initiatives include the proposal for an allocation of ₹13,042 crore in the interim budget of 2024-25 for the Department of Space, policy amendments enabling private partnerships in the space sector under the Make in India initiative, ISRO’s initiatives to facilitate technology transfers and facility sharing for commercialization, the establishment of Indian Space Association (ISpA) to promote collaboration within the Indian space industry, and provision of funding for space start-ups through the Innovation for Defence Excellence (IDex) initiative.

(Organisation chart Indian Space Program, Pic Courtesy: Department of Space Annual Report 22-23)


Globally, the Armed forces are increasingly integrating advanced imaging satellites and sensors into their strategies to enhance combat effectiveness and national security. Space-oriented intelligence systems streamline decision-making processes and bolster lethality, making them crucial amidst evolving geopolitical dynamics. India, driven by government policies and indigenous innovation, is actively seeking to strengthen its armed forces through cutting-edge space innovations. Technologies like hyperspectral imaging, satellite-based navigation, and advanced sensors are pivotal in this endeavour, necessitating collaboration among the government, private sector, and academia to develop strategic capabilities.

During the Kargil War, the critical role of satellites in situational awareness and intelligence transmission was highlighted, prompting the formulation of India’s ‘Defence Space Vision 2020.’ This initiative advocated for deeper integration between defence and space sectors, resulting in advancement in space defence technologies in vital areas like C4ISR. Collaboration with private entities has been instrumental in innovations and initiatives like Satellite Quantum Key Distribution solutions and the commercial development of satellite launch vehicles.

The strategic intent of space for defence operations is to enhance military capabilities by integrating space across various defence domains, building resilience in space systems, and enhancing non-kinetic capabilities. This involves defending space assets from potential threats such as kinetic, directed energy, jamming, or spoofing attacks. Efforts are directed towards developing capabilities for space warfare, including small satellite technology, advanced terrestrial sensors, and defences against Anti-Satellite Weapons (ASAT) and Reversible Passive Observables (RPOs). In 2023 at the Indian DefSpace Symposium stakeholders brainstormed addressing current trends, challenges, and strategies in the defence space domain focusing on increasing militarization and progression towards weaponization of space, emphasizing the need for developing dual-use platforms with advanced technology integration.

(ASAT was executed using Prithvi Defensive Vehicle Mk II Anti-Ballistic Missile on 27 Mar 2019, Pic Courtesy: Wikipedia)


India has embarked on a concerted effort to bolster its military space capabilities, evident in several key initiatives:

(a)       The establishment of the Defence Space Agency (DSA) in 2018 consolidated armed forces’ space-related capabilities. Headquartered in Bengaluru, Karnataka, under an Air Vice Marshal-ranked officer, the DSA gradually assumes control over space-related functions, integrating the Defence Imagery Processing and Analysis Centre (DIPAC) and Defence Satellite Control Centre (DSCC). Tasked with overseeing operational military satellites like GSAT-7 and GSAT-7A, the DSA aims to enhance coordination among military space activities, fostering synergy with ISRO, DRDO, and the armed forces. It focuses on formulating a comprehensive space warfare strategy and developing space-based tracking systems to safeguard Indian interests and address potential space conflicts.

(b)       In 2019, India conducted its inaugural ASAT test named Mission Shakti, destroying a low earth orbit satellite in response to perceived threats following China’s ASAT test in 2007.

(c)        ISRO has launched numerous defence and security satellites tailored for reconnaissance, surveillance, and communication purposes.

(d)       In June 2019, the Indian government sanctioned the Defence Space Research Agency (DSRA) to develop space warfare systems and technologies for the DSA. Comprising scientists, the DSRA collaborates with the Integrated Defence Staff (IDS), ensuring close coordination in research and development efforts.

(e)        India conducted its first simulated space warfare exercise, IndSpaceEx, in July 2019 under the IDS aimed to assess potential threats and formulate a cohesive joint space warfare doctrine.

(f)        India is forging partnerships with nations to enhance space security, deepening ties within the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) and collaborating with countries like France. While bilateral engagements cover civil and security-related initiatives, the Quad prioritizes discussions on norms of responsible conduct to address concerns about adversaries’ activities.


In today’s geopolitical landscape, India’s aspirations in military space hold significant importance. The heightened reliance on space-based assets for critical military functions such as communication, surveillance, reconnaissance, and navigation underscores the indispensable role of Robust military space capabilities which are essential for protecting territorial sovereignty, safeguarding national interests, and projecting influence on the international stage.

Secondly, the growing militarization of space and its emergence as a contested domain in global politics necessitate India’s proactive involvement in enhancing its military space capabilities. With the United States, China, and Russia actively pursuing space weaponization and developing ASAT capabilities, India must bolster the resilience of its space assets and develop countermeasures against potential threats to its space infrastructure.

India’s strategic position in a volatile region characterized by security challenges such as border disputes and regional rivalries further emphasizes the significance of military space ambitions. Space-based assets play a pivotal role in enhancing situational awareness, border surveillance, intelligence gathering, and early warning capabilities, enabling India to effectively monitor and respond to security threats along its borders and in the maritime domain.

Achieving comprehensive integration involves formulating a dedicated Defence Space Strategy integrated within the National Space Strategy framework and restructuring defence procurement guidelines to facilitate private sector participation. India’s expanding space endeavours highlight its advancing space capabilities, technological prowess, and global stature. Collaborative efforts with organizations like NASA have also contributed to technological advancements, positioning India as a credible player in global discussions on outer space governance.

Furthermore, India’s decision to open its space sector to foreign investment, as outlined in a report by the World Economic Forum on February 28, 2024, is a significant transformation. With the global space industry projected to reach $47.3 billion by 2032, India aims to capture a larger market share by allowing 100% foreign direct investment (FDI) in satellite system manufacturing and easing regulations on launch vehicles. This liberalization is expected to stimulate job creation, facilitate technology transfer, and spur innovation and investment in India’s space sector.

Framework for synergy between Armed Forces, Academia and Industry


India’s foray into space security, intricately linked with defence readiness, demands a meticulously devised national strategy. Recent global security events, such as the Hamas attacks on Israel, mandate a robust C4ISR network. Space-based assets are now crucial for ensuring secure military operations. The strategy necessitates a comprehensive approach, uniting civilian, defence, industrial, academic, and think tank sectors to safeguard India’s space interests effectively. A pivotal aspect is a formulation of a Space Security Policy to align with national security goals, fostering collaboration across military, civil, and commercial sectors to maximize mutual benefits and bolster defence capabilities. Strengthening coordination and international cooperation further enhance regional security initiatives.

In the intricate realm of space operations and crafting a comprehensive national security framework for space utilization, discerning between “militarization” and “weaponization” of space is paramount. Militarization involves deploying space-based assets for non-aggressive, defensive, or peacekeeping military purposes, excluding offensive weapon placement. Conversely, weaponization entails designing and deploying space assets for offensive actions, potentially leading to space militarization. Clarity on these concepts is vital for devising effective space laws and policies. Capabilities need to be enhanced in threat detection, protection, and offensive and defensive operations to gain a strategic edge in the space domain, aligning with the evolving nature of space use and a shift towards non-kinetic warfare.

To fortify India’s national defence capabilities in space, an architectural review of the Space Commission is imperative, involving representatives from all stakeholders responsible for strategic space requirements. Evolving the Defence Space Agency (DSA) into the Indian Defence Space Command (INDSPAC) is crucial for enhancing defence operations. A robust defence strategy is needed to protect space assets from various threats, including natural occurrences and offensive military actions, emphasizing activities such as ISR, communication, navigation, and EW. Integrating military space ambitions with the National Space Strategy requires a multi-dimensional approach:

(a)        Developing a comprehensive policy framework delineating stakeholder roles and objectives.

(b)       Investing in research to enhance indigenous capabilities.

(c)        Leveraging international partnerships for technology access and interoperability.

(d)       Formulating a strategic doctrine outlining India’s military space approach.

(e)        Fostering transparency and dialogue for confidence-building among stakeholders. Additionally, capacity building and investment in infrastructure are essential to manage and exploit space assets effectively.

Ensuring policy coherence between civilian and military space activities, embracing sustainable practices, and fostering continuous innovation is vital. India’s credible space program and expertise in space-oriented defence applications can address sovereignty concerns and enhance bilateral cooperation, positioning India as a regional space power economy. Integration of the three key pillars of the Indian space domain—research, commercial manufacturing, and government policies—is crucial for delivering innovative solutions and positioning India on the global space stage.


In conclusion, aligning India’s military space ambitions with its National Space Strategy is imperative for fortifying national security and enhancing its global standing in the realm of space exploration. With space assuming a critical role in both security and economic spheres, a unified approach is paramount. Integrating military space objectives into the broader National Space Strategy enables India to harness its technological expertise, forge strategic alliances, and innovate to safeguard its space assets, exert influence internationally, and foster regional security initiatives. This integration necessitates the formulation of dedicated defence space strategies, fostering collaboration among stakeholders, investing in indigenous capabilities, and advocating for international cooperation. Through meticulous planning and strategic foresight, India can adeptly navigate the complexities of modern space warfare, bolster its defence capabilities, and emerge as a prominent player in the evolving space domain, thereby contributing to global peace, security, and sustainability.

Looking ahead, India’s space sector anticipates a surge in private launch service providers and satellite manufacturers, potentially positioning India as a global space hub. Leveraging rapid launching facilities and cost-effective satellite deployment can expedite defence satellite initiatives. Geopolitically, India holds strategic advantages for global space collaboration and bolstering Indo-Pacific bilateral relations alongside key players like China, Russia, and Japan. Crafting a comprehensive space doctrine presents unique challenges, necessitating seamless integration between ground and space forces. Spearheading this effort, the Defence Space Agency (DSA) and Defence Space Research Agency (DSRO) must develop a doctrine aligned with India’s long-term space interests, ensuring integration within the defence structure, and enhancing India’s military space capabilities.

Lt Col Narendra Tripathi (r) is a Subject matter expert and independent consultant in military technology. The views expressed are of the writer and based on research on information in the open domain.

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