First satellite for armed forces to be ready in a month
NEW DELHI: The armed forces are finally set to get their first-ever dedicated military satellite, a naval surveillance and communications one, as part of their long-standing quest to effectively harness the final frontier of space. The geo-stationary naval satellite has "already been shipped out'' for its launch that will take place "within a month or so", government sources said. A not-too-subtle indicator of the space event in the offing was also the creation of a new post of assistant chief of naval staff (communications, space and network-centric operations) at the Navy head-quarters over the weekend.
Though tight-lipped about the "over-the-sea" satellite's launch, the Navy on Sunday said Rear Admiral Kishan K Pandey, a communications and electronic warfare specialist, had taken over as the new ACNS (CSNCO) in keeping with its endeavour to transform from a "platform-centric Navy'' to a "network-enabled Navy''. The satellite, with an over 1,000 nautical mile footprint over the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) stretching from Africa's east coast right till Malacca Strait, will enable the Navy to network all its warships, submarines and aircraft with operational centres ashore through high-speed data-links.
There is an urgent need to keep real-time tabs over the rapidly-militarizing IOR, where China is increasingly expanding its strategic footprint, as well as on troop movements, missile silos, military installations and airbases across land borders. The long-delayed naval satellite is to be followed by ones for the Army and IAF for "over-the-land use''. In absence of dedicated satellites, the armed forces have so far depended on "dual-use'' Indian satellites as well as lease of transponders on foreign ones for their navigation, communication, surveillance and reconnaissance purposes.
There are around 300 dedicated or dual-use military satellites orbiting around the earth at present, with the US operating over 50% of them, followed by Russia and China. China, in particular, is pursuing an extensive military-space programme that even extends to advanced ASAT (anti-satellite) capabilities with "direct-ascent" missiles, hit-to-kill "kinetic" and directed-energy laser weapons. DRDO, on its part, contends it can quickly fashion ASAT weapons, if required, by marrying the propulsion system of the over 5,000-km Agni-V missile tested recently with the "kill vehicle" of the almost-ready two-tier BMD ( ballistic missile system) system it has developed.
But India is still some distance away from effective ASAT capabilities. The government is also not yet willing to establish a tri-Service Aerospace Command on the lines of the Strategic Forces Command which handles nuclear weapons. The naval satellite is a step in the right direction. The Navy has already tested the "ship-end'' of the new space era dawning through the massive Tropex (theatre-level readiness and operational exercise) held in January-February. The network-centric operations were tried with both the Eastern and Western Fleets, backed by fighters, spy drones and helicopters, out at sea.