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Thursday, May 17, 2012

OUTER SPACE: An emerging theatre of war


By M A Athul
The evolution of technology has opened new fields of conflict. Outer space has become the new area of contest, thanks to the advent of information era and the dependence on satellites for communication. Rockets reaching outer space have been talked about since WW2. The Nazis pioneered the technology with the V1 and V2 rockets. Later, the Soviets came up with FOBS (Fractional Orbit Bombardment System). The latest weapons such as DEW (Direct Energy Weapon) using X-ray to neutralize ICBMS in mid-flight and ABL (Air Borne Laser) to direct energy against incoming projectiles or aircrafts are used for neutralizing spying satellites.
The new technology will have a profound effect on how war will be fought. Satellites are used for remote sensing and intelligence gathering and is vital for C4I (Command, Control, Computers, Communications and Intelligence) systems. Therefore protecting satellites and neutralizing that of the enemy’s is critical for swift victory. The anti-satellite weapons are much cheaper and thus easily deployable. The use of micro satellites to neutralize satellites is very effective tool. The robotic plane of USAF X37B and X37, the reusable spacecrafts are a few space weaponries. The US DoD is investing much in anti-satellite missiles and space vehicles capable of dispersing projectiles for ASAT purposes.
The new arms race in space is between China and USA. Chinese space program is being carried out under the guise of China’s supposedly non-military space program. Now China has risen to a major force in space technology. The use of ASAT in shooting down its own satellite in Jan 2007 is a fitting example. For attaining CNP (Comprehensive National Power), being a dominant power in space technology is seen as an important step. In the near future China foresees a clash with the US. To have an upper hand, China has prioritized nuclear, space, shipbuilding electronics and other defence-related industries. The most striking feature of Chinese space industry is that it is directly related with missile development. It’s not exclusively a civilian enterprise.
The 1st Gulf War, Kosovo and Afghanistan wars have taught that in a conventional war the technologically-superior nation always wins due to superior intelligence-gathering ability. In the 21st Century, the space-based support systems could well be the difference between victory and failure. The Chinese has developed the Long March rocket systems to be used in 2014 which can outperform Arianne 5. China has noticed the overdependence of USA on satellites for smooth running of its war machine, and considers it the Achilles heel of the US. And they have come up with ASAT capabilities to obstruct the satellite communication capability.  Chinese are using OST for monitoring activities in West Pacific, South China Sea and Indian Ocean where its strategic interests lie. They see space program as an anti-containment strategy.  Since China is a rising power, the West probably wants to contain China’s rise.  Chinese see the way out of this trap by equipping themselves with better technological ability, especially in space. During 60th anniversary of PLAAF, its former commander Xu Qiuling stated that it will develop force projection ability to outer space too and that only power can protect peace. This statement itself shows the coming era of weaponisation of outer space.
Chinese space technology is a direct threat to India, increasing our vulnerability in both land and sea. For instance as the ballistic missile program matures for China, the threat to our land and naval assets will increase over time. China would be able to hit targets deep inside Indian Territory.
As the technology will tilt the balance of power in favor of China, the geopolitical climate will become unfavorable to India, and China will start dictating its terms. Hence, India has started to recalibrate its space program and focus on technological developments to counter the Chinese superiority. Agni 5 can be seen in this light as a counter-weight to Chinese weaponry.  With a range of 5000 km Agni-5 is a China centric missile, enhancing India’s ability to hit targets deep inside China. And with V K Saraswat saying that the Agni programme would continue and the program won’t be caped, one can assume that India is at least for the time being is moving in the right direction .

(The article is the Part-1 impressions of the book Space Security: Need for Global Convergence,published by Pentagon Press. Two more parts would appear later. The writer is a first year PG student of Defence and Strategic Studies with Madras University currently on a 2-months’ internship with Tarmak007. His write-ups need not be news-breaks and in-depth in nature; hence should be seen as an ab initio effort by a budding defence journalist. The views expressed by Athul need not be that of Tarmak007.)

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