NEW DELHI – Driven by national security concerns and the emergence of China as a significant threat, India is seeking to expand its military capabilities in space, analysts say.
“Geopolitics is the main driver for India to focus on the military aspects of its space program,” said Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan, director of the Center for Security, Strategy and Technology at the Observer Research Institute in New Delhi.
“It must respond to the growing capacities in the space of China, with which border disputes have erupted time and time again. India has recognized that if it does not step up it will lose in the use of space resources for military purposes, ”he told VOA.
An Indian anti-satellite weapon test conducted two years ago to demonstrate that it could shoot down satellites in space was the country’s first major step in putting a military profile on its space program. With this test, India became the fourth country, after China, Russia and the United States, to demonstrate anti-satellite capability.
India’s anti-satellite test took place 12 years after China conducted one in 2007. While for years India’s space program has focused on civilian space applications and space exploration, the China’s demonstration of its ability to bring down satellites has become a “wake-up call” for the country. on the type of space security threats it will face, analysts say.
“It was essentially a deterrent mechanism, a message to the adversary that we have developed counter-space capabilities,” said Ajay Lele, senior researcher at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defense Studies and Analysis. in New Delhi. “India is in a special situation. Two adversaries at its border are states with nuclear weapons. And since one of them, China, has developed significant counter-space capabilities, India also wants to be prepared in case there is any militarization of space in the future. “
In 2019, India established the Space Defense Agency to develop the country’s space strategy. According to national media reports, India is developing sensors and satellites as well as ground stations to help the defense forces have space assets.
“This is done because 24 hours a day, if you have to monitor an area to analyze developments more closely, you need a lot more satellites,” according to Lele.
According to analysts, the current main objective is to improve the surveillance capabilities of sensitive areas from space resources from a military point of view.
India’s concerns revolve around both its Himalayan borders with China, where disputed borders between the two have sparked military tensions, and the Indian Ocean region, where China has increased its influence.
Last year, New Delhi and Beijing were embroiled in a months-long military standoff sparked by Indian accusations that Chinese troops had encroached on its territory in a remote mountainous region of Ladakh in the western Himalayas. during winter, when the ice-covered area is largely inaccessible. Analysts in New Delhi had wondered why India had failed to detect alleged Chinese incursions earlier using satellite imagery.
It is only in recent years that India has acquired communication and reconnaissance satellites dedicated to the armed forces – the first has gone to the navy, which must maintain a long coastline.
“The demand is only growing,” Pillai said, “But the ability of the Indian space agency to meet this demand is a problem.”
There are demands for improved space resources for the military, especially as China develops more sophisticated counter-space technologies such as cyberwarfare.
“India has a very basic satellite program. Moreover, in terms of number, it has very few satellites compared to countries like China and the United States, ”according to Manoj Joshi, distinguished member of the Observer Research Foundation.
“So in an environment where satellites can be disabled or disabled, the military would want the ability to replace them quickly,” he said.
However, India’s defense-related space capabilities are in their infancy due to budget restrictions.
“India is strapped for resources. Its defense budget has declined relative to gross domestic product in recent years, ”Joshi said.
“India is therefore a small player compared to countries like China, the United States and Russia,” he said.
The blow to the economy from the COVID-19 pandemic is expected to make it more difficult to allocate additional resources.