Academic journal article Indian Foreign Affairs Journal

Emerging Contours of Space Security: Options for India

Academic journal article Indian Foreign Affairs Journal

Emerging Contours of Space Security: Options for India

Article excerpt

Space age began more than half a century ago - 59 years ago to be precise - when the former Soviet Union put the first man made satellite, Sputnik 1, into a low earth orbit on Saturday, 5 October 1957. Sputnik 1 was a football sized sphere, and was launched by a converted missile. India's foray started ten years later, when much of the world wondered why a poor country was venturing into an expensive hobby! Exploration into space began at a time when most advanced scientific research and exploration in the world were pursued largely from a military security perspective. In a world that was divided by competing ideologies of the two super powers, space exploration was seen as an indicator of prestige, power and supremacy.

The launch of the Sputnik 1 by the USSR was a huge shock to the USA. The fact that a converted missile launched the Sputnik gave rise to fears in the USA of a "missile gap"- a perceived imbalance in defence capability - which served to deepen the political Cold War of the late 1950s. As further achievements of the USSR followed, it created a huge paranoia about technological insecurity in the USA. Within five years, the Soviets had launched the first animal, the first moon probe and, in April 1961, Yuri Gagarin made history by becoming the first man in space. This event fired up the Americans into a national frenzy, and prompted the new President John F. Kennedy who announced the goal of a manned moon landing before the decade was over. It created one of the most ambitious ventures in human history. In just eight years, NASA amassed the necessary experience, and succeeded in pulling offthe greatest organisational feat of the 20th century - winning the race to the Moon.

Space and National Security

In the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, nuclear weapons influenced much of global politics as the two Super Powers waged a Cold War. Realisation that a nuclear conflict could be catastrophic to both sides came in early 1950s with the invention of the hydrogen bomb and delivery rockets in the form of ICBMs. The driver from then on was technologies that could enable both sides to verify capabilities and monitor each other through surveillance and reconnaissance to enable deterrence stability. And this is where space provided the most optimal dimension.

In the intensity of the Cold War environment, military space systems played critical role in providing communications, weather monitoring, navigation, early warning, reconnaissance, as well as intelligence data and functions. Concerned about the possibility of an arms race in space, both the Super Powers facilitated the signing of the Outer Space Treaty in 1967, that banned the development of weapons of mass destruction. The treaty, however, did not seek to prevent militarisation of Space. As satellite technologies evolved, military space systems became critical assets for managing the deployment and employment of military forces on land, sea, and in the air. Space systems were seen as 'force multipliers' as they could be used in any and every conflict, ranging from lowest intensity conflict to nuclear war.

National security advocates argued for ASAT development in the late 1960s and 1970s, drawing a parallel with the denial of reconnaissance plane over-flights by SAMs (Surface-to-Air Missiles).1 As capabilities in satellite surveillance, reconnaissance, communications, PNT (Position, Navigation, and Timing) became highly useful, the impact of space on national security began to assume enormous proportions. The relevance of space capability to national security was amply recalled years later by President Johnson when he referred to the Cuban missile crisis: 'if nothing else came of it (the US Space program) except the knowledge we've gained from space photography, it would be worth ten times what the whole program cost.'2 Similarly, the importance of weather information and precise navigational data for effective military operations was first demonstrated during the Vietnam War. …

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