Talk by Dr. Arvind Gupta, DG, IDSA on "A Space Security Policy for India" at Western Naval Command, Mumbai on September 2, 2013
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  • Vice Admiral Shekhar Sinha, FOC-in-C(West)
    Vice Admiral AV Subhedar
    Vice Admiral AR Karve
    Rear Admiral MD Suresh
    Officers of Western Naval Command
    Ladies and Gentlemen,

    I thank the Western Naval Command for inviting me to deliver this talk. Last year I was here to speak on another subject. It is great pleasure to return for an interaction with this distinguished audience.


    The importance of space for human mankind cannot be overestimated. Cosmic rays, plasma from the sun, meteorites and other objects constantly bombard the earth. Earth’s atmosphere is the shield between us and the objects from outer space. According to some theories the life on earth may have originated because of some critical material that came to the earth through collisions with meteorites. It is believed that the dinosaurs disappeared because of change in the earth’s climate following a collision with a meteorite. This can happen again. The earth is in a delicate balance with outer space. Any disturbance in this balance can create a huge problem for earth and earth systems.

    But today we will speak about space security in the context of sustainability of space systems and applications that we have created for mankind’s benefit. As it happens with most technologies, the technologies that we create for our benefit can also be misused. Space technologies are the prime examples of dual use technologies.

    We derive immense socio economic and security benefits from the space systems. Modern day communication and navigation would be impossible without satellites in space and ground stations and devices. The militaries would not be able to carry out their legitimate activities without satellites. The applications of space to education, telecommunication, navigation, health, medicine, agriculture, search and rescue, disaster management and ISR are too numerous to recount. As individuals we have come to rely on space systems heavily without even realizing it. Today, outer space and cyber space are converging to give us new applications like the GPS, for example.

    At the same time, the very same technologies can be potentially used for massive destruction. During the cold war years, the launch of the Sputnik by Soviet Union in 1957 and the first manmade space flight by the Soviet cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin, created tremendous anxiety in the western camp that spurred a race for space resulting in the US sending a man to the Moon. During these years, there was a real danger and fear that space would be weaponised and weapons of mass destruction may be deployed in space for war fighting purposes. That could have spelt the end of the planet. However, better sense prevailed and starting with the Partial Test Ban Treaty of 1963 which banned nuclear tests in the air and outer space, a new space law regime has been created.

    All this became possible because nations agreed to use the outer space for peaceful purposes only. The 1967 Outer Space Treaty and the space law regime that was developed subsequently made outer space a global common. This was a land mark development. This saved the Earth from a potentially disastrous arms race in space during the cold war years. The non-renewal of the Anti Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, the development of new technologies at break neck speed can lead to weaponisation of space. This is an acute worry. Every one has equal right to access space. Space has not been divided into territorial segments. The 1967 Outer Space Treaty prohibits arms race in space and envisages the use of space for peaceful purposes. The treaty specifically prohibits the placement of nuclear weapons in space but is ambiguous on conventional weapons. The short point is that space has to be secure for every one to use.

    That is where the notion of space security comes in.

    How do we define space security? According to Space Security Index 2013, it means “the secure and sustainable access to, and use of, space and freedom from space-based threats”. So, for space security one should have unfettered access to space, one should be able to use space for peaceful purposes and one should not be subject to space based threats. But that is not how the situation is in practice. There are many worrying trends which jeopardise stability in space, the ability to access and use space in a safe and secure manner.


    Condition of Space

    Now let us look at the situation prevailing in space. Presently nearly 800 satellites are orbiting the earth. In the next 10 years, 1200 satellites will be launched. China alone will launch 100 satellites in the 5 years. The geo-stationery orbit which is highly crowded, has become a scarce resource. About sixty countries have now access to space. Numerous of launches are made every year. Nearly 300,000 pieces of debris of size more than a centimetre are floating in space at enormous speeds. The RF spectrum used by the communication satellites is a scarce resource as the number of satellites increases and with it the problem of interference. In addition, there is the danger of collisions with near earth objects. This situation leads to a number of challenges to space security.

    a) Space is becoming a crowded arena with a potential for competition and conflict
    Space is a highly crowded arena with fierce competition among various actors. The access to space, though theoretically equal, is in real terms circumscribed by many factors. Nearly sixty countries have developed varying degrees of capabilities to use space. In the last decade a number of commercial players have also become active. The competition for the limited use of resources in space has become even fiercer with the advent of commercial players. The distinction between outer space and SUB-ORBITAL space, the region between 21 KM to 90 KM is getting blurred.

    b) Militarization of space is now a reality
    The Military use of space for national and international security is now a reality. Many countries are using space for ISR, network centric warfare, ballistic missile defence, and a host of other security related activities. The US used space assets in the Gulf War I, Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan. Many countries have developed war fighting capabilities which rely on the use of space assets. Such activities are considered legitimate in terms of the outer space treaty. But there is a thin line dividing a military asset in space and a space based weapon. Are ASATs or the anti-satellite missiles which bring down a satellite intentionally space weapons are not? Russia, China and the US have ASAT capability. The danger of weaponisation of space is real and growing. Space based weapons can present huge security risk. Satellites are critical infrastructure. Interference with their functioning can have devastating consensuses for the economy and national security of a country. Every one agrees in principle that space based weapons should be avoided. But, how to do is a question. Since some countries have these capabilities, others are tempted to acquire them. Therefore, the potential of space arms race in the backdrop of asymmetry in capabilities is ever present.

    c) International initiatives are growing but the progress is slow
    How do you ensure that space is used only for peaceful purposes? There is widespread feeling that the outer space treaty and some other conventions and agreements are too weak to prevent arms race in space. Several new initiatives have been launched to prevent arms race in space. The Conference on Disarmament in Geneva is supposed to consider a resolution on the Prevention of Arms Race in Outer Space (PAROS). But for more than fifteen years it has not been able to even adopt a work programme. The most notable among other initiatives include Prevention and Placement of Weapons in Outer Space Treaty PPWT draft of the Russian and the Chinese, the EU Code of Conduct for Outer Space, the UN Secretary General’s Group of Governmental Experts on Transparency and Confidence Building Measures, the UN Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UNCOPUOS) Working Group on space security. In addition there are several regional initiatives too. But it has not been possible to arrive at any agreement as yet on the space security issues, particularly, on the question of how to prevent a possible weaponisation of space and how to ensure stability in space in the backdrop of rapid advances in space technologies. No agreement of TCBMs & RoR has been possible due to divergent views.

    d) Space industry is growing rapidly:
    In 2012, the commercial space industry was estimated to have been of the order of $200 billion. In the last decade or so, numerous commercial players have entered the space field. Apart from sending tourists to space, these companies are planning to take contracts from NASA to ferry supplies to the International space station (ISS) as the shuttle programme has come to an end. They are developing a host of space technologies like launchers, satellite systems, and are increasingly partnering with government agencies in national space programmes. Some of the most sophisticated, next generation space technologies are being designed and developed by commercial non-state agencies. They are becoming vocal participants in space security discussions and decisions. Their interest cannot be overlooked.

    e) Space is being integrated into national security architectures:
    Space doctrines form an important component of space security as they guide national space polices. Many countries have adopted space doctrines which while emphasising international cooperation also at the same time privilege national security concerns. The US has a doctrine of space control and space dominance. With its vast assets, it is the most dominant power in space. It seeks full spectrum capability in space. Russia is a close second. It is deeply concerned about US BMD programme. And now China is challenging both of them with rapid strides in its space programme. Chinese intentions are highly ambiguous. The US has set up a space command which is charged with the responsibility of protecting the US space assets. Surveillance, prevention and negation – are the key objectives of the US space command.

    f) Vulnerabilities of space assets is increasing
    Space assets are vulnerable to numerous threats. The most common would be that a satellite is hit by a piece of debris floating in space. A US SSA programme is tracking about 20,000 pieces of debris. But some pieces are too small to be tracked. Space situation awareness (SSA) programmes are in operation. Some information sharing also takes place. International debris mitigation guidelines have been issued. The compliance is mixed.

    A second set of threats comes from the use of anti-satellite weapons, which include kinetic-intercept vehicles, conventional explosives, metal pellets directed energy weapons, electronic jamming of satellites and in the use of micro-satellites to damage a space system. There is pretty little that can be achieved from hardening a satellite. The US and Russians are experimenting by using technology to rapidly repair and rebuild the system after it has been disabled. The US is using Space X, a private company, to ferry payloads to the orbiting satellite and rebuild it. But the progress is so far slow.

    g) Considerable research is going on with regard to space weapons
    The possible weaponisation of space will permanently change the nature of warfare. ASAT technologies, micro satellites, robotic space planes or orbital test vehicles, space based lasers, directed energy weapons are some of the new technologies that have weapons potential. The abrogation of the US Russia ABM Treaty has made it easier for countries to carry out this kind of research. Many countries are experimenting with missiles defence capabilities. These technologies can be used as ASAT weapons. The space based weapons would have global reach. Countries are also focusing on counter measures to meet the growing threats. Although so far, weapons have not been placed in space, the concern of the international community is that rules of the road or stronger laws may be needed to prevent weaponisation of the space. The problem is that there is only a thin line that divides militarisation of space, which is already happening, from weaponisation of space, which can happen quite quickly.


    India is a major and growing space power. Its space programme has been designed to derive social and economic benefit from space. ISRO is a civilian agency which has developed a wide range of capability in satellite design, satellite manufacture, vehicle launch, remote sensing, imaging, navigation etc. A large number of applications have been developed to make use of these capabilities. Those in communication, education, health, disaster management etc can be mentioned. Most of India’s space systems are vulnerable to various threats mentioned before. India needs a clear roadmap for the protection of these systems.

    It is only recently that India has begun to look at the role of space in its national security. Dedicated satellites are being developed to enhance communication, navigation and surveillance capabilities. DRDO is also developing a missile defence programme which relies on the use of space for early warning as well for the lunching the missiles. It has been reported that India has the capability of missile interception. A few tests have already been conducted in 2011, 2012. These developments have made it imperative that India should have a robust space security policy.

    An IDSA Task Force (2009) had drawn attention of the government and public to the need for India to have a publicly articulated space security policy to meet the growing list of sophisticated challenges in the space arena. The challenges range from protecting space assets to retaining the capability to use space for commercial and national security purposes. The response would require not only greater investment in human resource and technology development but also in early warning systems, the capabilities to assess the emerging trends, in diplomacy and international cooperation. The government will also need to restructure its institutional mechanisms to deal with space security issues in a joint and holistic manner.

    There is not adequate appreciation of the role of space in India’s national security. An informed national debate on space security is missing partly because the subject is technical and is not easily explained to lay public, well understood by policymakers. Although an Aero Space Command has been created by the IAF and a Space Cell functions in the HQ, IDS, we need a joint synergetic approach to space security. The government has not yet articulated its thinking on an overall national security strategy and the role space plays or will play in the future in ensuring national security.

    India is today counted as a leading space faring nation. It will need to continuously invest in building its space related capabilities to retain an edge. Yet, the challenges to its space assets, its ability to use space are growing. Debris mitigation, SSA, spectrum allocation, orbit allocation are important challenges for India.

    Several new actors have come in. The international law governing space environment is weak and is still developing. The safety and security aspects of the use of space are becoming complex. There is also a shortage of qualified manpower in India to design, make and use our space assets. We need to build our space industry. The Space university, Deptt of Space will go some way in addressing these challenges.

    Space assets are expensive to build. The benefits of space accrue to most segments of the economy. Thus, space policy cannot be formulated in isolation. In order to meet these challenges, India will need to have a space policy which will have to be dovetailed with national development and security polices. Within the national security polices, there will have to be an element of space security policy.

    Elements of a space security policy

    What would be the possible elements of a space policy for India?
    It should have at the minimum the following elements:

    India will use space for the pursuit of its national development and national security goals. India will promote international cooperation in space; share the benefits with others; India regards space as part of global commons and will pursue its objectives

    Goals and Objectives
    India’s goal is to maintain and enhance the use of space and space technologies in national security, economy, commerce, remotes sensing, health, education, building of information society, creating legal environment to facilitate the use of space, social infrastructure.

    Focus on building human resource and technological capabilities, be proactive on international fora, promote international cooperation, create a national space law. There is need to be alert on the developments in space law, particularly the concepts like code of conduct and the rules of the road being articulated by well funded western think tanks. India should shape discussions in these important fora. At the CD, India should be proactive on preventing the weaponisation of space while safeguarding its national security interests.

    There is urgent need to have credible plans and roadmaps, to find resources, to build, organisational capacities, to share and distribute benefits, to enforce transparency and accountability.


    In conclusion, I would like to emphasise that space security is emerging as a pressing issue of national security as well as international security. The convergence of cyber, space and nuclear technologies can lead to weaponisation of space which must be prevented. Unfortunately, the international space law regime is considered to be too weak to prevent arms race in space. Dual use technologies are galloping ahead. Number of stake holders in space is increasing. Potential for conflict is ever present. Under such conditions, India needs to keep its national interests in mind. There is an urgent need for the formulation and articulation of a space security policy which comprises the key national security issues on which space can have a bearing. The space security policy must be linked with the overall national security policy. India has done remarkably well in furthering the peaceful uses of space for socio-economic well-being. However, national security needs will also have to be addressed without losing further time. India needs to take timely action in this regard.

    Thank you

    Jai Hind

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