On 15 February 2017, Indian space agency created history; launched 104 satellites in one go. This historical moment in space history tells the beginning of a real space race in Asia and which eventually surpass the Cold War space race. However, this also germinates an important question; does India have a space doctrine or it is simply a show of technology without a doctrine.
The space doctrines of major space-faring nations like the United States, Russia and China recognize space for socioeconomic development and space as another medium of warfare besides land, sea and air. Their navigation, remote sensing and communication satellites are both for peaceful civilian and military purposes, and their space doctrines have guided them to explore space for dual-use. India is an emerging space power in South Asia with global aspiration. In achieving such status, space program has become a top political priority in India and it is following the course of the major spacefaring states, but without an officially declare space doctrine.
Space technology is dual-use technology, which applications can be used for peaceful as well as for military purposes. Ajey Lele, a senior research fellow of Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) believes that India does not have an official space doctrine, which specifically highlights whether Indian space program is exclusively for civilian purposes or there are some other dimensions of its space program. Lele continues to suggest that the entire Indian space agenda is focused on socioeconomic development. However, he argued that “from military point of view space is getting used globally for the purposes of communication, remote sensing and navigation. This is globally accepted activity and is not violating any treaty regime. In regards to India using space in assistance of military is fine.”
Michael Krepon, the co-founder of the Stimson Center, suspects that India does not even have a military space doctrine. The civil side may not have one, either. Krepon pointed that Indian space endeavors are “just to pursue technologies, increase capabilities, and make them applicable to domestic and developmental needs.”
Rajeswari Rajagopalan, senior fellow at Observer Research Foundation India, writes that a general consensus emerged in India of not declaring its space doctrine. On the contrary, Rajagopalan believes that India’s space policy should be outline as it “would be an effective tool of communication for both internal and external audiences.”
The Indian space odyssey suggests that Indian political leadership was well aware with strategic importance ofits space program for its dual-use, right from its inception. Other than socioeconomic development through space program, India also identified the strategic importance of the space for military use.
Despite the fact that India does not have an officially declare space doctrine, Indian Army Doctrine, which was released in 2004, briefly talked about future war which is likely to be characterized by “deeper and wider combat zones due to increased reach of integrated firepower and surveillance resources including space-based systems.” The document shows some glimpses of Indian space doctrinal thinking that the future war is most likely to take place at higher frontiers.
India space program has largely focused to develop a state-of-the-art “command, control, communication, computers, intelligence, information, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4I2RS) systems which would result in the expansion of the battle-space and compression of the time dimension.”For such a system, space is believed to be the only medium from where such capabilities can effectively operate and provide real-time intelligence gathering, surveillance and reconnaissance of the adversary.” To emerge as a space power and counter any threat to its security, which India believes are largely emanating from Pakistan and China, space-based C4I2RS is necessary for India to maintain its declaratory credible minimum deterrence.
In the recent volume of Astropolitics, a journal of international repute, some of the major contours of India space doctrine discussed by a prominent Indian space expert, Gurbachan Singh, a scholar at NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad. Singh writes that India does not have a declared space doctrine nor “an articulated space policy.” He argued that it would be interesting to note that when “man at the helm” comes up with a declared doctrine to deal with its growing space activities. Furthermore, India’s space program is largely governed by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) in coordination and collaboration with Indian Space Commission, Department of Space and Indian Space Research Organization (IRSO). However, all these government entities have yet to declare a well-versed and articulated space doctrine.
Singh proposed five Indian space pledges as Panchsheela, in order for “setting forth its policy stance and mission objectives presently and for the future.” These include compliance with space law regime, no-first-use for aggressive military purposes, international cooperation, mitigation of space debris, addressing serious inadequacies in its national space law. Moreover, S. Chandrasekhar, who works at National Institute of Advanced Studies, believes that India’s space strategy should “support a limited development program for ballistic missile defence (BMD) and anti-satellite (ASAT) missile.” This is indeed a long-time endeavor of ISRO and other strategic organizations in India who would have to develop space-based assets which can assist India in support of their BMD system.
Interestingly, India has a declared nuclear doctrine but does not have a declared space doctrine. India is diversifying its missile program, developing shorter and longer range missiles, and at the same time, Indian ASAT missiles in future could be spin-off effect of its under develop ICBM capability.
In conclusion, India aspires to be mainstreamed in the global nuclear order. It has applied for nuclear supplier group (NSG) membership and is making efforts on diplomatic, economic and political fronts to achieve it. India became a member of Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) and also signed Hague Code of Conduct (HCoC), which mainly deals with reduction of national missile inventory thatany state can hold.Besides that India has ratified four UN treaties but still not become a party to the Moon treaty.
India is increasing the size and scope of its space assets. Till 2016, India has twenty-nine operational space based assets, according to Union of Concerned Scientists and it has launched eighty-eight objects in space. However, it would be interesting, if India continues to compete in the space race without declaring its space doctrine or the world would only see an increase in its space capabilities without having an articulate space doctrine.
Ahmad Khan is the co-author of the book “Indian Unsafeguarded Nuclear Program: An Assessment,” and conducting his PhD research in Space Security at the Department of Strategic Studies in National Defence University, Islamabad.