National and International Issues

Space, the Next Frontier & India’s Space Capabilities

The unscathed outer space, which is a shared neutral heritage for all mankind, in the contemporary era is considered as the next battlefield for power projection and hegemonic aspirations by major powers. The launch of Sputnik I by USSR in 1957 and the initiation of Project Mercury by U.S., a precursor to the Apollo manned mission to the Moon by U.S., marked a new dimension of complex arms race in space during the Cold War era. This space race brought along with it a new phase of revolution in conducting of battlefield strategy, impacting doctrine and tactics. The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 aimed at developing a binding framework for peaceful purposes of the outer space while banning any military misadventures in this domain. The debate for defining peaceful purpose is contested and under deliberation for long, where several states call on completely eradicating deployment of military satellites, missions into space, while others interpret that dual use missions should also have been categorized as offensive. Since then, the major power states have launched over 4,000 satellites out of which 2,666 satellites are operational1. Over 1,327 out of these belong to U.S. including 192 military purpose satellites. 363 satellites have been launched by China while they maintain 105 military satellites and Russia maintains a constellation of 169 satellites including 100 specifically for military purposes.2

India has been running a comprehensive space program since early 1960s3 and has attained considerable development and capabilities in civil, military and intelligence-based space operations. India revamped its military space programme against the backdrop of Kargil conflict where the Indian military lacked real-time information and was denied access to satellite imagery by the U.S. India since then has emphasized on maintaining an indigenous space program and has achieved production and development of high-resolution Technology Experiment Satellite (TES) programme in record time. In the same vein, the satellite launched in 2013 by Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) for telecommunications purposes was also meant to be used for military purposes.
India initiated its space programme in 1963 with the launch of sounding rockets, probing into the upper atmospheric regions for research purpose. Later on, it initiated collaborations with foreign space organisations which equipped her with the ability to launch its own satellite missions for research purposes. Now India is one of 12 countries which has the ability to launch its own satellite in to the space. On February 5, 2017 by launching 104 satellites/spacecrafts into the orbit, India set a new record for launching the most number of satellites in a single launch on February 15, 2017.4 It has over 55 operational satellites in the outer space, out of which over 17 are for military purposes, with 8 dedicated military satellites, including RISat, CartoSat, EMISat series for earth observation, radar imaging and electronic intelligence gathering purposes and GSAT-7A communication satellites for Indian Air Force and Navy respectively.5 
Since 1975 India has successfully launched up to 121 satellites which include geostationary satellites and remote sensing satellites. Recently, India has launched EMISAT (April 1, 2019) satellite, which is intended for electromagnetic spectrum measurement. It is an Indian reconnaissance satellite. Cartosat-3 (November 27, 2019) which is an earth observation satellite. Third generation agile advanced satellite having high resolution imaging capability. RISAT-2BR1 launched on (December 11, 2019) which is a radar imaging earth observation satellite and is capable of capturing imagery with the resolution of 0.35 meters.6
India tested its anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons on March 27, 2019 under Mission Shakti, using modified Prithvi missile. In 2010, the Director General of India’s Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO), V. K. Saraswat, declared that the country was developing a killer satellite.7 Two years later, former DRDO DG Saraswat announced that India would possess and develop the technology to destroy satellites in lower Earth orbit. This capability is being mated with the kinetic kill vehicle of the Indian BMD Programme (Programme AD) to produce an exo-atmospheric kill system.8 He further stated that leading major powers are actively pursuing counter space capabilities including direct-ascent anti-satellite missiles, ground-based satellite jammers, directed energy weapons and co-orbital anti-satellite systems. Calculations by NASA and U.S.’ DOD after the Indian ASAT test found that the risk of debris striking the International Space Station went up by 44 percent for a ten-day period following the test. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine also added that, “And if one country does this, then other countries feel they have to do it, too.”9
India, realizing the prospective of contemporary satellite, launched an organized satellite program to advance this capability. Indian space satellite missions give it the opportunity to harness its activities in outer space for distant foreign policy goals. The Indian satellite system and technology (INSAT) has given it a significant advantage in electronic intelligence (ELINT) which can undermine the threat perception in the region. The geosynchronous (GSAT), electromagnetic spectrum (EMISAT) satellites featuring transponders and sensors facilitate a range of communications, surveillance and reconnaissance and meteorological applications. Thus, the induction of these satellite systems has abled India proficiency in its strategic calculations which is likely to have unswerving bearing on Pakistan’s ability to conduct operations both at strategic and tactical levels. Successive execution of Indian space programme will enable it to progress towards its great power aspirations, which is the unstated but perennial driver of Indian foreign policy.  
India has aligned major civil and military space missions’ launches in the coming years. The future Indian military satellites programs are as follows:10

Indian civil space/extra-terrestrial space missions include:11   


Recent boost in Indian economic sector has seen increased investment and technological collaboration of western countries with India. Germany, Japan, South Korea, France and Israel have actively engaged in research and development in space related programs, satellite programmes and developing projects for communication, earth observation and navigation purposes with India.  ISRO is now a go-to for companies like Google to launch and deploy satellites. According to Morgan Stanley space industry will be worth around $350 billion today to over $1 trillion by the 2040s.12
In contemporary era no plan could be countered until and unless accurate and timely intelligence is obtained about the enemy movements. Military satellites enable commanders to monitor the movements of the enemy in real time while limiting the time to respond. However, denying this capability to the enemy would greatly affect one’s ability to fight and maneuver. It would be possible when we will know where the enemy satellite devices are located and how they are employed. India is moving towards space militarization, a part of her hegemonic designs in the region which has serious implications on other regional states. The constellation of rapidly increasing Indian military satellites would enable it to gather intelligence by tapping into military communications, capture high-resolution imagery of strategic locations, troops movement and deployment.
Pakistan’s Space Program initiated in 1961 when Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Committee was established and upgraded as a commission in 1981. Unfortunately, from the very start the organization was overshadowed by bureaucratic hurdles, mismanagement, and lack of adequate resources. There was a lack of national discourse, literature, discussion or debate on space related issues at the policy level in academia, intelligentsia and public circles for formulating a robust space program. On July 16, 1990 Pakistan launched its first experimental satellite BADR-1 onboard of Chinese launcher Long March 2E (LM-2E). Pakistan’s second satellite BADR-B was launched on December 10, 2001 from Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan.13
Pakistan launched two indigenously manufactured satellites into orbit on July 9, 2018 using a Chinese satellite launch vehicle, the Long March (LM-2C) rocket. Launched satellites included a remote sensing satellite (PRSS1) – which has a dual use-purpose Earth observational-optical satellite. While, the other test satellite launched was (Technology Experiment Satellite) PAK-TES-1A, developed by Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (SUPARCO). SUPARCO is currently working under the Vision 2022 project aimed at developing and increasing the number of indigenous satellites and sending a manned mission to moon in collaboration with China by 2022. In order to counter the compromising of U.S.-based GPS navigation system, Pakistan is also switching towards Chinese BeiDou Navigation Satellite System.14
Indian space programme is one of the means to dominate the region while jeopardizing security of other countries. Pakistan should keep herself abreast with the contemporary trends in space technology in order to counter it from enemy’s nefarious aggre   ssive designs and also to ensure survival of herself in future wars of cyber and outer space domain. For this purpose, Pakistan needs to develop its own indigenous space program and thrive in this domain also. So far, our focus and progress in this field is much below the required level.

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1. Association of Concerned Scientists UCS Satellite Database, Union of Concerned Scientists,
2. Pavel Luzin, Russia is behind in military space capabilities, but that only drives its appetite, Defense News, April 2, 2020,
3. Genesis, Indian Space Research Organization,
4. Samantha Mathewson, “India Launches Record-Breaking 104 Satellites on Single Rocket,” Space, February 15, 2017,
5. UCS Satellite Database, Union Of Concerned Scientists, 
6. Missions, Indian Space Research Organization,
7. Former DRDO chief busts Congress' claim, says UPA blocked satellite-killer missile test in 2012, Zee News, March 27, 2019,
8. Interview | Scientific Advisor to the Defence Minister and Director General, DRDO, Padmashri Dr V.K. Saraswat, Force India, March 28, 2019,
9. Kelsey Davenport, Indian ASAT Test Raises Space Risks, May 2019,
10. Table Details 
11. Table Details
12. Morgan Stanley, “Space: Investing in the Final Frontier,” Morgan Stanley, July 2, 2019,
13. History, Pakistan Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission,
14. Naveed Siddiqui, “Pakistan launches remote sensing satellite in China,” Dawn, July 09, 2018,  

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