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Insights into Editorial: Outer clarity: on ‘weaponisation’ of outer space

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Insights into Editorial: Outer clarity: on ‘weaponisation’ of outer space


 

Context: India gets surveillance satellite:

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) launched the country’s first electronic surveillance satellite, EMISAT, from Sriharikota in coastal Andhra Pradesh.

As many as 28 small satellites of international customers were also put in space as secondary riders.

Space-based electronic intelligence or ELINT from the 436-kg spacecraft will add teeth to situational awareness of the Armed Forces as it will provide location and information of hostile radars placed at the borders.

AMSAT or the Radio Amateur Satellite Corporation, India, has sent a payload called the Automatic Packet Repeating System.

This is expected to help amateur radio operators to get improved locational accuracy in their tracking and monitoring.

This will be another dimension to current land or aircraft-based ELINT, according to defence experts.

 

NASA reports about Indian ASAT test:

Despite a much-reported complaint from NASA about the Indian test leaving debris that could “pose a risk to the International Space Station” and adding that it was a “terrible, terrible thing”.

According to the US Strategic Command’s Joint Force Space Component Command (JFSCC), there are about 250-270 debris pieces that have been generated from the Indian ASAT test which is more along the lines of the debris created during the US ASAT test in 2008, which was also at a similar altitude.

However, it must be recognised that India conducted the test in a responsible and transparent manner.

The fact that India decided to do it an altitude of 300 km in low earth orbit (LEO) ensured that its action did not lead to the creation of long-lasting space debris.

 

Outer Space Treaty, 1967:

The Outer Space Treaty, formally the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, is a treaty that forms the basis of international space law.

The Outer Space Treaty prohibits only weapons of mass destruction in outer space, not ordinary weapons.

As of February 2019, 108 countries are parties to the treaty, while another 23 have signed the treaty but have not completed ratification.

The exploration and use of outer space shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries and shall be the province of all mankind.

Given the prohibitively expensive nature of space projects, India and other countries must utilise the increased presence in space to legitimately advance the well-being of their people.

 

But, There is Growing militarization of Outer Space:

There is no global regulatory regime to address the growing militarisation in space which compel India to develop deterrence for the security of its space-based assets.

Anti-satellite technology has so far been in the hands of very few countries: United States, Russia and China.

The acquisition and demonstration of this technology make India a member of an elite group of countries.

Outer space is becoming an arena for technological shows of force whether by deployment of spy satellites or testing of weapons.

Missiles are one aspect of space warfare, there are several equally effective methods like lasers, to incapacitate satellites that are being developed and are of equally serious concern.

 

No global regulatory treaty: Therefore, No control weaponization of space:

There is no global regulatory regime to address the growing militarisation in space.

The Outer Space Treaty does not ban military activities within space or the weaponization of space, with the exception of the placement of weapons of mass destruction in space.

Last year, at the UN Disarmament Commission, India expressed concern about the weaponization of outer space and sought collective action to secure space-based assets.

As the regulation has vacuum, India has legitimate reasons to develop deterrence for the security of its space-based assets.

Along with international law, there is need of separation between civilian and military use of outer space, international co-operation, free exchange of ideas across borders and import of technologies and products to bring transparency and to build confidence among nations.

 

Conclusion:

India needs to emphasise is outlining rules for what is permissible. India has interests in ensuring that outer space is kept clean, safe and secure for future generations to use as well.

It also has interests in strengthening its credentials in global space governance.

Until now, India could not play an active role in this because it did not have that capability that gives it a voice in this arena.

But now, India has successfully demonstrated its ASAT capability, it should play an important role in mitigating problems such as space debris, space traffic management, orbital frequency issues and other issues that are important for ensuring safe and secure access to outer space.

India should partner with like-minded countries in initiating these conversations and take them to meaningful international platforms such as Conference on Disarmament, UN First Committee and UN Disarmament Commission.