Insights into Editorial: Surveillance wars in space
Space is being turned into a battlefront, making counter-space capabilities critical. In this light, India’s successful ‘kill’ with an A-SAT weapon is significant.
Recently, the DRDO-developed anti-satellite system A-SAT successfully destroyed a live satellite in the Low Earth Orbit.
With this test, dubbed as Mission Shakti, India is only the fourth country after the U.S., Russia and China to have the technology.
However, no country has used an A-SAT against another nation till date. In all the instances, the nation’s testing anti-satellite missiles have targeted one of their defunct satellites to showcase their space warfare capabilities.
A-SAT weapon is likely to be the most potent military tool for the armed forces over the next few decades, notwithstanding a revolutionary technological breakthrough.
About India’s ASAT system:
The success of ‘Mission Shakti,’ an operation that demonstrated India’s anti-satellite missile capability by shooting down a live satellite.
It has been described it as a “rare achievement” that puts the country in an exclusive club of space super powers.
The satellite was about 300 km away from earth but no details were shared regarding its ownership and what the satellite was used for and what were the reasons for choosing that particular satellite for the test.
Space became the playground for confidential activities:
According to academic reports, policymakers and those tracking the military space, for several years now, the space between 600 km and 36,000 km above the earth has been the playground for secret activities.
Recent technological advances have made the longstanding dream of on-orbit robotic servicing of satellites a near-term possibility. The potential advantages of that unprecedented capability are enormous.
Most people have no idea about what is happening up there. The reports document that satellites have been launched to sidle up to other satellites in the same orbit.
Satellites with robotic arms or handles have touched or nudged their siblings in orbit.
Mother (or nesting) spacecraft have gone up to ‘deliver’ baby spy satellites in orbit.
Satellites have sneaked up to high perches to see, overhear and sense all that happens in space and on the ground.
The intent of being in counterspace is thus surveillance and espionage. In times of war, the intent could even be to capture or disable a rival’s space assets in orbit.
Some say that the U.S. and Russia have always had some counterspace capabilities in their over 60-year-old space race.
But this century, they have reportedly developed deadly armouries that can be either unleashed into or from space.
The natural evolution of defensive space control into a deterrence initiative:
Loud concerns have been raised over rendezvous and proximity operations (RPO) in space.
In an RPO event, one country sends a satellite that clandestinely sits next to one of its own (or another country’s) orbiting satellites.
The motive could be to inspect and assess the target’s nature, eavesdrop on it, or even subvert its functions.
The fear is that in extreme cases, the target may even be ‘abducted’ or taken control of. Fortunately, India is not there for now.
The actor countries neither acknowledge nor discuss such activities and give them other names.
Countries are also honing non-kinetic, electronics and cyber-based methods to prevent satellites of other countries from spying on their regions.
Cyber-attacks can destroy, steal or distort other satellites or ground stations. The attacker gains control of the space asset.
Commercial Rendezvous and Proximity Operations:
A closely related field, on-orbit rendezvous and proximity operations (RPO) that are part of many servicing activities, is also being actively explored by commercial firms, civil government organizations, and militaries for a wide variety of applications.
The next major step in space applications, market creation, and robotic and human exploration is potentially being created through the advent of on-orbit satellite servicing (OOS).
The ability to approach, grasp, manipulate, modify, repair, refuel, integrate, and build completely new platforms and spacecraft on orbit is underway through new OOS vehicles and experiments.
India had “all the building blocks necessary” to integrate an anti-satellite weapon to neutralise hostile satellites in low earth and polar orbits.
A distinguished fellow at the Centre for Joint Warfare Studies, a Delhi-based think tank of the Ministry of Defence mentioned that in times of war no one is spared, and a country must be ready with its counter-security tactics.
Military experts say that possessing the highly difficult capability to conduct such a test is important and essential for ensuring national security in space.