The Onset of Quad’s Space Odyssey

Priyanjali Simon
14th October 2021

Picture Courtesy: ISRO

The first in-person summit of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) on 24 September reflected the grouping’s readiness to augment agendas spanning several domains; reflecting its commitment to the Indo-Pacific region. The joint statement released; mentions cooperation in Quad technology principles, a leader-level cybersecurity initiative, a green shipping network, 5G deployment, and a semi-conductor supply chain initiative. Additionally, new task forces on climate, infrastructure coordination and space were also inaugurated. While these initiatives visibly reflect the group’s call for a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” the significant attention given to outer space governance indicate that the grouping of like-minded democracies is stepping up as a rules-promoter even beyond the Indo-Pacific.

The final frontier has become consequential in defining national power and most of the states, which fall under the emerging power, and great power category have space capabilities to show for. The Quad is a highly space-capable grouping; with each of the members having a repertoire of satellites and payloads that can manifest the goals set forth in the joint statement. China’s military prowess in space has been a major factor for this focus. In the face of rising space rivalry among a variety of actors, ensuring a safe, secure, and sustainable outer space has become vital.

A number of countries are developing counterspace capabilities, such as kinetic anti-satellite (ASAT) missiles and electronic and cyber warfare capabilities, as a result of these new competitive dynamics. China, in particular, has made significant progress in space, especially in counterspace technology development. While the threats posed by China’s military space programme are largely focused at the United States; India and Japan cannot afford to overlook the implications for their national security which has given way to collaborative bilateral and trilateral partnerships among the Quad countries.

India’s Space Engagement with Quad Members

In their bilateral discussion, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Joe Biden focused on emerging and vital technologies such as space, cyber, AI, 5G, and 6G. They also agreed to complete a “Space Situational Awareness Memorandum of Understanding” by the end of 2021, which will allow data exchange and service sharing in order to maintain the long-term viability of outer space. This is recognition of India’s concerns of China’s militarised space program.

Among all the Quad members, India’s engagement with the U.S. has been frequent and extensive.

Both countries have looked into a variety of civilian and strategic cooperation options. Since 2015, India and the United States have been engaged in a Space Security Discussion, which was India’s first-ever space dialogue with another country. The joint statement of the third India-US 2+2 Dialogue held in October 2020, included a discussion on the implications of space collaboration, and the signing of the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement between the two nations (BECA) where the two countries exchange geospatial data and information. The two also agreed to collaborate in the larger subject of Space Situational Awareness (SSA), critical for guaranteeing the sustainable, safe, and secure use of outer space.

India’s collaborative efforts with Australia and Japan have also been noteworthy. Earlier this year, the Chairman of ISRO held a meeting with his Australian counterpart in February and with his Japanese counterpart in March. India and Australia signed an amendment of the ‘2012 India-Australia Inter-Governmental MoU for Cooperation in Civil Space Science, Technology and Education’ with India’s Department of Space (DoS) and Australia Space Agency (ASA) serving as executive organisations. ISRO and ASA also discussed the status of current collaboration initiatives in the areas of Earth observation, satellite navigation, SSA, and the development of a transportable terminal in Australia to support India’s Gaganyaan programme.

ISRO chairman K. Sivan and his Japanese counterpart, Dr. Hiroshi Yamakawa agreed to cooperate  in the areas of Earth observation, lunar cooperation, satellite navigation, and exploring opportunities for cooperation in “space situational awareness and professional exchange programme.” More importantly, India and Japan have agreed to work together to develop a joint polar lunar mission (LUPEX) to investigate the Moon’s South Pole launching in 2024.

Given the social, economic, and security concerns, countries like India and Japan have a lot riding on continued access to space. This would necessitate both a revision of current international regulations regulating outer space and the creation of new ones.


The Quad’s Future in the Final Frontier

 The development of suitable countermeasures that can function as a deterrent in the face of expanding counterspace capabilities is crucial for a stable and safe access to outer space. Moreover, with the growing discourse among nation states on militarisation and weaponisation of space, creating a sustainable space with “equality in access to space for all” has been, and will continue to be a top priority for every state especially among the Quad countries. Moreover, multilateral and bilateral space cooperation can not only help promote space as a global commons, but can also assist in developing space powers like India, Japan, and Australia gain greater stakes in the global space race, and in the bargain; they can set an example by establishing a positive-sum game. The Quad provides an opportunity to demonstrate a new pattern for space diplomacy and if it continues to wield individual expertise and high technologies, as it has done in the Indo-Pacific, the possibility of a peaceful and stable outer space could be well within its reach.

*The Author is a Research Intern at the Kalinga Institute of Indo-Pacific Studies


Disclaimer: The views expressed in the Article are of the Author