Translating India’s Stance as a Global Power: Scaling New Heights in the Space Sector

Srimedha Bandi
March 20, 2021


Noam Chomsky stated, ‘The development of space technology, including space warfare today, is similar in its technological-industrial significance to the development of navies a hundred years ago.’ Earth orbital space, commonly referred to as Outer Space or Space is a militarily and economically critical arena whose importance has augmented over time with countries across the globe developing the means to not only access and exploit the space, but to also conduct space warfare. From the first satellite launched by the Soviet Union in 1957, to the current capabilities possessed by several other countries, space has moved from an isolated domain to one that connects the operational capabilities of a nation in the traditional domains of land, air and sea. What began as a tool for communication and broadcasting through space technology has now evolved to provide critical information for weather prediction and disaster management among other uses like satellite-based navigation, forestry management etc. The wide range of capabilities offered by outer space has resulted in a rise in the significance of space assets.

The Cold War era saw a space race, which resulted in the United States sending the first man to the Moon in 1969. Following this, many significant changes have taken place driven by the space programmes developed by countries alike. Among the Asian countries, China and India were the first to launch space programmes although with a differing objective. China began its space journey in 1970 with its Long March rocket based on Soviet technology and ever since, China’s space strategy has drastically developed and is now leading a new endeavour by landing Chang’e 4 lunar on the far side of the moon, which remains constantly hidden from Earth because of the tidally locked rotation. India on the other hand established its space agency, ISRO in 1962, which now maintains a large fleet of communication, (INSAT)/Geostationary Satellites (GSAT) remote sensing, navigation and scientific satellites. While providing multiple application-specific products and tools for broadcasting, communication, disaster management, weather forecasting, GIS, cartography, navigation, telemedicine, among many other functions, ISRO has developed 118 spacecraft missions and 78 launch missions up until 2019. With over five decades of experience, ISRO is known for its cost-effective, reliable solutions. ISRO has encouraged participation of private organisations in the national launch vehicle programme, especially for manufacturing components and sub-assemblies. Now, the government is currently working to instill more private industry participation in both the areas of launch systems and satellite manufacturing to build capacity and reach its designated targets and goals, through its New Space Policy, which will now allow private commercial players as well as foreign entities to invest.

India has had a large base for SME’s which provide tier 1 and tier 2 services in order to meet ISRO’s demands. Initiatives to increase system-level integration of the private industry, public private partnership (PPP) policies to encourage companies to take up more production activities rather than being part/component manufacturers have also been in place. To tap into India’s vast potential, ISRO also incorporated Antrix as its commercial arm to promote and market the products and services generated by the Indian space programme. In 2019, the Department of Space established The New Space India Limited (NSIL) to handle the commercial activities of ISRO. Alongside the government has also established Indian National Space Promotion and Authorisation Centre (IN-SPACe) which will assess the needs and demands of private players, including educational and research institutions while devising means to accommodate these requirements in lieu with the policies of ISRO. Playing the role of a mediator between ISRO and other parties, IN-SPACe will assess how best to utilise India’s space resources and increase space-based activities while playing the role of both a facilitator, and a regulator. Through these enhanced capabilities, the private sector will be well equipped to take a leading role in meeting security, R&D, and innovation needs while ISRO shifts its focus towards pursuing innovation, research and development. According to ISRO Chairman K. Sivan, this move by the government will encourage private sector while increasing India’s share of global space economy, which is now at a meagre 3%. The recent developments coupled with benefitting initiatives like Make in India, and Digital India, are soon to bring in greater investment into startups by increasing the involvement of larger corporates in this sector while pushing India towards a capitalist economy.

The many developments in the space sector reflect its emergence as a potential fourth arm of the country’s defence setup. While giants like the USA, Russia and China have made significant strides in the space sector through offensive and defensive in-space weapons technologies, India will have to equip itself appropriately to meet the emerging security challenges. India has a handful of military satellites in operation and in 2019; it tested its ground-to-orbit anti-satellite missile system through Mission Shakti. However, it needs to leapfrog considering that superpowers have spent billions, understanding the immense potential tactical advantage this sector provides. While taking steps in this direction, India established the DSA (Defence Space Agency) supported by a Defence Space Research Organisation (DSRO) that has mandated to create weapons to “degrade, disrupt, destroy or deceive an adversary’s space capability.” This is India’s very first step towards a much-needed military space policy. Although India’s military space policy has a long way to go considering its resources, investment, ISRO’s limited Budget and infrastructure, India has begun to appreciate the significance of the outer space especially in the military domain. As it is given, India will have to focus on policy development, technological advancement and institutional architecture as a large strategy instead of a piecemeal style in order to establish security while competing with global powers at an equal ground.

*** The author is a Research Intern at Kalinga Institute of Indo-Pacific Studies (KIIPS) ***