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Development of Space Power in India


“The vastness of space is a key factor in the war-form of the future”

Alvin & Heidi Toffler[1]


The Space has always been a matter of great interest to human race, which gazed and tried to explore this cosmic world for thousands of years. Even our own epics talk a lot about space and its utilisation. The space warfare is as old as Indian mythology. However, Science flourished during the European Renaissance and fundamental physical laws governing planetary motion were discovered, and the orbits of the planets around the Sun were calculated. The Chinese were the first to develop a rocket in around 1212 AD. In 1883, a Russian schoolmaster, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, first explained the mechanics of how a rocket could fly into space.[2]. In the 17th century, astronomers pointed a new device called the telescope at the heavens and made startling discoveries[3]. On 03 Oct 1942, German scientists launched an A-4 rocket, which travelled a distance of 190 km and reached an altitude of over 80 km. Orbital operations started with Soviet Sputnik-1 satellite in 1957[4]. Since then exploration and exploitation of the space has been a continued effort. This led to the unfolding of mysteries of the space world and thus using it for own advantages.

Military use of space started with the launch of an American reconnaissance satellite in 1960.[5] Since then, the utilisation of space has been a matter of debate and controversies as far as direct war fighting military roles and missions are concerned. However, the support operations like Intelligence, communication and reconnaissance, which came first, did not face much of resistance. The benefits possible from the space-based support operations were realised very quickly and these operations were extended further to surveillance, mapping, navigation, ground mapping, environmental monitoring etc. Space systems have brought better intelligence and stronger defences by enabling the collection of new types of data and information; significantly increasing communications capabilities and capacities; revolutionizing precision navigation and timing; enriching science; establishing new markets; providing safer air, land, and sea transportation; and enabling faster disaster relief as well as more effective civil planning[6].

The phenomenal utilization and exploitation of the space medium has finally provided the users the power to gain advantage over the enemy. Traditionally, power has been related to explosive ordinance and target destruction. But in the post-Cold War world, the “power” most often delivered by airmen has taken the form of humanitarian aid: food, medical supplies, and heavy equipment.[7] Also Knowledge is the purest form of power and is the reason that overhead surveillance, reconnaissance, and intelligence-gathering efforts are so important in both war and peace. Information delivered from above can be used to strengthen a friendly regime, discredit an enemy regime, or directly attack the morale of an adversary’s frontline troops. They can detect missile launches, nuclear tests and they can provide secure real time communications all over the world. The resolution available with satellite reconnaissance is more than adequate for military needs. The accuracy of GPS is known to us all. In less hostile circumstances, the information might consist of humanitarian warnings about impending natural disasters or news about disaster-relief efforts[8]. The meteorological satellites provide accurate weather data from any part of the world. Thus in past few years, space-based systems have enabled dramatic improvement in military and intelligence operations thus enhancing its capability, accuracy and fire power. Thus the Space medium emerging as Space Power and the most effective and widely used force multiplier.


Statement Of Problem

To study and analyse the feasibility of Space Power to evolve as a frontline force multiplier for India and to critically examine the road ahead.

Justification Of Study

India’s achievement in the field of space capability may not seem to be very advanced especially when compared with the accomplishments of the superpowers and elite members of the satellite club. However, one needs to look at the Indian space programme in isolation to fully understand the tremendous progress and achievements that have been made from such a humble beginning.

All the countries have developed launch vehicles as an offshoot of their ballistic missile projects, and their satellites were primarily intended for military use. Non- military applications were a spinoff of the military programmes, whereas India has developed space applications and launch vehicles for totally civilian use. The technology was also used within a broader framework to achieve socio-economic development, and military spin-offs have been incidental. Therefore, India has an inherent advantage as far as civilian support role is concerned however it needs special effort and attitude to develop military support application. Utilization of Space medium and Control of space based assets will be an important ingredient of future world power. President APJ Kalam has stated that accomplishments in space have traditionally been a barometer of international status, technological prowess and enhanced military capability. Rapid advancements in Information Technology, Internet and Communications are increasingly utilising space based assets. These assets play a decisive role in shaping the outcome of conflicts and are engines that drive economic growths. India and China are likely to be the economic powerhouses of the 21st Century. India is also emerging as a key balancer of Asian stability. By its combined military and space technology, India would be required to contain regional conflicts and prevent unscrupulous exploitation of the Indian Ocean region[9]. Therefore development of space power both for military and civilian use, especially as a force multiplier is must to climb up the pyramid of world power.

Perceptions determine actions. The military’s perception of the air and space environment influences the type of space forces it will develop in the future[10]. In India’s context which has belligerent neighbours, space based capabilities are the definite force multiplier. In fact, military strategist call space the new ‘High Ground’. Which will bring in revolutionary changes in military affairs. Therefore we need to decide the kind of space force which we need to develop to exploit Space medium to the maximum as a force multiplier to maintain edge in the region.


This study analyses the exploitation of Space Force as a force multiplier in the Indian Context.

Methods Of Data Collection

The information and data for this dissertation has been gathered through internet, various books, papers, journals and newspapers. In addition, lectures delivered by dignitaries at DSSC have been utilised to gather information. The bibliography of sources is appended at the end of the dissertation.

Organisation Of The Dissertation

It is proposed to study the subject in the following manner:-

(a) Chapter I Introduction and Methodology.

(b) Chapter II Understanding Space power.

(c) Chapter III Roles and Application of Space Power.

(d) Chapter IV Space Power as Force Multiplier.

(e) Chapter V Indian Capability and the Road Ahead.

(f) Chapter VI Recommendations and Conclusion.


The beginning of wisdom is calling things by their right names.


Space has fascinated many thinkers, philosophers and Air Warriors equally for a long time. Many a researches and money has gone in exploring and exploiting space but still the concepts are not very clear to many of us. It is extremely important for us to have clear understanding of space before we can evaluate the role and utilization of space medium.


Space Space is void of substance, offers no protection from harmful radiation, and allows only the balance between thrust and gravity with which to maneuver.[11] Space begins where satellites can maintain orbit (81 miles) and extends to infinity.[12] Power is control or authority to influence; the ability to produce an act or event.[13] And Space power is a nation’s ability to exploit and control the space medium to support and achieve national goals.[14]

Gravity The driving force behind all orbital dynamics is the force of gravity and is defined by the law of universal Gravitation given by Isaac Newton in 1687. It states “ Every particle in the universe attracts every other particle with a force that is proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between the particle”.[15]

Escape Velocity Satellites maintain orbit around a planet (Earth in our case) at a particular speed at a given height. If the speed is increased, the satellite goes into a higher orbit. Escape velocity is the speed at which the centrifugal force becomes greater than the pull of planetary gravity. The object would then cease to be an Earth-satellite, and start moving away from the earth. At 500 km the escape velocity is 10.8 km/sec.[16]

Satellite Inclination Every satellite orbits within a plane that passes through Earth’s gravitational centre. The angle formed between the orbital plane of the satellite and the plane of the Earth’s equator. BY convention, it is measured anticlockwise from the equator to the orbital plane at the point where the satellite crosses, passing to north[17]. Orbits with inclination at or closer to 90 degrees are known as ‘polar’ orbits. ‘Equatorial’ orbits are those in or very close to the plane of the equator. The rest, between these two limits, are ‘inclined’ orbits. The combination of the satellite’s own motion and that of the rotating planet beneath produces a ‘ground track’ joining the successive points on the planet which fall directly beneath the satellite. The surface area of the planet in line-of-sight or direct communication with any satellite is a function of its altitude and ground track. In the lowest feasible orbits, the area that can be ‘seen’ by satellite sensors is no more than that of one of Earth’s larger cities.

Orbital Decay With a perfectly spherical planet of even density, no air resistance, and no minute gravitational pulls from neighbouring bodies (such as Sun, the Moon, and the other planets), a satellite would stay in orbit forever. In the real world these factors upset the balance of forces which sustains the orbit, which causes it to ‘decay’, so that the satellite eventually falls to the Earth. For practical purposes, satellites which go below 300 km encounter air resistance serious enough to require intermittent use of on-board boosters to maintain their orbits.[18]

Low Earth Orbit (LEO). This orbit ranges from a height of 200 and 5000 km. Polar and highly inclined orbits are favoured for general reconnaissance missions since they give planet-wide coverage. The periods of such range between 90 minutes and a few hours.

Sun Synchronous orbit It is the orbit where in the satellite is used for surveillance at optical wave length and whose orbital motion will bring it periodically over the same area of interest at the same sunlight conditions from day to day. These orbital planes are called as Sun Synchronous orbit[19]. These are low earth orbits inclined at about 98°.

Semi-synchronous Orbit. This is circular orbit at 20,700 km with a period of 12 hours. The term is sometimes extended to all orbits between LEO and this orbit.

Molniya Orbit. This is a highly elliptical orbit, at an altitude of between 500 – 40000 km, with a 12 hour period. This orbit is most stable at an inclination of 63 degrees. (At other inclinations gravitational anomalies resulting from irregularities in the shape and density of the planet cause the major axis of such an orbit – the line joining the apogee and the perigee points – to rotate inconveniently.) This orbit was used by the Soviet Union to provide satellite spending 11 hours out of 12 hours above the northern hemisphere.[20]

Geostationary Satellite As the orbital height increases, so orbital period increases. If the orbital height increases to 35875km, the orbital period will be synchronised with the rotation rate of the Earth. Such a satellite would be called a geosynchronous satellite. If these satellite have zero degree of inclination such that these satellites will appear stationary in the sky over a point on the equator to an observer on earth. Such a satellite would be called a geostationary satellite[21]. This is a circular, equatorial orbit at an altitude of 35,700 km. With a period of 24 hours, such satellites appear to remain almost stationary above a fixed point over the equator. In practice, they sometimes describe a very small ‘ of eight’ ground tracks about such a point. Three or more evenly spaced geostationary satellites can cover most of the planet, except the Polar Regions. These satellites are mainly used for communications or early warning of missiles. Geosynchronous Orbit has little military or other uses because of its large ‘ of eight’ ground tracks, depending on its inclination. In military discussions the term ‘geostationary’, is tending to be replaced by ‘geosynchronous’, because the former is the limiting case of the latter. Even a small inclination causes a geostationary satellite to become a ‘strictly speaking’ geosynchronous one. Military geostationary satellites may sometimes have a use for such a ground track, though seldom for the much wider, true geosynchronous orbit.[22]

Super-synchronous Orbit. The orbits above GEO have had little use so far, but offer many options for future military satellites taking refuge from ground based or LEO anti-satellites. Certain points of equilibrium between solar, lunar and terrestrial gravitation are especially interesting.[23]

(a) Near-Earth Orbit (NEO) or aerospace extends 50 to 200 kilometers above the Earth’s surface, incorporating the mesosphere and the lower edge of the ionosphere in an intermediate region where aerodynamics and ballistics interact or succeed each other. In the short term, NEO will remain the primary location for the deployment of manned and unmanned military systems and probable major space industrialization facilities such as a manned space operations center (SOC)[24]. It is through this zone that ballistic missiles must proceed during and after their boost phase and are most vulnerable to antiballistic missile (ABM) systems. However, minimum long-range effects from nuclear explosions are found at altitudes between 50 and 150 kilometers: above 50 kilometers, the mechanical effects of shockwave pressures almost disappear as a consequence of the relatively low air density; below 150 kilometers, the air density is still high enough to reduce the range of corpuscular radiation through dispersion and absorption so that the long-range thermal effect is also not maximum.[25] Therefore, even very powerful nuclear devises in the megaton range must be detonated at relatively close proximity to their intended target at NEO to be effective, although electromagnetic pulse (EMP) effects could seriously disrupt unhardened electronic systems at long-range distances. Nevertheless, targets at NEO, compared to those at higher gravity well zones, are relatively vulnerable to Earth-based intervention because of an inherently short warning time available for the implementation of countermeasures and the minimal amount of energy that the enemy must expend to reach this zone. Conversely, a weapon system such as a fractional orbital bombardment system (FOBS) at NEO could attack targets on Earth with a minimum of warning[26].


(c) The cislunar zone consists of all space between NEO and Lunar Surface Orbit (LSO), including Geosynchronous Earth Orbit (GEO). The cislunar zone provides military systems situated here the defensive option of a longer reaction time to implement countermeasures against Earth- or NEO-based intervention[27].


(e) LSO consists of the zone of space where the Moon orbits the Earth, including Near Lunar Orbit (NLO) or the space immediately surrounding the Moon.


(g) The translunar zone is comprised of the space from LSO to approximately one million kilometers from the Earth’s surface, where the solar gravity well begins to predominate and includes the five Lagrangian points. These final zones will attain increasing military significance as the process of space industrialization evolves. Eventually the Moon and Lagrangian points could be used to dominate the entire Earth-Moon system.[28]

Outer Space In the denomination of legal material dealing with the space exploration and nearly the entire space law, the term ‘outer space’ is commonly used. But this term has not been defined to date with precision despite many attempts undertaken by jurists, International non-governmental and the United Nations bodies[29]. The difference between space and the outer space is generally not recognised. But the former term is wider than the latter and means the whole universe including the earth while outer space means all spaces other than the earth. In fact, outer space begins where the earth’s atmosphere ends and extends on in all directions infinitely. The upper limit of the air space constitutes the lowest limit of outer space. The outer space in a broader sense also consists of the entire space beyond celestial bodies and their atmosphere. Celestial bodies include all land masses in space and their atmosphere except Earth. Therefore, air space is excluded from outer space. The difference between space and outer space is insignificant in so far as the exploration and use of such domain is concerned[30].

(h) The tactical space environment The tactical space environment of the Earth-Moon system can be conceptualized as a series of gravity well zones that are somewhat analogous to terrestrial hills, promontories, and mountains in that much effort and energy must be initially expended to situate forces in such locations. Once attained, however, these positions can be used to dominate the terrain below with relative ease. 1 illustrates in two-dimensional form the gravity well zones of the Earth-Moon system, which are in reality three dimensional spheres[31].


(j) During the next two decades, military space activities and the development of various commercial space enterprises (or “space industrialization”) will be primarily restricted to this system. Possible military missions in this tactical environment include direct intervention on the Earth’s surface form space, regulation of the flow of space traffic, protection of military and industrial space facilities, denial of strategic areas of space to others (such as choice satellite orbits at Geosynchronous Earth Orbit and the various Lagrangian points at which objects revolve with the same period as the gravitational Earth-Moon system and thus remain effectively stationary), and various surveillance, reconnaissance, navigation, command, control, and communication functions[32].


The space power being the latest addition to the force of a Nation, there is still a huge dilemma about its placement, its use whether military or civilian and also its control. Currently, a fully developed space power theory does not exist. USSPACECOM, recognizing the void, has commissioned Dr. Brian R. Sullivan as lead author to develop this theory.[33] Therefore there is requirement to develop a fully fledged theory and doctrine to guide the developed of space power straight from its infancy.

Space is the next great arena for exploration and exploitation. We are limited only by imagination to the wonders, challenges and excitement the next century will bring as far as space forces are concerned. Already, civil and commercial sectors have invested billions of dollars in space and the nation’s military recognizes its role to protect these interests. The debate within the military on how to best exploit this new medium continues. But there is a need to go over few of the basic issues about Space Power to understand it clearly. The military’s current view of the air and space environment seems to simultaneously focus on opposing relationships between the two mediums. Air and space represent two distinct realms and at the same time, they are difficult to separate because of their similarities. These two relationships exist simultaneously and come together to form the following organizational paradigm of the air and space environment: Space and the atmosphere represent two distinct medium environments physically different from each other; while at the same time, they are physically linked, and theoretically and historically tied.[34] There are few of these set of fundamental issues which require to be vetted if we are to understand space power with the kind of clarity with which we now understand air power and if we are to understand their nexus[35].

First of the issue, is regarding direct use of space as a Space power or weaponising of space to use it as a force itself. We must determine whether space power “apply great power quickly to any tangible target on the planet”? Many people would answer no to this question because of political restraints on weaponising space. Others would argue for an affirmative answer based on technical, if not political, feasibility. In either case, the question concerning the applicability of the essence remains assumed but undemonstrated. Or perhaps there exists a space power version of the essence that differs from all other military operations, including air power[36]. Also there are concerns regarding the future of space power and the kinds of military operations that are likely to migrate to space. Space may become another “battle space,” or it may become only a home to military operations focussed on non-lethal activities in support of combat elsewhere. So the major concern is whether space will be used as direct source of force or will continued to be used as a force multiplier only.

Why does the military need a space force? The answers to this question shape military space force development by providing a sense of long-term direction, describing how such a force would serve national interests, and prescribing a force structure to fulfill that need. They are foundational answers that ultimately form the basis for space power theory and enable the military to articulate and justify reasons for a military space force. As the military more clearly articulates why space forces are needed, the better it is able to identify specific requirements necessary to achieve those forces. Thus, this question and the next are closely tied together[37].

What should the military do in space? The answers to this question bring the focus from broad to specific. They help formulate the functions and missions of a military space force, and provide the framework for establishing detailed force requirements. To summarize, the answers to the question of who establish the advocates for a military space force development. The answers to the questions of why and what together develop and identify long term direction, and offer short-term input to the resource allocation process.[38]

The next issue is to do with the control of space power. This will mainly emerge from our innovation, imagination and farsightedness. Air Power being the strongest contender of claiming the control of space, there is need to deeply study the relationship between Space power and Air Power. This relationship can be well understood only by defining and studying the relationship between space and Air. Who should lead and develop military space forces? This question addresses the need to focus on finding the best organization, or mix of organizations, to advocate a military space force. Military space advocates must be able to justify—on military grounds alone—the necessity of military forces in space. These organizations are the stewards that provide both administrative control over the forces that support military space power, and the war-fighting control of these forces during employment of that power. A space force advocate embraces and promotes the ideals for a military space force, and garners the support necessary to establish such a force[39].

Air and Space relationship

The defining characteristic of air power is an operational regime ele­vated above the earth’s surface. Conceptually, space power would seem to be more of the same at a higher elevation. The term aerospace, coined in the late 1950s, echoes this same theme, as do official pronouncements such as “although there are physical differences between the atmosphere and space, there is no absolute boundary between them. The same basic military activities can be performed in each, albeit with different platforms and methods.”[40] The move from earth to space transitsis through the air environment, thereby inherently bringing about a linkage as no space launch or recovery can take place without transiting through the air medium. Any differentiation between the two would be superficial and indefinable. In future, the air and space mediums would provide a seamless environment where Trans Atmospheric Vehicles (TAVs) and re-usable hypersonic vehicles could exploit it freely. In addition, with increased proliferation of Ballistic Missiles and development of potent nuclear warheads, there is a need to extend the current Air Defence capabilities to space to ensure that the threats emanating from the air and space environment can be effectively tackled.[41] While the physical borders between the land, sea and air are readily evident, the physical border between air and space is not as clear. The atmosphere gradually disappears and space gradually starts. Furthermore, from a physical point of view, earth’s entire connection to space is through the atmosphere. Every movement into space begins with movement through air. Thus, from a physical point of view, space is linked with air.[42]

Conceptually thinking, we cannot easily ignore the vast differences between operations in the atmosphere and in space? Current military thought suggests that space is a medium separate and distinct from the atmosphere with physical characteristics unique enough that a barrier forms between the two. The atmosphere is a realm of substance offering the advantages of protection from radiation, thermal transfer of heat and the ability to produce and control lift and drag. These aspects of the air medium make it considerably different than the realm of space.[43] Space assets are differentiated from air platforms by being non-air breathing. Military force includes all of the civilian elements such as contractor support that are required to sustain air or space operations.[44]

It is difficult to analyse these and many more issues dealing with space without a general, overarching theory of space power. The task is made even more difficult by several other factors, such as the limited experience base in military space operations, the tight security classification concerning much of what goes on in space, and the thoroughly sub-divided responsibility for space operations. Thus, we have a conundrum-a jig-saw puzzle that will someday picture how space power fits or doesn’t fit with air power. Solving the puzzle represents a major leadership challenge.[45] The answers to these questions will drive the future direction the military takes in space. Fundamentally influencing these answers is the military’s organizationally held perceptions of the air and space environment itself. The military’s view of this environment not only shapes the role the military sees for itself in space, but affects how it develops space forces necessary to support that role.[46]


Air and space power is a critical—and decisive—element in protecting our nation and deterring aggression. It will only remain so if we as professional airmen study, evaluate, and debate our capabilities and the environment of the future. Just as technology and world threat and opportunities change, so must our doctrine. We, each of us, must be the articulate and knowledgeable advocates of air and space power.

—General Michael E. Ryan


Victory smiles upon those who anticipate the changes in the character of war not upon those who wait to adapt themselves after the changes occur.

Guilio Douhet

Man has a compelling urge to explore, to discover and to try to go where no one has ever been before. As most of the Earth has already been explored and even though it is going to be there for a very long time, men have now turned to space exploration as their next objective.[47] Space has provided us with huge capability because of its reach and ubiquity. The roles and applications of Space range widely from direct military roles of using it as a platform to launch weapons or support role of enhancing the capabilities of human beings in both military and civil field. Thus as we race into the next decade, a new frontier seems to be opening up in space with vast potential for military, science and exploration activities. So far as the armed forces are concerned, the sensor like satellites would provide them with unheard-of capabilities in a large number of fields.[48]

Space power is becoming an in­creasingly important aspect of na­tional strength, but experts disagree about how best to develop its poten­tial. Like airpower, space power relies heavily upon advanced technology, but technology is useless unless space professionals apply it properly. Air Force leaders recognize that the service needs to nurture a team of highly dedicated space professionals who are prepared to exploit advanced technologies and operating concepts. Concern about the fu­ture direction of military activities in space has spurred debate over which technologies to produce and how best to develop space professionals. Moral, theoretical, and doc­trinal questions also loom large. Underlying all of these considerations are political and diplomatic factors[49].

Supporting Role Today, space power pro­vides supporting functions such as commu­nications, reconnaissance, and navigation by global positioning system (GPS) satellites. By the end of 1999, at least 2300 military oriented satellites had already been launched. The functions of military satellites, which constitute about 75% of all satellites orbited, ranged from navigation, communications, meteorological and reconnaissance[50]. New technologies move large amounts of data around the world at the speed of light. Al-though a century ago people would have con­sidered such feats science fiction, modern space capabilities make these and so many more things, reality. Space power has transformed our society and our military. Today, at the outset of the twenty-first century, we simply cannot live—or fight and win—without it. Operation Desert Storm is considered as the first space war, however the supporting role of space like providing near real time data from communication and meteorological satellites, was present during the war in Vietnam also. The Gulf War of 1991, however, was the “first conflict in history to make comprehensive use of space systems support.” [51] The support provided by the space based operations has enhanced the military capabilities drastically such that these operations have become inseparable part of every military operation. Some of these roles have been described as under:

(a) Communication Satellites Communicating with deployed forces has always presented the military commanders with a problem. This is especially true in today’s fast moving world when troops may have to be deployed anywhere in the world at a very short notice. The orbit used by communication satellite is the geostationary orbit. Three of

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