India China Space Capabilities: A Comparison

India China Space Capabilities: A Comparison

by Sanjay Kumar

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Space capabilities are becoming absolutely essential for national development, economic well-being, commerce, and daily life, besides becoming a crucial component of successful military operations. Space has emerged as an essential component in furthering a nation’s Comprehensive National Power. China’s progress in space technologies, whether in relative or absolute terms, has larger implications for India. As China’s space program increases in capability, it can be expected to wield this power to increase regional dominance and deter countries from pursuing policies that are contrary to Chinese interests. Space the ultimate “High Ground” will play crucial role in all future conflicts. Space force enhancement operations multiply joint effectiveness by increasing the combat potential, operational awareness, and providing needed joint force support. This book brings out the key features of China’s Space Program, its future trajectory and how it can impact India’s national interest. It further suggests options for India in the given circumstance and how India can secure its geo-political, economic interest and security concerns without getting into space race with China.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9789386457462
Publisher: VIJ Books (India) PVT Ltd
Publication date: 01/01/2018
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 222
File size: 435 KB

About the Author

Col Sanjay Kumar is an alumnus of Indian Military Academy and was commissioned into the Corps of Engineers. The officer is a B Tech in Civil Engineering and a M Tech in Transportation Engineering from IIT Kharagpur. The officer has served as United Nations Military Observer in Democratic Republic of Congo and in Bhutan as Colonel (Works&Planning) of Border Roads Organization’s Project Dantak. The book is a result of the officer’s Research Fellowship with USI of India, New Delhi.

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Space: An Overview

Outer Space has been a source of curiosity and inspiration for mankind since time immemorial. Humans have always looked at the sky and wondered about the objects like Sun, Moon, stars and amazing phenomenon seen in the sky. Mankind's success in breaking the bounds of the earth by reaching outer space is truly a historical and magnificent achievement. The man's inquisitiveness, the pursuit of knowledge, to explore the unknown, technological prowess, economic boom and military applications of space has led countries deep into the sky. With the development of rockets and the advances in electronics, communications and other technologies in the 20th century, it became possible to explore these celestial bodies by sending exploration vehicles, unmanned robotic probes and then men above Earth's atmosphere into outer space. It was the development of large and relatively efficient rockets during the early 20th century that allowed physical space exploration to become a reality.

The flight of the Sputnik in October 1957, was a historic step, Soviets had sent the first man made satellite into space. The jubilation world over was also marked with some consternation in the USA. In the era of Cold War, the success of Soviets, in dominating the "strategic high ground" had set the bells clanging in the USA. The President John F Kennedy announced, "Landing a man on the moon and getting him back safely to earth within a decade" as a national goal. Four years later Russian Lt Yuri Gagarin became the first human to orbit Earth in Vostok-1. His flight lasted 108 minutes and he reached an altitude of 327 kilometres. On 20 July 1969, Astronaut Neil Armstrong took "a giant step for mankind" as he stepped onto the moon, thus also fulfilling the US national goal. Since the launch of Sputnik, more than 50 years ago, the role and meaning of space for humanity had been widely diversifying. What started as a competition for military superiority between the two super powers then is transformed today into multi-dimensional endeavours of a large number of players, both from the governments and private sector, impacting the social, economic, and scientific and security dimensions of the human society. Space has become a part of daily life for a majority of the citizens across the globe.

The space age began as a race for security and prestige between two superpowers. The decades that followed have seen a radical transformation in the way we live our daily lives, in large part due to our use of space. The growth and evolution of the global economy have ushered in an ever-increasing number of nations and organizations using space to observe and study Earth, create new markets and new technologies, support operational responses to natural disasters, enable global communications and international finance, enhance security, and expand frontiers. The impacts of utilization of space systems are ubiquitous and contribute to increased transparency and stability among nations.

The warfare is a continual process of evolution where innovations in technology and innovations in the application of that technology to military operations have combined to provide the military edge over the adversary. The advent of space concepts and space systems over the last half century have brought with them the next innovation in war, an innovation in which space assets have become critical to success in conflict. These space innovations were witnessed in operation "Desert Storm". Space systems provided a significant military advantage by enhancing navigation, communications, weather, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, and early warning. The evolution of space exploitation will not end with these force-enhancing contributions. It is believed that combat operations will eventually occur from and within the space medium to both conduct force application operations from space against a variety of targets and protect space-based assets. The use of space-based weapons will soon be a reality and will become as important to warfighting in the future as space force enhancement systems are to warfighting today.

The ancient art of warfare, after being fought on land and sea for centuries and in the air for decades, has now found a new domain in the final frontiers. Throughout history, the militaries have wanted to gain the high ground to have an advantage over the enemy. Outer Space is described as the "battlefield of the future". Strategic analysts are clear in their perception that the outcome of the future wars will be determined by the efficiency and smartness with which "space resources" are protected and put to use. Space has and will continue to remain a military zone because that is how the great powers of the world entered into space – to attain the "ultimate high ground". Desert Storm is called the "first Space war" because every aspect of military operations depended, to some extent, on support from Space-based systems. The Army used these systems for position/navigation, weather, communications, imagery and tactical early missile attack warning. The assistance rendered was invaluable and the new technology changed the way the Army fought. Since the 1991 Gulf War displayed the advantages of space assets in navigation and communications for armed forces, there has been an increasing demand for satellite services for military use. During operation Iraqi freedom, the US deployed 6,600 GPS guided munitions and over 100,000 precision lightweight GPS receivers in Iraq and used 10 times the satellite capacity and 42 times the bandwidth employed in the Gulf War of 1991. In the Gulf War of 1990-1991, the Iraqis launched 93 missiles against Coalition targets. The US Army claimed that it intercepted 79 percent of the missiles targeting Saudi Arabia and 40 percent of those targeting Israel. In 2003, according to open sources, the Iraqis launched 17 ballistic missiles and two cruise missiles. All ballistic missiles were intercepted or were considered to pose no danger and declared "out of bounds." One cruise missile eluded the defences. Op Geronimo is a classic example of space enabled strike capabilities in a seamless command & control environment where distances or geography had no meaning. Their use by the US forces, in support of its military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, has been universally recognised.

In a world where the benefits of space permeate almost every facet of our lives, irresponsible acts in space can have damaging consequences for all of us. As such, all nations have a responsibility to act to preserve the right of all future generations to use and explore space. Historically, military forces have evolved to protect national interests and investments — both military and economic. During the rise of sea commerce, nations built navies to protect and enhance their commercial interests. As air power developed, its primary purpose was to support and enhance land and sea operations. However, over time, air power evolved into a separate and equal medium of warfare. The emergence of space power follows both of these models. Over the past several decades, space power had primarily supported land, sea, and air operations — strategically and operationally. In the 21st century, space power will also evolve into a separate and equal medium of warfare. Likewise, space forces will emerge to protect military and commercial national interests and investment in the space medium due to their increasing importance.

Space capabilities are force multipliers that in the high-tempo, non-contiguous, concurrent operations are essential for a well-coordinated and synchronised tactical capability. These integrate weapons systems, missiles, radars and sensors, unmanned vehicles, electronics and communications networks, aerial capabilities, logistics and support systems, and defence forces spread across a vast geographical area. The 21st century is seeing a shift from a nuclear backdrop to asymmetric warfare. The focus is on empowering the militaries in conventional warfare through space.

Space force enhancement operations multiply joint effectiveness by increasing the combat potential, operational awareness, and providing needed joint force support. There are five force enhancement functions: intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), missile warning, environmental monitoring, satellite communications and Space based positioning, navigation and timing (PNT). Space superiority is the degree of dominance in space of one force over another that permits the conduct of operations by own joint forces at a given time and place without prohibitive interference by the opposing force. Space Control consists of Offensive Space control (OSC), Defensive Space Control (DSC) and Space Situational Awareness (SSA). OSC is used to deny an adversary freedom of action in Space and is based on denial and offensive measures. The purpose of space superiority is to secure the freedom to take advantage of the capabilities provided by space systems and deny the same to the enemy. Space force application operations consist of attacks against terrestrial-based targets carried out by military weapons systems operating in or through Space.

Space has become highly congested, contested and competitive, because of both military and commercial space assets. From two countries 50 years ago, today there are 13 countries with indigenous space launch capability and 71 countries that have access to space. New technologies, dual space assets, privatisation of the launch industry leading to space tourism and the validation of these technologies and capabilities have also allowed defence forces to look at outer space as another medium to use. This has resulted in a race for allocation of orbital slots, especially in the geo-stationary orbits, by the International Telecommunication Union (the agency that allots orbital slots and operating radio communication frequencies for space operations). There are also constituents from man-made threats, most predominantly from orbital debris. The anti-satellite test conducted by China in 2007 created debris of 150,000 pieces larger than 1cm, 79 percent of which will remain in the orbit for the next hundred years. Experts have found that there are over 300,000 junk objects in space. There is a need for situational awareness of the activities of various countries in space and space debris is a very important mandate.

Space Arms and Counter Space technologies have further enhanced the space threat scenario. As space becomes a medium to enhance national power, countries like US and China have displayed aggressiveness in the domain by testing or displaying their ASAT capabilities. The international laws related to weaponisation of space are soft and there is no acceptable definition of Space Security at the United Nations. The need of the hour is to find a global approach towards active space threat mitigation at the international level and building confidence within its strengths and limitations.

Along with space, cyberspace is also fast emerging as an important facet of modern warfare. Both systems are critical in enabling modern warfare — for precision strikes, navigation, communication and information gathering. Presently, there is no international cyber law treaty. In 2012, US and Russia signed a Cyber Security Pact to regularly share cyber-security information. In April 2013, the Chinese agreed to work with the US on cyber-security because the consequences of a major cyber-attack might be as serious as a nuclear bomb. There is a need for Indian defence forces to gear up for these new technological domains and imbibe them at the earliest.


Space is usually considered to begin at the lowest altitude at which satellites can maintain orbits for a reasonable time without falling into the atmosphere. This is approximately 160 kilometres (100 miles) above the surface. Astronomers may speak of interplanetary space (the space between planets in our solar system), interstellar space (the space between stars in our galaxy), or intergalactic space (the space between galaxies in the universe). Some scientists believe that space extends infinitely far in all directions, while others believe that space is finite but unbounded, just as the space surface of the earth has finite area yet no beginning nor end.

Outer Space, or just Space, is the void that exists between celestial bodies, including the Earth. It is not completely empty but consists of a hard vacuum containing a low density of particles, predominantly plasma of hydrogen and Helium as well as electromagnetic radiation, magnetic fields, neutrinos, dust and cosmic rays. There is no firm boundary where space begins. However, the Karman Line at an altitude of 100 km (62 mi) above sea level, is conventionally used as a working definition for the boundary between aeronautics and astronautics. This is used because at an altitude of about 100 km (62 mi), as Theodore von Kármán calculated, a vehicle would have to travel faster than orbital velocity in order to derive sufficient aerodynamic lift from the atmosphere to support itself. This is also used conventionally as the start of outer space in space treaties and for aerospace records keeping. The framework for international space law was established by the Outer Space Treaty, which was passed by the United Nations in 1967. This treaty precludes any claims of national sovereignty and permits all states to freely explore outer space. Outer space represents a challenging environment for human exploration because of the dual hazards of vacuum and radiation. Microgravity also has a negative effect on human physiology that causes both muscle atrophy and bone loss. In addition to these health and environmental issues, the economic cost of putting objects, including humans, into space is high.

Global Trends

Developments in the Region

To understand the regional footprints, there is a need to know the players, their nature of investments in space and the level of threat they pose for India. In the context of space, information is required on the hard power and soft power options available along with the prospects of a space race amongst the regional players. India, Japan and China are the major developed space powers in the region while Israel, Iran, North Korea and South Korea are other space-faring nations. States like UAE, Malaysia and Singapore also have business interest in the space domain. The primary focus of the investments of Asian countries in space is for socioeconomic development as satellites are able to provide huge amounts of database, which assist in land-water resources planning, meteorological assistance and communication. There is a major opportunity in future in Space Commerce and space tourism and service industry is starting to make great inroads in the region. Even smaller states like UAE and Singapore are looking at space tourism.

Japan, China, India, Israel and South Korea have declared interests in using space for strategic purposes. Dual-use technology is the key for intelligence gathering, communications, navigation and ELINT. Satellites of different shapes and sizes have been put up in orbits with varying perspectives and intentions. The number of imaging and military communications satellites in Asia is increasing. India is moving towards becoming self-sufficient in space navigation while China also boasts of a major navigational programme – Beidou. The security challenges for the region are very intricate because almost every part of the region including West Asia, South Asia and East Asia is a conflict flashpoint. The region has an extremely complex nuclear footprint and any intentional destruction of a satellite could quickly escalate the on-going conflict. Even acts like jamming of satellites or the construction of space-based weapons could lead to increasing tensions. In the realm of counter-space technologies, ASAT is a global challenge. Specific acts by states in the region could increase the concerns of the other states within the region. Even India's legitimate actions could come under criticism.

To put the space security environment into perspective, the South Asian region has two space-faring states in India and China and three nuclear weapons capable states. All these states are missile capable too. During the 1980s, the Chinese and Indian space programmes were almost at par. With the breaking up of the erstwhile USSR, China was able to make use of the Soviet human resource to take a leap forward in both aeronautics and space. It has since become the most important player in space domain in Asia, with an impressive space inventory with Russian dependence and a focused well-articulated strategy. It does not maintain a strong separation between its civil and military space programme. Its national defence strategy is based on active defence and this applies to Space as well. The Chinese have an ambitious outer space and deep space agenda with the roadmap having nationalism, foreign policy, commerce and security connotations. China has a network of space-based ISR sensors, space-based SAR, its Beidou Navigation System and spy satellites.


Excerpted from "India China Space Capabilities"
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Copyright © 2018 United Service Institution of India, New Delhi.
Excerpted by permission of Vij Books India Pvt Ltd.
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Table of Contents

1. Space: An Overview,
2. China's Space Capabilities,
3. China's Counter Space Capabilities,
4. India's Space Research,
5. Implications of China's Space Program for India,
6. Challenges and Options for India,
7. Assessment,

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