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India: Space ambitions and the lack of a Space Doctrine and Policy - Ieshan Vinay Misri

We humans, right from the dawn of civilizations around the globe have looked up to stars and celestial bodies and wondered with an undying urge to understand and explore the realms of what came to be known as Space. The first major leap in terms of humans in space came with the launching of soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin during the peak of Cold War era which triggered a space-race between the two blocs. The next big development came in the form of human moon landing in 1969. Since then there has been contest among the major nations of the world as far as making inroads into the space frontier for asserting their power and securing their national interests is concerned.

India’s tryst with space sciences began with the concentrated efforts of the bright minds and scientist, chief among them being Vikram Sarabhai who is widely regarded as the father of Indian Space Program. Since then we have come a long way and have proved ourselves as efficient pioneers in the field.

India’s space program has mostly been focused to meet civilian interests but the growing geopolitical pressure – both global and regional – have ordained India to dwell into the development of space program towards the direction where it could demonstrate itself as a significant player in the domain of space technology, and also fulfil the national security needs. India’s shift from welfare oriented civilian use of the space technology to developing military capabilities can be seen in its collaborations with Japan and France in the recent past and the testing of the latest Anti-satellite Missiles (A-Sat).

India is also a party and signatory to various international space treaties like Outer Space Treaty, Rescue Agreement and Space Liability Convention. Moreover it has been around 49 years since we started our modest conquest of space, and though sectoral policies like Satellite Communication Policy and Remote Sensing Data Policy exist, we are still to develop a robust and comprehensive National Space Policy and a Space Doctrine which broadly yet clearly states our objectives based on our growing capabilities keeping India’s position in international politics in mind, parallelly fortifying our domestic and security interests.

Doctrine enables clear thinking and assists in determining proper course of action under the circumstances prevailing at the time of decision making whereas a comprehensive policy facilitates coherent cooperation and coordination and creates synergy. At present there doesn’t exist a clear demarcation separating and defining the boundaries to what is civilian, commercial, non-commercial and military.  Consequently, there is a pressing need to develop a comprehensive national space policy and an overarching space doctrine which not only complies with the international obligations but also secures the need of national interests and security. 

India has always held the position that space and space technology should be used for peaceful and cooperative purposes.  But over the last decade India has come to the realization of growing subtle and obvious threats to national security in this area and has come to recognize the fact that space has not remained purely a civilian sphere. A genuine wake-up moment for India was the China’s Anti-Satellite missile test in 2007. This, marked with the rapidly transforming different geopolitical equations around the world in general and in South Asia in particular, prompted India to the realization that urgent and necessary improvement in its capabilities was a priority. For the same an “Integrated space cell” was established under the Ministry of Defence in 2010, which is jointly operated by Indian Military, Department of Space and ISRO. In furtherance of the same objective there appears to be a need to establish a “Space Security Doctrine” that embraces the military space aspect as well as clearly articulating the conditions under which India would consider the offensive and defensive use of space and space technology. The doctrine should not only look up to the external security threats but should also factor in India’s internal security challenges and should act as a set of guiding principles to tackle any unforeseen challenges.

In addition, the national space policy should be dynamic enough to align both civilian and militaristic space related activities as a positive factor to the national development by encouraging private sector involvement in space by both big players and start-ups (probably in a regulated manner to begin with). Right now, there exist big policy and legislative hurdles that discourage private players to invest more in space sector. Yet interestingly, the need for private sector involvement in the space sector is not just financial, for it could potentially bring in additional intellectual capital as well. This puts forward a case for efficient and transparent space laws which would not only include the taxation, regulation and clearances but also knowledge and data sharing. The space laws in this regard need to be devised and should act as enablers instead of creating more hurdles in the name of regulations. Also, apart from encouraging private sector involvement, the national space policy must address the needs of competing interests while ensuring that the private sector adheres to intergovernmental and international agreements.

In conclusion it can be attested that the time is apt for India to have its own overarching and comprehensive space doctrine which is implemented through a robust and dynamic national space policy, by giving way to and in turn being supported by relevant space laws. The space doctrine and policy would help in the evolution of coherent strategies for organizing, training, equipping and employing space force and tech more efficiently. Moreover, such doctrine and policy should not just be a part of national security and development but at the same time should address the question of space sustainability. 


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Comments (1)

Apr 18, 2019

A well balanced and indigenously crafted article.


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