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Space Threats and Evolving Security Environment

Sub Title : With the increasing militarisation of space, a closer look at the threats that loom from this frontier

Issues Details : Vol 18 Issue 1 Mar – Apr 2024

Author : Col (Dr) Rajan Bakshi

Page No. : 53

Category : Military Affairs

: March 22, 2024

In the 21st century, warfare extends beyond Earth’s bounds. Space militarization has escalated, with nations investing in satellite technology and ASAT weapons. This article explores the impacts of space threats, evolving security environments, and India’s strategic responses in this critical domain.

In the 21st century, the realm of warfare has transcended traditional battlegrounds, extending into the vast expanse of space. The militarisation and weaponization of outer space have ushered in a new era, where nations are not only vying for supremacy on Earth but also among the stars. The peaceful exploration of space, once a symbol of global cooperation, is now overshadowed by the spectre of militarization. Nations, driven by strategic interests and technological advancements, are increasingly viewing space as a critical domain for gaining an edge in conflicts. Space militarisation originated during the Cold War, a period characterised by a competition for space supremacy between the Soviet Union and the United States, using technological achievements as a measure of ideological superiority. However, recent years have witnessed a more pronounced shift, with an increasing number of countries actively developing and deploying space-based military capabilities. China, Russia, the United States, and emerging spacefaring nations are investing heavily in satellite technology, anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons, and other space-based assets. The increasing reliance on space for critical infrastructure and services has made it a domain of growing strategic importance. The militarisation of space is no longer a distant possibility but a reality that demands immediate attention.

Impact of Space Threats on Evolving Security Environments

Space threats encompass a wide range of activities and capabilities that can disrupt, disable, or destroy space assets. These threats can be physical, cyber, or environmental in nature. Physical attacks involve the use of kinetic or non-kinetic weapons to damage or destroy satellites, launch vehicles, or other space infrastructure. Examples include anti-satellite missiles, directed energy weapons, and debris collisions. Cyber-attacks target the computer systems that control and operate space systems. These attacks can disrupt satellite operations, steal sensitive data, or manipulate spacecraft functions. Environmental threats include natural hazards such as solar flares and space debris. These threats can damage or disable satellites and other space infrastructure.

Satellite Vulnerabilities. The backbone of modern military operations depends heavily on satellites for communication, navigation, reconnaissance, and surveillance. The vulnerability of these satellites to intentional interference, jamming, or physical attacks poses a significant threat to national security. Anti-satellite technologies, demonstrated by various nations, have the potential to disrupt vital communication channels and cripple military operations.

Orbital Debris and Space Sustainability. The proliferation of space debris resulting from ASAT tests and defunct satellites poses an environmental and operational hazard. The increased congestion in Earth’s orbit not only jeopardizes space missions but also raises the risk of accidental collisions that could generate more debris. Ensuring the sustainability of space activities is crucial for avoiding long-term consequences for both military and civilian space assets.

Space threats have the potential to significantly disrupt a wide range of critical infrastructure and services, including:

(a)          Global navigation systems such as GPS, which are essential for transportation, logistics, and military operations.

(b)          Communication satellites, which provide critical communication links for both civilian and military purposes.

(c)           Intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) satellites, which provide crucial information for national security.

(d)          Weather satellites, which provide critical data for forecasting and monitoring weather events.

The disruption or destruction of these space assets could have severe economic, social, and military consequences. In addition, space threats could be used to escalate conflicts or even trigger a major war.

Security Implications

New Dimensions of Warfare. Space is no longer just a frontier for exploration but a theatre for warfare. The integration of space capabilities into military strategies has created new dimensions of warfare, including space-based reconnaissance, electronic warfare, and the potential deployment of kinetic energy weapons. Nations are compelled to adapt their defence postures to safeguard their interests in this evolving security landscape.

International Collaboration and Conflict Prevention. The global community must address the militarization of space through international cooperation and diplomatic efforts. Establishing norms and agreements to prevent the weaponization of space and mitigate the risks associated with space activities is essential. A collective commitment to peaceful space exploration and utilization is imperative to prevent the escalation of conflicts beyond Earth.

Need for a Comprehensive Approach to Space Security. The evolving security environment in space requires a comprehensive approach that addresses both the physical and cyber dimensions of space threats. Developing and deploying resilient space systems that can withstand attacks and continue to operate even in the face of disruptions. Enhancing space situational awareness to track and monitor potential threats in space. Strengthening international cooperation on space security issues. Developing norms and rules of behaviour for responsible space activities. Promoting the peaceful use of space and preventing the weaponization of space.

Space Governance and Regulations. Robust governance frameworks and international agreements are required to regulate space activities and prevent the weaponization of outer space. The development of norms for responsible behaviour in space, including the prohibition of ASAT testing and the reduction of space debris, is crucial to maintaining the long-term sustainability of space activities.

Technological Innovation and Resilience. Nations must invest in technological innovation to enhance the resilience of their space assets. This includes the development of anti-jamming technologies, secure satellite communication systems, and the ability to quickly replace or repair damaged satellites. Emphasizing technological innovation will be key to staying ahead in the space race and ensuring national security.

India and Space Security

Space security has become increasingly important to India as it has become more reliant on space-based technologies for its economic, social, and security needs. India’s space assets are vulnerable to a variety of threats, such as, Anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons, Cyberattacks, Space debris, etc. India’s space security efforts are important for several reasons. First, they help to protect India’s critical infrastructure and assets from attack. Second, they promote stability and security in the space domain. Third, they help to ensure that India can continue to reap the benefits of space technology. India’s space security challenges are complex and evolving. However, India is taking following steps to enhance its space security:

(a) Developing ASAT Capabilities: India has developed ASAT capabilities, which it has used to demonstrate its ability to destroy satellites in orbit.

(b) Strengthening Cyber Defences: India is strengthening its cyber defences to protect its space assets from cyberattacks.

(c) Promoting International Cooperation: India is working with other countries to promote international cooperation on space security issues.

In addition to these specific measures, India is also taking a more holistic approach to space security. This includes developing a comprehensive space security policy, raising awareness of space security issues among the public, and fostering a culture of space safety. India faces several challenges in the realm of space security, e.g., the growing militarization of space leading to an arms race in space and an increased risk of conflict, the lack of clear international rules and norms may escalate into conflict, and increasing threat of cyberattacks which has the potential to disrupt or deny access to critical services. Despite these challenges, India is well-positioned to address them. India has a strong space program and is investing heavily in its space capabilities. India is also a responsible actor in space and is committed to promoting international cooperation on space security issues. India’s space security efforts are essential for protecting its national security interests and ensuring that it can continue to reap the benefits of space technology.

India’s Space Policy 2023

India’s Space Policy 2023 is a comprehensive framework that outlines the government’s vision for the space sector. It aims to promote private sector participation, enhance India’s global competitiveness in space-related activities, and strengthen the country’s strategic security. Key provisions of the policy include:

(a) Promoting Private Sector Participation: The policy encourages private companies to invest in and develop space technologies and applications. It also establishes a single-window clearance mechanism for the authorization of space activities.

(b) Enhancing Global Competitiveness: The policy aims to make India a global leader in space technology and applications. It encourages the development of indigenous technologies and supports the export of space products and services.

(c) Strengthening Strategic Security: The policy emphasizes the importance of space for national security. It outlines measures to protect India’s space assets from threats and to enhance the country’s ability to respond to space-based threats.

The policy has been welcomed by the space industry and experts. However, there are also some challenges that need to be addressed to achieve the policy’s goals. These pressing challenges are creating a conducive regulatory environment, building a skilled workforce, and attracting investment. Despite these challenges, India’s Space Policy 2023 is a positive step towards making India a major player in the global space sector. The policy has the potential to create new jobs, boost economic growth, and enhance India’s national security.

In Conclusion

The expansion of humanity’s presence beyond Earth has given rise to a concerning reality – the militarization of space. Nations are actively competing for dominance, establishing orbital battle stations, and deploying armed satellites, equipped with laser weapons capable of damaging spacecraft from a distance. The once serene cosmos has transformed into a theater of war, with the balance of power on Earth being disrupted as military might extends into space. Espionage satellites and cyberwarfare add new dimensions to the conflict, threatening the delicate equilibrium of power. The militarization of space is not a distant future prospect but a current reality, forcing humanity to confront the potential consequences of turning the cosmos into a battleground for terrestrial ambitions.

On November 20, 2023, the Hong Kong Newspaper SCMP announced that China has built the first “near-space command” equipped with lethal hypersonic weaponry. The People’s Liberation Army presently has five forces: the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Rocket Force. The new force will serve as the fifth branch. Although the exact date of the space command’s formal establishment is unknown, it is still thought to be in the early stages of development.

Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria, former chief of air staff expressed his views while interacting with the media at Ambala in Haryana on 24 November 2023, that the proposed redesignation of the Indian Air Force (IAF) as the “Indian Air and Space Force” would be a step in the right direction.  He further stated “It is a work in progress, I would say. But overall requirements of space and integration of space in air power is a natural integration. If you see the French, they have an air and space force. The US has employed a different combination. Every country has its own approach”.

“You can have warfare exclusively in space, but whoever controls space also controls what happens on land, on the sea and in the air. If you don’t control space, you don’t control the other domains either.” -Jamie Shea, Analyst at Friends of Europe.