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China’s Killer Satellite:REVIVING SPECTRE OF SPACE WAR, by Radhakrishna Rao Print E-mail

Events And Issues

New Delhi, 5 February 2007

China’s Killer Satellite


By Radhakrishna Rao

The successful killer satellite test by China last month has been as much a cause of concern for India as it is for the USA.  M. Natarajan, Adviser to the Indian Defence Minister has made it clear that India has reasons to worry over the seemingly innocuous Chinese move towards space weaponisation.

Natarajan, who also heads the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) is clear in his perception that India cannot afford to remain indifferent to the efforts aimed at reviving the “specter of space war”.  According him, “we too had simulated an enemy missile and intercepted it during a test. However, to intercept a satellite, you need to know its exact trajectory. If such missiles can intercept and disable a satellite and GPS or navigation system, it will be an issue of concern.

Natarajan also revealed that India too will be in a position to develop the technological know-how for targeting satellites over a period of time. Once we receive reports on the Chinese test, we will be able to comment and initiate appropriate action in that direction, quipped Natarajan. Meanwhile, reports in India’s print media spoke of the capability of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) to perfect the killer satellite technology. 

The ISRO, which recently recovered a space capsule from orbit ---which performed two important micro-gravity experiments during its twelve day stay in space---and is looking at the possibility of an Indian manned mission sometime next decade has of course know-how and expertise to perfect the technique of killer satellite system. But for ISRO to proceed ahead on the matter, a clearance from the ruling alliance of the country is essential.

China’s guided ground-based missile has successfully knocked out an ageing weather satellite through the sheer force of collision. According to the American spy agencies, China used a ground-based medium range ballistic missile to destroy this weather satellite, located about 800 km above the earth’s surface. The missile guided from Xichaing spaceport destroyed the Feng Yun-IC meteorological satellite. Incidentally, China used the concept of a killer satellite to put out of commission its low earth orbiting spacecraft.

Meanwhile, in the wake of the Chinese anti-satellite test, the Indian Air Force (IAF) has decided to speed up the creation of an Indian aerospace command that would help bolster the fighting fitness and strategic capability of the IAF and also to protect the Indian air space with a greater degree of weather. 

Of course, as pointed out by the IAF Chief, Air Chief Marshal S.P. Tyagi, the proposed aerospace command, which is yet to receive clearance from the Government, would also seek the participation of ISRO and DRDO.  Moreover, this command will also have participation from the army and the Navy.  A core group has been set up to study various issues related to airport and air superiority.  This group will study all issues related to the structure and function of aerospace command, as existing in other countries.

Clearly and apparently, the Indian aerospace command, the formation of which has been long overdue, would make extensive use of satellite system put in place by the ISRO communications, weather watch, earth observation and surveillance, as well as navigation and reconnaissance. 

We have fought wars in air, water and land. But the way things are going, Star Wars will no longer be just a fiction, says Dr. V.K. Atre, former Chief of the DRDO. India, he says, “should adopt new technologies just as Russia and the USA are doing to safeguard their interest in this new age space war” and adds: “The USA has 110 military satellites, the Russians have 40 which clearly signals that the future wars will be fought in space.  It is necessary for us to develop satellite-based electronic systems to ensure that a valuable space asset does not become vulnerable.”

As it is, strategic drive home the point that space systems confer information dominance on friendly forces by providing real time information.  On a more practical plane, space assets make for a clear cut strategic advantage by its sheer ability to deny the adversaries the opportunity to fight the campaign of his choice. Surveillance and reconnaissance satellites along with ultra sensitive GPS spacecraft help identify the vulnerable targets and provide a regular monitoring of the activities deep inside the enemy territory.

Incidentally, the American space command functioning under the United States Air Force (USAF) continues to fund many space defence projects whose details are not made public. Today, the USAF describes itself as an “integrated aerospace power” and insists that its responsibilities stretches from the surface of the earth to far off orbital regions.

The long-term strategy of the American space command includes the plan to destroy the well-guarded space assets of the adversaries in one quick sweep. Incidentally, India and Russia are discussing the possibility of providing anti-missile shield to their satellites.

The proposed Indian aerospace command would provide an organizational credibility to the optimum utilization of Indian space assets and IAF’s capabilities in its varying dimensions. On another plane, an Indian aerospace command would also contribute in a big way to the perfection of the techniques for the netcentric warfare.

The US-led allied forces during their interventions in both Afghanistan and Iraq had made extensive use of a string of satellites and communications network with a “killer vigours. It was the Soviets who first laid the seeds of weaponizing outer space, in flagrant violation of UN treaties which prohibits the use of outer space for non civilian purposes, by initiating tests on “hunter killer satellites” in 1967.

In a series of experiments, Soviets made a “hinter killer” satellite and chase a target satellite in space and blow it up in mid air. The hunter killer satellite is a highly sophisticated device. Its apparatus functions at high speed, supported by computers, launching systems and jet propellers. During 1976-78, Soviets are said to have conducted nearly a score of “hunter killer” satellite tests behind the façade of the Cosmos research programme.

The thesis of the warfare experts is that since the success of military and strategic operations on ground depend on “alert birds in outer space” whoever knocks down the largest number of enemy satellites, stands to hold the strategic lead. Meteorological satellites predicting weather to facilitate bombing raids, navigation satellites guiding lethal arms to the desired points, reconnaissance satellites locating the exact geographic position of military targetrs, electronic ferret satellites gathering data on radar frequencies, communications satellites jamming the communication channels of hostile satellites and ocean watch satellite snooping on naval movement of adversaries have all become puppets on the chain of the modern day warfare strategy.

Significantly, both the erstwhile Soviet Union and the US had tried what is called the high energy beam weapon based on subatomic particles. Still in the realm of the theoretical possibility, this radical weapon, if made, could be used with far more frightening precision than laser devices. Interestingly, in early 1980s, the US Army had launched a programme called “Sippau”---the American Indian word for Fire---for developing a particle beam weapon for use as an anti-satellite device. However, like other space defence projects, this one too was abandoned. ---INFA

(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)


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