Expert Speak Raisina Debates
Published on Jul 25, 2022 Updated 26 Days ago
Apart from training, the Indian Armed Services need Small Satellites for net-centric missions.
India’s quest for a Small Satellite constellation The quest by the Indian Army (IA) for a small satellite to train its officers from its Corps of Signals (CoS) is a necessary move to optimise the training of officers from the CoS at the Military College of Telecommunications Engineering (MCTE), the IA, as well as the other two Indian armed services, namely the Indian Air Force (IAF) and the Indian Navy (IN), will need additional support from the Modi government to create a dedicated Small Satellite (SmSat) constellation comparable to the Peoples Republic of China’s (PRC) SmSat super constellation—Guowang. In addition, irrespective of the IA's laudable quest to use a SmSat to rigorously train its CoS officers in the areas covering “…satellite design, communications payload design, fabrication, assembly, and testing of electrical and mechanical systems of satellites”, what the IA specifically and the IN and IAF more generally need is something comparable to what the United States (US) currently has—the Global Information Grid (GIG). The GIG along with the Transformational Satellite Communications System (TSAT) allows for protected satellite communications and links satellites in Geostationary Orbit (GEO) with SmSats in LEO, which, in turn, are connected to terrestrial nodes. The TSAT is a departure from previous satellite architecture systems in that it employs a “…hybrid mix of switching technologies (RF circuit, optical circuit and packet switching)”. It is a key advance made by the Americans that enables support for more interfaces and a wider range of military missions, unlike the exclusively circuit-based satellite communications system that existed before the inception of the TSAT. There are several advantages to acquiring a GIG-TSAT capability, unlike the earlier satellite communications system of the US military, which only allowed multiple missions to be supported by specific or individual satellites, a networked or integrated capability as the TSAT system represents permits multiple missions to be supported simultaneously. SmSats will play a key role in creating a taut satellite communication system for the efficient and effective conduct of network-centric operations as the GIG-TSAT system does.

The GIG along with the Transformational Satellite Communications System (TSAT) allows for protected satellite communications and links satellites in Geostationary Orbit (GEO) with SmSats in LEO, which, in turn, are connected to terrestrial nodes.

Although currently, the PRC faces constraints as a result of the US’s International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR). ITAR has not stymied the Chinese from being a reasonably robust actor in the development of its Guowang LEO super satellite constellation consisting of SmSats. The latter is likely to be a 13,000-strong satellite network deployed in LEO. However, Guowang will take time to crystallise into a coherent and effective LEO network that services the Peoples Liberation Army’ (PLA) communication requirements from LEO. Although, the US is well ahead of the PRC in creating a truly net-centric force undergirded by the GIG-TSAT, nevertheless, the PRC has a significant head start vis-à-vis India as it has initiated what is now called the Space-Ground Integrated Information Network (SGIIN). The SGIIN is part of a significant engineering effort under the PRC’s 13th Five-Year Plan. However, considerable challenges lie ahead for the PRCs’ space-to-ground network as it faces hurdles in creating a linked network of variegated spacecraft, shrinking the latency rates of inter-satellite connections, satellite-to-ground links and ensuring security between the nodes of satellites and transmission links. In addition, China’s SmSat manufacturing capacities have expanded significantly. The China Academy of Space Technology (CAST) at its Tianjin manufacturing facility in Northern China is capable of producing 200 SmSats a year. A further enhancement to this output is the production of 240 more SmSats per annum as a result of the humongous productivity of the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC), which in any case is also the leading missile manufacturing entity of the PRC. Consequently, the PRC will be capable of fielding a Satellite network that links Geostationary satellites with LEO-based that can potentially rival the USA, if not in the immediate future, but certainly in the medium-to long- term and significantly surpass whatever India can field. Indeed, the Chinese quest as part of the SGIIN is to establish linkages between satellites in all orbits with the ground segment. This is the only way the PRC’s strategists can sustain network centric operations for all the service arms of the PLA.

A further enhancement to this output is the production of 240 more SmSats per annum as a result of the humongous productivity of the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC), which in any case is also the leading missile manufacturing entity of the PRC.

On the other hand, India for its part has been making progress with establishment of the Bengaluru-based Defence Space Agency (DSA) in areas such as Electronic Intelligence (ELINT), Communications Intelligence (COMMINT) and space-based tracking. Yet this progress does not account for the imperative to develop an SGIIN or GIG-TSAT type of netcentric capability. India’s space start-up and Medium-Scale Manufacturing Enterprises (MSMEs) have gained strength, rendering them capable of building SmSats of various weight classes as shown in Table 1. Table -1 The developmental costs and launch costs of satellites, especially in the SmSat segment, are low today in India, which should act as an incentive for the Ministry of Defence and the armed services to collectively conceive of dedicated strategy to exploit India’s SmSat capability. Driving this effort must be a comprehensive effort to devise a SGIIN like capability that would significantly augment the capacities of all the three services of the Indian military to conduct network-centric operations. To be sure, SmSats are not the only spacecraft required to realise SGIIN-like system, but equally medium and heavy satellites in different orbits and not just LEO which is the primary orbit of SmSats. This effort will also require greater budgetary support as well as direct intervention from the central government, without which the services are unlikely to pursue this indispensable, yet demanding goal.
The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.

Author

Kartik Bommakanti

Kartik Bommakanti

Kartik Bommakanti is a Senior Fellow with the Strategic Studies Programme. Kartik specialises in space military issues and his research is primarily centred on the ...

Read More +