Issue BriefsPublished on Sep 14, 2023 PDF Download
ballistic missiles,Defense,Doctrine,North Korea,Nuclear,PLA,SLBM,Submarines

Cyber Arms Race in Space: Exploring India’s Next Steps

Indias reliance on outer space has become critical in its social and economic growth
stories in addition to its transformative impact in the national security context. With growing
reliance comes vulnerability to adversarial attempts to harm Indias capabilities, particularly
from the new threat of cyber warfare. Even as countries including India have debated the need to
develop certain counter-space capabilities, such as demonstration of an ASAT capability, no
further tests have been carried out yet. With growing linkages between cyber and outer space
domains, India should have a considered set of options that would protect its vulnerabilities in
space. India has to be mindful of counter-space capabilities in its neighbourhood, such as antisatellite missiles, lasers and jamming, and develop options to negate the impact of satellite
communication interference.

Following the 2007 anti-satellite (ASAT) test carried out by China, a number of countries including India began contemplating the necessity of demonstrating their own counterspace capabilities, particularly of the kinetic nature employed by China. Some states earnestly began to develop expensive missile technology that would be able to destroy a satellite in orbit. The need for such technology development stemmed from the traditional framework of deterrence: one actor will not commit a particular type of attack for fear of retaliation. Under this model, a successful ASAT demonstration is necessary to prevent an ASAT attack. However, to the great relief of many in the space community who worry about the proliferation of space debris, no further tests have been carried out thus far. Unfortunately, this may not be a good sign.

Part of the reason for departing from kinetic ASATs is a growing trend in counter-space technology that is moving away from costly capabilities (such as a missile or a projectile that will physically destroy a satellite) and shifting towards cheaper (and possibly more dangerous) cyber attacks. Even a brief glance at recent news headlines will show that cyber attacks, popularly known as hacks, are becoming increasingly common. Large companies, international banks, power stations, and government agencies have been struck by a wide variety of virtual perpetrators. The actors behind these attacks have gone from being individuals with a computer and a criminal intent, to whole divisions of defence departments with specific national security mandates. In this context, space systems have been identified as uniquely attractive targets because they are major conduits of information and strategic coordination. Over the last five years alone, the world has seen a significant spike in the intentional interference of satellites and their ground stations, including cases of jamming signals, eavesdropping and even taking full control of satellites for periods of time. To make matters worse, the lines that define traditional actors have become blurred, with private hackers being recruited by governments to carry out cyber attacks, much like the buccaneers of yore.

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.


Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan

Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan

Dr Rajeswari (Raji) Pillai Rajagopalan is the Director of the Centre for Security, Strategy and Technology (CSST) at the Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.  Dr ...

Read More +
Daniel Porras

Daniel Porras

Daniel Porras is a Non-Resident Fellow at the UN Institute for Disarmament Research where he focuses on space security and global governance. He was the ...

Read More +