Event ReportsPublished on Jan 19, 2011
Following up with the SIPRI-ORF-SWF seminar in New Delhi earlier this year, the Secure World Foundation organised a panel discussion in Washington on "India's Military Space Efforts and Regional Security Considerations".
India's Military Space Efforts and Regional Security Considerations

India's space programme since inception has been peaceful and development-oriented. There are certain regional dynamics that are beginning to push for increasing weaponisation of the outer space, manifesting itself in an interest in pursuing anti-satellite weapons. This was the theme of the panel discussion, titled "India's Military Space Efforts and Regional Security Considerations," organised by the Secure World Foundation in Washington DC on March 8, 2011. The meeting, held at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, was a follow-up to the three-day conference organised by Observer Research Foundation, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Secure World Foundation and the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi from January 19 to 21, 2011, aimed at look at the Indian space programme in a holistic manner, from the civilian to military aspects of the changing Indian space policy.

The panelists - Victoria Samson of Secure World Foundation, Dr. Bharath Gopalaswamy of Stockholm International Peace Research Institute and Dr. Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan of Observer Research Foundation - looked at various aspects of the Indian space programme, its changing orientations, the possible reasons for this change, how it could affect the Asian security dynamic, and the debate how the United States and other space-faring nations could work with India in the future. Lt. Col. Peter Garretson of the US Air Force chaired the meeting which was well attended by senior representatives from the Pentagon, State Department, US Air Force as well as academia and other think tank members.

While Ms. Samson opened up with her takeaways from the SWF-SIPRI-ORF conference, Dr. Gopalswamy spoke about a recent study he worked with a Chinese colleague, examining the debris consequences of an India-China space conflict and Dr. Rajagopalan looked at India's drivers for its anti-satellite weapon efforts. Dr. Gopalaswamy's presentation looked at as to what will happen if both India and China decide to attack and destroy each other's LEO satellites. This is a futuristic exercise whereas Dr. Rajagopalan tried to identify the changes in India's ASAT policy and the drivers of these changes. She argued that while India's policy itself does not appear to have changed yet, India continues to oppose militarisation of space and - at least officially - has not yet launched an ASAT programnme, there have definitely been fluctuations in Indian policy. Though some of these were in evidence long before the Chinese test, the test could very well have increased Indian uncertainties about its traditional policies.

India's space programme has been managed by the Indian Space Research Organisation and has very strong civil and developmental orientations resulting in significant improvement of the day-to-day lives of its citizens. However, given the increasingly securitised environment in Asia, there is a tendency to move away from a purely civilian space programme to one with a military undertone.

The discussions that followed the presentations raised several questions ranging from the Chinese ASAT test and its impact on Asian security to more important issues like US-India cooperation on space, and more specifically what can India and the US do together to tackle the Chinese behaviour in space.

(This report is prepared by Dr. Rajeswari Rajagopalan, Senior Fellow, Observer Research Foundation)

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