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Earth Observation Satellites (EOS) are Essential for India’s National Security

  • Category
    Internal Security
  • Published
    28th Sep, 2021

Context

There are dual implications of advanced satellite systems, from civilian use to helping out the armed forces to acquire intelligence and establish strategic superiority in the region. The use of spatial surveillance goes a long way when it comes to securing our national borders.

Background

  • Although the recent unsuccessful launch of EOS-3 is a temporary setup to our upcoming missions like Gaganyaan, Chandrayaan-3 and NISAR, it also highlights the gap that needs to be filled in order to improve our capabilities in space surveillance to strengthen the national security in the prevailing changing geopolitical order.

Analysis

What is an Earth observational satellite?

  • Earth Observation (EO) satellites are designed for earth observation from space, which includes military use like spying and civilian use like, meteorology and cartography.
  • These satellites make essential information available on a vast number of areas, including; ocean salinity, ice thickness, crop health, and air quality.
  • The data from these satellites are used for several applications like agriculture, urban planning, rural development, mineral prospecting, environment, forestry, ocean resources and disaster management.

India’s Space Program:

  • Till the 1960s and 1970s kept India kept high-end space technologies as purely as peaceful.
  • It was initially designed to develop communications and remote sensing satellites, to enable weather forecasting, transportation, management and conservation of natural resources and natural disasters and more.
  • But the scenario changed after and India woke up to the reality of a nuclear China in 1964, with whom it had fought a war recently.
  • Due to the sensitivity concerns, India abstains from talking space technology in the context of national security.
  • The role of ISRO had been decisive for India’s security and it had publicly stated its commitment for the future.
  • Radar Imaging Satellite 2 (RISAT-2): It is perhaps the first in the series of national security satellites discussed in the public domain. It was launched in 2009. It uses the synthetic aperture radar for providing radar images with a resolution of one meter regardless of the time or weather conditions
  • GSAT 7: It is a multi-band military communication satellite. The Indian Navy acquired its first dedicated communications satellite, GSAT 7, in 2013. It is expected that soon Indian Army and Indian Air force will be using a similar set of satellites.
  • Cartosat series: Cartosat-1, was launched in 2005 and had a resolution of 2.5 metres. Currently, the Cartosat-3 satellites can provide a resolution better than 0.25metres.
    • It was this capability that equipped our intelligence with the required input to plan the recent surgical strikes.
    • The next-generation Cartosat series can provide images with a resolution better than 25 centimetres, which will enable us to detect specific objects and movements on the ground.

Needs Earth Observation Satellites:

  • To counter China: The foremost reason to have them is that the People Republic of China (PRC) has many of these EOS. In 2020 the troops' movement by the People Republic of China (PRC) in the Ladakh region went largely undetected because of the lack of a sufficient number of EOS. They have Gafoen series of EO satellites. The Gafoen series is also associated with its military reconnaissance missions. This is certainly a threat and we need to have a robust surveillance system in place. India has to respond to the capabilities of China with which we frequently experience border clashes.

    Gaofen is a series of Chinese high-resolution Earth-imaging satellites for the state-sponsored program China High-resolution Earth Observation System (CHEOS). The first satellite in the Gaofen, Gaofen 1 was launched in 2013.
  • Surveillance in the Indian Ocean Region: In addition to the threat on its Himalayan borders with China, there is also a significant increase in its influence in Indian Ocean Region has been reported. This need to be taken care of by the use of advanced surveillance systems.
  • To overcome limitations of drones and UAVs: Using UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) and drones has its demerits as they can be shot down if the reconnaissance mission needs to be carried out over the military installations of the adversary. Whereas, the satellite imagery will have the capability to zoom into the most remote corners, which can help our security forces to take timely action and track suspicious movements.
  • Use of satellites for Border management: India also needs to beef up its anti-infiltration grid along the Pakistan and Bangladesh border, as infiltration and smuggling along the line of control have always been a threat to national security.
  • Post-attack assessment: This is crucial for post-attack damage assessment and will enable us to create opportunities to refine our attacks against enemy targets in the future.

    Additional Information: Low altitude satellites are prone to high atmospheric drag, which results in reduced orbital shelf-life of the spacecraft. That is why having an Earth Observation Satellites (EOS) in Geo Transfer Orbit (GTO) is crucial for us as a satellite in Lower Earth Orbit (LEO) do help but they have a certain degree of limitations that can be overcome by using the GTO.

Area identified for the use of space technology:

  1. Island development and security
  2. Border Surveillance
  3. Communication and Navigation
  4. GIS and Operations Planning System
  5. Border Infrastructure Monitoring

Technology used in (EO) satellites:

  • Imagery Intelligence (IMINT): It is an intelligence-gathering system, where the aerial images are analysed to identify information of intelligence value.
  • Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR): It is used to create 2 or 3-dimensional images of objects and landscapes. It is important for airborne surveillance and precision targeting. It is a day/night, all-weather imaging system and is indispensable for defence applications.
  • Electro-Optical Functions: This system provides images for military and law enforcement agencies. It can provide automatic detection of tracking of flying objects. The functionality of the system can be enhanced by using an infra-red sensor.
  • Photo Reconnaissance: It can fulfil a variety of requirements including artillery spotting and observation of military manoeuvres.

Conclusion: 

Our approach to space policy is now driven by national security worries as compared to morality and sovereignty during the 1980s and 1990s.Geopolitics is the new driver for India to focus on the military aspect of its space program. Our military needs Earth Observation (EO) satellites to confront challenges from China. A glance over China’s Earth Observation (EO) capabilities is enough to understand why India needs more of them and must consider it as a strategic investment.

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