Is China’s Space Militarization a Threat to India?

06 Apr, 2009    ·   2842

Radhakrishna Rao believes Chinese actions will lead to the weaponization of outer space

A recent fact-filled 78-page analysis of China’s rapidly expanding military capabilities by the Pentagon with a focus on its developing “disruptive technologies,” points to Chinese advances in acquiring the capability to attack satellites for refining its space war strategy. Accusing China for being less than transparent on reporting its military spending and security doctrines, this report to the US Congress, the first under the Obama administration, also refers to China’s strides in cyber war and electromagnetic warfare capabilities. Incidentally, the report comes just weeks after Chinese naval vessels tangled with a US naval surveillance ship, which led China to accuse the US of spying.

Coming to Sino-Indian relations, the Pentagon report, “Military Power of the People’s Republic of China,” says that the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is concerned with persisting disputes along China’s shared border with India, and the strategic ramifications of India’s emergence as an economic, military and political power. Even as China shows keenness to improve its ties with India, its military incursions in Sikkim and the line of actual control (LAC) in Arunachal Pradesh, deployment of nuclear submarines at an ultramodern facility at Hainan Island in the South China Sea, and its growing defense ties with Pakistan, remain matters of concern for New Delhi.

China’s massive military modernization, vigorous efforts to develop a range of space weapons and heavy-lift space vehicles, and a sustained move towards increasing the range and lethality of missiles are not merely exercises to compete militarily with the US .Their purpose is to deter American in intervention should Beijing deciding to overrun Taiwan by force. 

With defence analysts agreeing that India cannot remain unconcerned about Chinese advances in space warfare, Indian Defence Minister, AK Antony, has expressed concern over the possible threat to “Indian space assets” from developments in a neighbouring country. Antony left no one in doubt that he was referring to China, and chose to focus on the Chinese threat from space while addressing the United Commanders Conference in New Delhi held in June 2008. Antony did not mince his words while underscoring India’s angst over the “emergence of anti satellite weaponry, a new class of heavy lift off boosters and improved array of military space devices in our neighbourhood.” Antony was apparently highlighting the Chinese threat to Indian space assets in the context of a growing clamor to establish an Indian aerospace command. Antony backed up his concern by announcing the formation of a tri-service space cell as a precursor to creation of the command. Antony also wondered how long India could “remain committed to the policy of the non weaponization of space even as counter space systems are emerging in our neighbourhood.” Way back in 2007, following the Chinese anti-satellite test, the Indian Parliament held a debate on the ramification of the Chinese action with reference to India. Antony made it clear that India could safeguard its space assets from a threat emanating from across the border.

While China stunned the world in early 2007 by destroying an aging weather satellite positioned at an altitude of 537 miles above the earth by firing a ground based medium range ballistic missile, it would need a more refined, long range missile to attack spacecraft meant for communications and navigation that are normally placed in higher orbits. After this anti-satellite test, G Madhavan Nair, Chairman, Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), said that though it was within the capability of ISRO to deploy an anti-satellite weapon, India’s concern was to keep outer space a zone of peace and tranquility.

Taking a cue from early Russian and American experiments, China is working on space-based laser weapons to knock down enemy spacecraft. “They let us see their satellites. It is as if they are trying to intimidate us,” says Gary Payton, a senior Pentagon official dealing with space. The East Asian Strategic Review (2008) brought out by Japan’s National Institute for Defence Studies states that “the organizations involved in China’s space development program share strong ties with PLA and a large proportion of the satellites launched and operated by China are believed to be used for military purposes.” Joining the chorus for discussions after the Chinese anti-satellite test, VK Aatre, a former chief of India’s Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO), had strongly advocated the need to ensure that Indian ”space assets” are not vulnerable to, “extraneous threat”. He was clear that future wars would be fought in outer space.