‘ISRO’s DSSAM and the expectations of India’s armed forces’
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Science & Technology
31st December, 2020
ISRO’s recent launch of a Directorate of Space Situational Awareness and Management (DSSAM), aimed at monitoring, tracking and protecting India’s space assets, bodes well for the Indian space programme. The control centre is envisaged to function as a hub of all SSA activities within India.
- India’s space programmeis one of the well-developed in the world and the sector has achieved numerous successes through its state-owned agency, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).
- However, in recent years, the space domain has become increasingly crowded and contested making Space Situational Awareness (SSA) capacities critical for all major space faring countries.
- Tracking debris in space, de-orbiting objects satellites from space and ensuring the successful return and recovery of manned and unmanned payloads from space to earth can only happen with robust SSA capabilities.
- The Directorate of Space Situational Awareness and Management (DSSAM) has been established at ISRO, recognising the need for dedicated efforts to tackle the emerging challenges of operating in an exceedingly crowded and contested space domain.
- To meet this effort, the ISRO has developed and established various facilities such as the Network for Space Object Tracking and Analysis (NETRA).
- In addition, the Indian space programme leverages the inputs of foreign space agencies as well coordinates with as an extensive number of observational facilities that are part of the ISRO’s ground segment such the agency’s Telemetry, Tracking and Command Network (ISTRAC).
- The safety of India’s manned space flight mission for instance to avoid collision with space debris is one.
- While all these SSA elements are absolutely indispensable for the ISRO’s missions and those of the armed services, they are, however, insufficient as far as the latter’s missions are concerned.
- An exclusive or singular focus on debris tracking, cataloguing space objects and correlation detracts from the pressing requirements the Indian armed services are likely to need.
- Given the above background, this article provides an overview of India’s space sector.
Why space security matters?
- Outer space is a global commons that is central to military, environmental, socioeconomic, and human security on Earth and to science, exploration, and discovery.
- Space security is an important and emerging area that India’s policymakers need to approach in interdisciplinary fashion.
- The real danger posed by a possible collision of satellites would be the debris of varying sizes scattered across space in all directions, in high-speeds with high potential of harming other satellites.
- As of January 2020, there are around 2,000 active satellites orbiting the earth. There are also more than 23,000 pieces of debris larger than 10cm (4inches) in orbit, according to NASA.
- The ability to access and use outer space is critical to the well-being of all nations and people.
- Resources in outer space support applications from global communications to financial operations; farming to weather forecasting; and environmental monitoring to navigation, surveillance, and treaty monitoring.
- It is imperative that all humankind can access and enjoy the many benefits of space today, and that this use is sustainable in the future.
- However, maintaining the safety, security, and sustainability of outer space is challenging.
What is NETRA?
- According to ISRO, NEtwork for space object TRacking and Analysis (NETRA) project is initiated as a first step towards meeting this goal.
- Elements: NETRA’s main elements would be a radar, an optical telescope facility, and a control centre.
- ISRO’s SSA Control Centre, “NETRA”, is now set up within the ISTRAC campus at Peenya, Bangalore.
Space Situational Awareness (SSA)
- Space Situational Awareness (SSA) is the science of tracking objects (man-made and natural) that are in orbit and also predicting when they would be at a given point in time.
- So far, only America, Russia and Europe have similar established capabilities in place to track space objects and share collision warnings.
What do the Indian services need?
- Augmented services: The Indian armed services need more than traditional SSA tasks. Given that satellites that orbit the earth provide a range of services that militaries require such as precision in Position, Navigation and Timing (PNT), the SSA requirements for the Indian armed services will need to be augmented.
- Tracking and identification of anti-satellite weapons: Satellites are crucial for communications,missile warning, weather information, imagery and Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR). In addition, an SSA architecture that places an emphasis on tracking and identifying anti-satellite weapons, communications jammers and sensors that can overpower spacecraft with light.
- Strengthened BMC3 architecture: From a military standpoint, all the traditional SSA related tasks must extend to tactical, predictive and intelligence driven SSA that comes under an integrated Battle Management Command, Control, and Communications (BMC3) architecture.
- If an Indian BMC3 is to be effective it will need significantly more SSA sensors that support rapid tasking, processing, exploitation and dissemination across different levels of the chain of command.
- Tactical intelligence will need incorporation into the BMC3 in order to provide timely assessment and identification of threats that can help mitigate them.
- BMC3 requirements involve SSA technologies that include sensors and early warning systems capable of detecting threats and enabling the execution of time sensitive missions.
Is it only ISRO’s responsibility?
- The creation of capabilities that meets the SSA demands of the Indian military will not per say be the responsibility of the ISRO.
- Indeed, that task will have to be undertaken by the newly established Defence Space Research Agency (DSRA).
- The latter’s functional responsibility is to
- provide technical and scientific expertise
- develop assets for the DSA
- The Defence Space Agency (DSA) — a tri-service and parent organisation of the DSRA is responsible for commanding India’s space assets.
- The DSA will have to establish what the three services need.
- More importantly, the DSRA headed by a senior government scientist consisting of technical experts within its ranks is still a nascent organisation as it was set-up only last year.
- It will take a while before its capacities are built up and amidst the current COVID-19 pandemic it is hard to estimate the extent of the progress made during the last year.
- It would be surprising if ISRO, although a civilian space agency has no role to play in providing some guidance to the DSRA.
Issues and challenges
- Slow pace of space policy development: While ISRO and other organisations have exceeded expectations when it comes to the amount of work they have been able to achieve in such a short span of time, barriers exist due to the slow pace of India’s space policy development in comparison to the capabilities of other major players in the space industry.
- Lack of basic infrastructure: From infrastructure such as a test range, to a set of standards which apply to any satellite being launched in India, the country still lacks a lot of the basic infrastructure.
- Un-progressive industry ecosystem: Most players from the industry want the space sector to be opened up like the telecommunications sector and let private players in, as the current ecosystem greatly stifles the growth of the space industry as a whole and dissuades many start-ups and small enterprises from being a part of the satellite industry.
- Investment: India’s principal rival, China has a range of counterspace capabilities that can disable India’s space-based assets dedicated to navigation, communications and intelligence collection. Consequently, the Indian armed services eyes and ears in space and the ground segment of India’s military space programme will suffer if there is no significant investment in SSA that is responsive to the operational requirements of the three services.
- Integration of structure: Further, the Indian military’s Command and Control (C2) structure will need tight integration.
- In addition, the DSA in concert with other space related entities, which have now presumably merged with the DSA such as the Defence Imagery Processing and Analysis Centre (DIPAC) in New Delhi and the Defence Satellite Control Centre (DSCC) in Bhopal will need to be tightly integrated into the communications network of the armed services.
- Comprehensive analysis: The DSA should dedicate itself to conducting a comprehensive analysis of all the technological needs, ISR requirements, procedural changes and operational concepts.
- Augmentation and re-organization: India needs to augment and reorganise its space organisational structure in order for the armed forces to take fuller advantage of the country’s space assets.
While space is a global commons, there are states across the world seeking control and aiming to deny other countries use of space. Space plays an important role in meeting national security needs; however, a balance has to be found between meeting national security challenges and societal needs.
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