Friday, June 20, 2008

Arms Race Update - Space in India's Crosshairs

The Chinese-Indian arms race is one of the least mentioned but most interesting now underway (yes there are a few others).

The world's two most populous states have been pursuing military co-operation even as they stoke the boilers of military rivalry. There's a great naval race underway with both countries eager to deploy true "blue water" naval muscle to secure their sea lane access to the Persian Gulf and the oil that serves as the lifeblood of their economic miracles. Washington is actively courting India to assist it in containing China.

It's Chinese advances in space, however, that now have India's military worried. China has already achieved manned space flight and has developed proven anti-satellite missiles. From The Times:

"General Deepak Kapoor, India’s Chief of Army Staff, has spoken publicly for the first time of his fears about China’s military space programme and the need for India to accelerate its own.

“The Chinese space programme is expanding at an exponentially rapid pace in both offensive and defensive content,” he told a conference attended by India’s military top brass this week. “The Indian Army’s agenda for exploitation of space will have to evolve dynamically. It should be our endeavour to optimise space applications for military purposes.”

Beijing’s space programme is already several years ahead of Delhi’s: China sent its first man into space in 2003, the third country to do so after the Soviet Union and the US. The Indian Space Research Organisation said last year that it aimed to send a manned mission to the Moon by 2020 — four years before China — but did not plan to send its first astronauts into orbit until 2014.

What really shocked India was China's shooting down of one of its own weather satellites in January last year — again placing it alongside Russia and the United States as the only countries capable of such a feat. By comparison, India does not yet have a single dedicated military satellite, relying instead on the dual-use telecommunications satellites for surveillance and reconnaissance.

One of the military’s priorities is to match the technology China used to shoot down its satellite with a ballistic missile about 860km (535 miles) above the Earth’s surface. Abdul Kalam, a former President of India and missile engineer, said in February that India already had the capability to “intercept and destroy any spatial object or debris in a radius of 200km”.

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