Indian Aerospace Command To Operate Military Satellites

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The importance of satellite information to the success of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq has strengthened India’s resolve to set up an Aerospace Command its Air Force could use to operate dedicated military satellites, a service official said.

India began planning a constellation of high-resolution satellites for tactical military applications after an inquiry into the country’s failure to detect the May 1999 Pakistani intrusion in the Kargil area of Kashmir. The result of that inquiry was a recommendation to improve satellite intelligence-gathering. The recommendation was contained in a 2000 report by K. Subrahmanyam, who was a member of the national security council in the previous National Democratic Alliance government.

The Aerospace Command concept was conceived in 2000, and India’s Air Force officials envision it as the headquarters of space technologies that will help link radar and communications networks and be used for ballistic missile defense and intelligence-gathering, the Air Force official said.

While the concept for the new command is beginning to take shape, several parameters have yet to be worked out, including what kind of budget it will have as well as the amount of authority to spend that budget.

The goal is to have the command be the primary coordinator for linking via satellites and sensors all of India’s military services and — like many of the world’s militaries today — to get information quickly into the hands of their warfighters.

One of the satellites to be under the Aerospace Command umbrella is Cartosat-1, which is due to be launched in April by India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, Defence Ministry, sources said. India also is in talks with Israel on leasing use of the Ofeq-5 military satellite.

Built by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), Cartosat-1 will have a resolution of 2.5 meters — meaning it will be able to detect objects on the ground that are 2.5 meters in diameter and larger. The amount of territory that can be seen in each full Cartosat-1 image is 30 kilometers.

Other indigenous satellite efforts include the Cartosat-2, a 1-meter-resolution spacecraft being developed now for launch next year, and the Risat microwave remote sensing satellite. Risat is scheduled for launch in 2006 and will be capable of taking images through dust and darkness.

India is negotiating with Israel to use the latter’s Ofeq-5 satellite, which can cover an area of 500 kilometers and take high-resolution panchromatic pictures of an area of 12.5 by 12.5 kilometers, at a resolution of 1.8 meters. Ofeq-5 was launched in May 2002 aboard an Israeli Shavit launcher.

A diplomat at the Israeli Embassy here refused to comment on the progress of the talks, and an Indian Defence Ministry official said the subject is classified.

The ministry official also said India has approached the United Kingdom about leasing satellite capabilities. The official added that India is hoping satellite-development help will come from the United States. Washington and New Delhi have been exploring closer ties in space activity for the past couple of years.