The Indian government plans to create an aerospace command that would have responsibility both for protecting the nation’s space capabilities and bringing them to bear in military operations, according to current and former defense officials here.

Details of the aerospace command plan remain to be worked out, but using space as a staging area for offensive operations is not under consideration at this time, these officials said.

During an Oct. 6 press conference in New Delhi , Indian Air Chief Marshal Shashindra Pal Tyagi said an aerospace command will be set up, but that the form it will take remains to be determined.

In a telephone interview. Mahesh Upsani, a spokesman for the Indian Air Force, said the relationships between the new command and the Indian army, navy and the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) are still being worked out. A complicating factor in the discussions, he said, are questions among the various ministries that would be involved about the “placement” of their resources, he said.

“Once this exercise is over, the government has asked us to give a presentation,” Upsani said. He said formal budgetary approval is expected in “two to three months.”

V. Siddhartha a former senior official in India’s Defense Research Development Organi sation, laid some of the groundwork for the aerospace command in a 2000 report dubbed “Military Dimensions in the Future of the Indian Presence in Space .” In an Oct. 19 interview, Siddhartha said the government would not necessarily create an organization under the bureaucratic control of the air force, as originally proposed. Instead, he said, the plan might be to form an independent entity whose job would be to use space assets to increase the effectiveness of India’s fighting forces.

“It is possible to conceive a system that is not run by air force at all,” Siddhartha said. A key goal of the command would be to “deny enemies access to space capabilities while you use your space assets to support fighting forces in the air and on the ground,” he said. Denial could be achieved by such means as radio-jamming devices, he said.

In an article published in the February 2005 issue of India’s Security Research Review , former Air Chief Marshal Yashwant Tipnis outlined a similar vision of the role of space assets in modern warfare. “In both its acquisition and denial forms, space will have a determining influence on the battlefields of land, sea, air and space,” he wrote.

Prahaladha , who heads India’s missile development program here , told Space News Oct. 17 that the aerospace command will be concerned mainly with surveillance, reconnaissance and communications. He said he was not aware of any plan to integrate surveillance satellites and communications systems to detect and intercept ballistic missiles.

However, U.S. officials have provided classified briefings to Indian defense officials about the Patriot Advanced Capability 3 missile, which can be used against incoming missiles.

ISRO has deployed fleets of satellites for collecting imagery, communications and weather monitoring. Protecting these systems is a key rationale for creating an aerospace command, Upasni said, although he said he did not know exactly what measures might be taken to that end.

While its perceived role is mostly passive, the aerospace command could play an active role if Indian satellites are threatened, said Siddhartha. “The Chinese have a system right now consisting of very small satellites with explosives on them that can maneuver in space and attack a bigger satellite in a suicide mission,” Siddhartha said. “All our remote sensing satellites are vulnerable to such an attack. If Insat satellites are attacked, the civilian as well as military communication capability will be lost.”

The Chinese embassy in Washington did not respond by press time to a request for comment.

Sources said India has been working on directed-energy weapons, including lasers, that might be used to counter such a threat.

Creation of an Indian aerospace command has the backing of the parliamentary committee on defense. In its last report in 2004, the committee asked the government to go ahead and set up the command “to tap the potential of space technology in a futuristic war scenario.”

Tipnis, the former air chief marshal, said the ” military linkup with ISRO has to be accelerated and a memorandum of understanding formulated for joint ventures.”

S. Krishnamurthy, a spokesman for ISRO, said the organization has not received any details about the proposed aerospace command and thus cannot comment about its role at this time. Officially, ISRO is a 100-percent civilian agency. But scientists, who asked not to be named, said ISRO’s Technology Experiment Satellite, launched in 2001, was meant to validate technologies for future dedicated military satellites. The 1-meter-resolution imagery collected by the satellite is used exclusively by the defense services, they say, adding that once the aerospace command gets government sanction, ISRO may be asked to build and launch a dedicated satellite for the military.

Based in Bangalore, Killugudi S. Jayaraman holds a doctorate in nuclear physics from the University of Maryland and a master's degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. He was formerly science editor of the...