Military & Aerospace

India: An Aerospace Power?
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Issue Vol. 30.3 Jul-Sep 2015 | Date : 01 Aug , 2017

Akash SAM on T-72

Hence in order to maintain primacy in the comity of nations in the international arena, nations have taken a conscious decision to become an aerospace power rather than remain content from being a formidable air power. The primary constituents/capability of an aerospace power could be broadly termed as:

  • Proven Launch Vehicle/s.
  • Outstanding expertise in Satellite Fabrication.
  • Development of Electro-optical Sensors.
  • Sustainable and Consistent rate of Satellite Production.
  • Development of Reusable Launch Vehicles.
  • Miniature Warheads: Conventional and Nuclear.
  • Advanced Metallurgy.
  • Ground Infra-structure such as monitoring/tracking stations.
  • Advanced Ground Testing Facilities.
  • Launch Pads.
  • Suitable Parking Slot/s for Geo-stationary Satellites.
  • Operationally Deployed BMEWS/BMD Systems.
  • Anti-satellite (ASAT) Weapons.

At this stage, it would be pertinent to clarify that possession of launch vehicles, indigenous or imported and warheads alone does not qualify a nation to become an aerospace power. Indeed, the launch vehicle and warheads are two of the prime constituents of an aerospace power, but merely their presence not supported by capabilities listed above, does not make them an aerospace power. Pakistan and North Korea would then be termed as aerospace powers.

Anti-missile weapon systems will require extensive and highly advanced tracking infra-structure spread all over the world…

Defence Against Missile Attack

Ballistic missile threat has become the most feared situation in the event of hostilities. Thus along with the development of strike capability by using ballistic missiles, nations have embarked on systems that would protect against a ballistic missile threat. Hence nations have concentrated on developing Ballistic Missile Early Warning Systems (BMEWS) and a protective shield, the Ballistic Missile Defence Systems (BMDS). Efficacy of each of these will now be highlighted.

The famous US project codenamed ‘Star Wars’ was developed during the height of the Cold War. Operational capability/effectiveness of this system can at best be a matter of conjecture even as on date. The proposed European Ballistic Missile Shield to protect against Ballistic Missile attacks is the latest system under development at a cost of billions of dollars. BMEWS and BMDS, irrespective of their origin, have never been tested under operational conditions. Hence the degree of reliability claimed by systems manufacturers cannot be trusted.

What should ring alarm bells amongst the protagonists of BMEW/BMD is a recent update by Pentagon, wherein operational efficacy of THAAD, Aegis and Patriot Systems has been questioned. All tests involving destruction of an incoming ballistic missile threat by different nations have been conducted in highly controlled environment, in which vital parameters of the ‘enemy’ ballistic missile such as launch window and likely trajectory, were already known. This will not be the case in an actual war scenario. To elaborate further without going into technological details, a ballistic missile threat can be neutralised only and only if the exact launch window, trajectory and probable target, are known. In an actual war scenario, the launch window will never be known.

Suffice it to say that neither the existing BMEW/BMD systems nor the systems likely to be developed in the foreseeable future could be termed as foolproof that would provide assured protection against an incoming ballistic missile. Lessons learnt from anti-aircraft missiles (Air-to-Air and Surface to Air Missiles) is that the kill capability would suffice to prove the likely effectiveness of the BMD system/s for a successful intercept of an incoming ballistic missile with extremely small radar signature. Guaranteed protection is a far cry.

A key component of aerospace power is the development of drone technology, both for surveillance and attack purposes…

ICBMs deployed all over the world carry multiple warheads along with dummies that behave in exactly the same manner as a live warhead. There is no technology available to differentiate between the two. Further it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to guarantee intercept during the ballistic phase, when radar signatures are feeble. A ballistic missile has most prominent heat signature during launch phase; but the window of intercept during this phase is extremely narrow. Even if it was to be assumed that the missile shield will provide 100 per cent guarantee of successful intercept, the fact remains that the warhead will explode and cause radioactivity to spread not necessarily over the intended target. Exo-atmospheric interception would remain a better option as compared with endo-atmospheric intercept either during launch or re-entry phase.

Utopian thoughts of making the world free of nuclear weapons will remain a distant dream. Nuclear tipped missiles will continue to remain on top of the list of most devastating weapon systems against which there is and will be no assured protection. The launch vehicle capability will decide the distance to which the warhead could be hurled.

The Need to Reevaluate Policy Imperatives

Possibility of an armed conflict between nations is slowly but surely receding. Unfortunately, however, there is no cause for mankind to rejoice because a far more dangerous and unpredictable power in form of radicals is emerging all over the world. These groups have no international boundaries as exists between nations. Alignment of such extremist groups with rogue nations can translate into violence of gigantic proportions. If such extremist elements/organisations could get hold of a nuclear tipped ballistic missile system and/or sufficient quantities of fissile material from rogue nations having launch platforms and warheads, threat of nuclear tipped missile launch cannot be ruled out. No military strategist can even hazard a guess or predict the intended time and target for such cases. An organisation like the ISIS, which burns and beheads human beings with impunity, can or will resort to such actions without doubt.

In the prevailing geo-political scenario, India as an aerospace power should not only develop the above stated capabilities but also may have to re-examine the “No First Use” policy with respect to the use of nuclear weapons against a rogue nation/group. A rogue nation and/or group must be conveyed that should our national interests be threatened, we will not hesitate in carrying out a pre-emptive nuclear strike. Such a resolve or policy would be a far better deterrent and protect our national interests rather than a ballistic missile shield. The age-old principle of “threat in being” neutralised by “forces in being” is not applicable in the case of rogue nations/groups.

R&D has been our weakest link in overall national development…

Our stated policy of non-alignment has kept us out of any military alliance such as NATO and Warsaw Pact. However, in reality, we have had to concede ground to nations from which we import military hardware. In order to remain truly non-aligned, a nation must be nearly self sufficient with respect to security issues. Unfortunately, our myopic leadership and flawed acquisition and indigenous manufacturing policies over the years have made the Indian military entirely dependent on imported hardware. Nearly 80 per cent of our military hardware is of Russian origin. Even the ammunition/missiles/bombs/PGMs are re-imported. In the recent years, our shift to other nations such as France, Israel and USA has not been taken very kindly by the Russians. India continues to occupy the top position as the biggest importer of military hardware.

In the strictest sense, our non-aligned status remains on paper. The truth and harsh fact is that for our security needs, we are and will continue to remain dependent on nations from which military hardware is imported such as Russia, USA, France and Israel. Selling of arms is the top money earner for any nation. Our position as arms exporter is perhaps at the bottom of the list, primarily because our inefficient and poorly managed defence industry. Fortunately, our diplomacy has been able to sustain our military posturing in the region. We, however, continue to remain at the “mercy” of military hardware exporting nations because of long term dependence on the exporting nation. In spite of being an import oriented air power, a recent study published places the IAF seventh amongst top ten air powers in the world.

The Way Forward

Creating, maintaining, sustaining and finally deploying the military assets define national power. The overall power of a nation can be sub-divided/classified as under:

  • Military Power
  • Economic Power
  • Soft Power

Achieving top military/economic power status by India, even in Asia would be a difficult, if not impossible. However current economic growth and future projections as per IMF, our economy might double by 2020. To sustain unbridled national growth in all spheres, we must be ‘militarily’ strong. That can be achieved if we focus on attaining a top Soft Power status, which is possible.

It would neither be prudent nor technologically possible to bridge the yawning technological and manufacturing capability gap in the field of shipping, aeroplanes and weapons. The only option we have is to expand in the field of our strength, which are satellite manufacturing and launch vehicle design and production. We can safely move into the top echelons of aerospace powers by manufacturing and demonstrating that not only can we fabricate satellites embedded with suitable sensors for national applications but also have the satellite neutralisation/destruction capability. Wasting time, effort and money in indigenous manufacture/imports to acquire BMEW/BMD systems will be counterproductive.

The world today has become increasingly dependent on transponders embedded in satellites. Destroying few important functional satellites can virtually ‘blind’ the nation to which those satellites belong. Deployed satellites are in different parking slots allotted to each nation in case of geo-stationary satellites. Others are in geo-synchronous orbit around the earth and many more in the Molniya orbit. Thus, orbit parameters of most of the satellites in orbit are known to everyone.

We must adopt a fundamentally different approach in acquiring aerospace power status. Firstly, we must aim to achieve fabrication of satellites embedded with sensors required for national development thus becoming a prominent soft power. Currently transponders numbering around 200 are installed in various satellites of Indian origin. We need to increase this number to around 500 by 2020. Secondly, in order to maintain a viable, effective and strong deterrent we should focus on satellite destruction capability of our adversaries, if and when the need arises. We can accomplish this within our existing technological capability envelope. Nations are developing missiles to destroy satellites. Few nations have attempted it but success rate is unlikely to be high or guaranteed.

The position of all satellites in their respective orbits is known. As a concept, if a nation desires to destroy the satellite of her adversary, placing an explosive laden satellite in close proximity of intended target satellite and exploding it would cripple the target satellite. Geo-stationary and geo-synchronous satellites could be engaged with relative ease as compared to satellites in Molniya orbit. Engaging a satellite in Molniya orbit at/or near the perigee might be relatively more difficult than engaging it at the apogee, when target satellite would be at the slowest speed in its orbit. Satellite destruction capability would have an adverse fall out as well. It will give rise to uncontrollable space debris, which would remain in orbit for years. Anti-satellite weapon development, viable economically and technically, therefore, is a distinct possibility and should be explored.

Anti-missile weapon systems will require extensive and highly advanced tracking infra-structure spread all over the world. Still guarantee for successful intercept cannot be assumed because each strike missile will have a different trajectory. Even if a small portion of the missile trajectory falls in no radar coverage area, chances of intercept would virtually be nil. However, in case of anti-satellite system no such dilemma exists because satellite orbits are known since these are pre-designated.

Most nations, India included, which are involved in the development of BMEW/BMD systems are actually influenced by US infatuation with Ballistic Missile Defence Shield and incurring huge expenditure in procuring a non-functional and unreliable system. In order to influence other nations US strategists have successfully embarked on linking Nuclear Deterrence and Ballistic Missile Shield and have succeeded. An objective analysis would reveal that the development programme of Ballistic Missile Defence Systems was in fact a planned “Economic Weapon” against the erstwhile USSR to bleed it economically. Indeed, the US succeeded in its plan beyond its wildest imagination. Each nation, individually as well as in a group, is spending (read wasting) huge amounts of money in developing a system that is bound to underperform under operational conditions. In a make-believe world of ballistic missile defence systems, new technologies and systems are being sold to less than informed nations. All known/proclaimed ballistic missile defence systems are highly localised and their effectiveness against supersonic missiles with extremely small radar cross section, is highly questionable notwithstanding various test results under controlled conditions.

A key component of aerospace power is the development of drone technology, both for surveillance and attack purposes. Our progress in this field has been tardy. Extensive and deliberate effort in R&D to develop high quality/capability drones must become one of our top priorities. Budgetary support for R&D merits a total overhaul in our thinking so far. DRDO is assumed to be the sole proprietor of R&D. In order to retain our top class engineers from IITs, we must offer them better R&D facilities than the USA does to reduce or prevent ‘brain drain’. At least one per cent of the GDP must be allocated for R&D in diverse fields. R&D has been our weakest link in overall national development. While our software engineers rule the world, we have virtually nothing to show in the domain of hardware. We cannot, should not and must not subjugate ourselves voluntarily to wear a tag of a ‘Data Entry’ nation. Unless we change our outlook towards investment in R&D, we as a nation would never become the global power that we can become.


For all or some of the above suggestions to fructify, we have to alter our thinking radically. Aerospace power is not to be assumed as an extension of air power. In fact, air power is one of the several constituents of aerospace power. In the short term, the strike element of air power will continue to remain a formidable and most preferred option in the event almost instantaneous pre-emptive/retaliatory strike is required against an adversary. In the long term, aerospace power can be used to strike a telling blow by destroying satellites belonging to adversary. During peacetime, aerospace power would contribute significantly to overall growth of the nation. Every component of aerospace power listed above has a definite function towards making us a potent soft power. 

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3 thoughts on “India: An Aerospace Power?

  1. As noticed in the article, the bureaucracy led system has actually rendered the entire defence preparedness to become acquisition driven rather than driven by indigenous R&D and production. A corrupt political system that benefited from imports also played its part. The example of HF-24 fighter is pertinent but the author has forgot to mention that this aeroplane was actually killed to make way for the British Jaguars in the late 70s immediately after Janata government came to power and the then Defence Minister, an erstwhile Congressman, quietly pocketed the spoils.
    Deep divide as to which service would gain supremacy has ensured that the Babus in the MoD retain the real power. This when there is no reservation in Defence services and the best available amongst the youth go for these . The mettle of our Officers and Men has been tested time and again wherein even with relatively inferior equipment Indian armed forces have managed to win three Wars against Pak and have contained China.
    Napoleon once famously said that men are ruled with toys. Modern day toys are distributed, to Armed Forces personnel, in the form of medals and commendations which are routinely given both for the display of courage and display of extreme subservience. A Citation for VSM to Naval Officer (which went viral on social media a few months back) proves the point. What examples are we setting when a person who loses a limb or his life is treated at par with someone who only supervises improvement in accommodation and sports facilities that too for Senior Officers and Ministers.
    Present dispensation can show its commitment to defence reforms not only by procuring better weapons but ensuring better growth prospects to serving Officers and Men. Here also two Institutions namely RIMC and NDA rule the roost even though other direct entry personnel enter through competition that is equally tough. Old boys club in this case has done more damage and alienated many talented persons.

  2. To consider India as any kind of power other than, perhaps, as a Nation that constitutionally and otherwise practices slow and regulated suicide as a Nation, would stretch the truth. Even by Periyar-Ambedkar-Nehru-Gandhi-Imported Religions-Communist (PANGOLIN) standards.

    India is hostage to India’s grotesque Constitution that uplifts some at the expense of others in line with the British “Divide to rule” and ” Keep the Indians subservient” Government of India Act (1935) from which it was plagiarized. This condemned India to a perpetual state of civil war that sent India’s best as refugees to developed countries where they created technologies, weapons and other products that India now imports.

    From a Great Power in 1957, well ahead of Japan, Singapore and most of Europe, that declined the well deserved invitation to be a Permanent Member of the UN Security Council in favour of China after enforcing the truce in Korea between the US and China and establishing the peace in East Africa and North Africa, India is now (UNDP 2015), below Sub Saharan Africa at 135 out of 172 countries in Human and Social Development and 143 out of 172 countries in internal Peace and Stability.

    The Indian Economy has always done well for some. Those undeserving but “uplifted” by India’s Constitution, laws, and courts as “to the manor born” thanks to their Karnan, Vipula and Khobragade like Birth Certificates and members of the Politician-Bureaucrat-Judge-Police-Journalist-Crony Kleptocracy.

  3. Criticism of policies forty or fifty years back is not helpful. But you may question failures and bureaucratic mess in last ten years.

    One thing you forget, India had a bad foreign policy from 1947 onwards, that resulted in extreme shortage of cash. Chinese were able to modify, readjust and make friends again with America after fighting a vicious war in which 28,000 Americans died in Koea. It resulted in infusion of cash at the rate of $100 billion a year for 30 years. They allowed America to build their factories and use the export cash to build military industry.

    India could never readjust its foreign policy and reorient its economic policies even if Soviet Union began their collapse in mid eighties. Nobody was investing in India and India had no cash at its disposal which could be spent on defence industry. Until two years back, a very stubborn but honest man was at the head of defence department. He had no influence anywhere. The PM was a puppet of ruling party who were highly corrupt. Hence defence purchases were to be used to pocket commission, but without making a dramatic change in defence preparedness.

    All these jokers were thrown out two years back, a new thinking on foreign policy, economic policy and defence preparedness began. Still there is no cash, hence make in India policy was enunciated and highly expensive Rafale jet purchase, 129 of these were scaled back to 36-39. Capital saved will be put into make in India defence hardware.

    Immediately, orders for artillery, fighter jets, other defence hardware were to be placed, if there is a possibility to make it India. Foreign hardware suppliers, initially lukewarm, began showing interest. Even the lacklustre DRDO began to show progress which had been missing for thirty – forty years. Even the hard nosed IAF and Army began to show interest in local production. Now a volt face by Airforce will buy 120 of LCA, after so called modifications. Even army will buy locally made artillery guns.

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