As part of its space diplomacy and “Look East” policy, Indian political leadership may not be averse to the idea of making available services of India’s home grown satellite information and positioning system IRNSS (Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System) which has both commercial and strategic potentials. Five satellites of the seven spacecraft IRNSS constellation are already in service. Being a dual use system, a satellite navigation constellation can be harnessed for both civilian and military uses.
The possibility of Vietnam using data from India’s radar imaging satellite, RISAT -1, to monitor the naval movements in South China Sea could be a matter of concern for China.
China, which has made it amply clear that its absolute sovereignty over the resources of the strategically located South China Sea is not open to compromise, has every reason to get perturbed over the Indian sponsored plan to set up a satellite monitoring station along with a satellite data reception centre in Ho Chi Minh city of Vietnam. For this high tech facility, meant to facilitate the application of space technology for a variety of civilian uses, could also give its arch enemy, Vietnam, a head start in tracking “events and developments” of strategic importance in the areas of interest including China and South China Sea on a sustained basis. For the data received from high performance, high resolution earth observation satellites in IRS (Indian Remote Sensing Satellite) constellation being operated by Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) could prove crucial for Vietnam in responding to the Chinese sabre rattling in the disputed South China Sea.
Incidentally, earth observation satellites meant for civilian uses can also be harnessed for surveillance and reconnaissance by the defence forces. For remote sensing and surveillance are considered two faces of the same coin. “In military terms, this move could be quite significant. It looks like a win-win for both sides, filling significant holes for the Vietnamese and expanding the range for the Indians” says Collin Koh, a marine security expert at S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.
The possibility of Vietnam using data from India’s radar imaging satellite, RISAT -1, to monitor the naval movements in South China Sea could be a matter of concern for China. There is no denying the point that data from an active, microwave imaging satellite capable of operating on round the clock basis, even under extremes of atmospheric and environmental conditions, could help Vietnam enhance its situational awareness in the volatile South China Sea region. Of course, ISRO describes RISAT-1 as a civilian space platform meant to enhance India’s earth observation capability with special reference to floods, landslides, cyclones and disaster management. As it is, RISAT-1 data in tandem with the data from the Indian ocean watch satellite, Oceansat-II, could help Vietnam obtain a fairly good picture of the developments in South China sea in a dynamic mode. A the end of the day, for Vietnam, a heightened situational awareness in the turbulent South China Sea would prove to be a veritabl” game changer”
With as many as ten remote sensing spcecraft in service, ISRO operates one of the largest constellations of earth observation satellites in the world.
Interestingly, Department of Space (DOS) Annual Report for 2014-15 makes a reference to the plan for the setting up of a satellite data reception centre in Vietnam. It says, ”India is actively pursuing a proposal with ASEAN comprising Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam to establish a ground station in Vietnam to receive, process and use data from Indian satellites for a variety of applications including disaster management and support and also to provide training in space science, technology and applications.” As part of its international cooperation programme, ISRO has offered to share is experience in utilizing the space technology for socio economic development with ASEAN countries which are also prone to natural disasters.
With as many as ten remote sensing spcecraft in service, ISRO operates one of the largest constellations of earth observation satellites in the world. These satellites carry a range of instruments that offer data in wide ranging spatial, spectral and temporal resolutions to cater to varied requirements. The data from these satellites find application in areas including resources management, environmental monitoring, disaster warning, weather prediction and urban planning as well as infrastructure development.
ISRO will build the satellite tracking and satellite data reception facility at Ho Chi Min with the funds to be made available by the Indian Government. As things stand now, there is no clarity as to when the facility will be commissioned. India’s current satellite tracking network – outside the country – comprises ground stations, at Brunei, Blak in Indonesia and Mauritius. These facilities help ISRO track and monitor the Indian satellites launched from Sriharikota spaceport on India’s eastern coast. And the upcoming Vietnamese facility will further enhance the Indian capability for post launch tracking and monitoring of satellites.
…the Chinese political leadership in Beijing views the plan for Indian sponsored space facility in Ho Chi Min city as a ”clear cut attempt to stir up trouble in the disputed South China Sea”.
In fact, the Chinese political leadership in Beijing views the plan for Indian sponsored space facility in Ho Chi Min city as a ”clear cut attempt to stir up trouble in the disputed South China Sea”. A report appearing in the state controlled English language newspaper, Global Times, quoting a Chinese social science researcher, noted that the satellite ground facility at Ho Chi Min city is an “indication of the attempt by New Delhi to complicate the regional dispute”. As it is, the Global Times report captioned, “Countries outside region play up test flights in South China Sea” quoted GuXiaosong, a researcher at the Guangxi Academy of Social Sciences at Nanning, as saying “India has no territorial dispute with China in the South China Sea. It wants to stir up trouble in the region to serve its own ends, which is to counter balance the Chinese influence.”
As part of its space diplomacy and “Look East” policy, Indian political leadership may not be averse to the idea of making available services of India’s home grown satellite information and positioning system IRNSS (Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System) which has both commercial and strategic potentials. Five satellites of the seven spacecraft IRNSS constellation are already in service. Being a dual use system, a satellite navigation constellation can be harnessed for both civilian and military uses. The civilian uses of IRNSS include supporting mobile communications services, enhancing the efficiency and safety of transport sector including aircraft, ships and vehicles on the road, mapping, surveying, road alignment calculation, mining and power generation sectors as well as precision farming.
For the defence forces, a satellite navigation system is an ideal device for position location, guiding military patrols in unfamiliar territory and identifying vital targets of the adversaries. Indeed, an uninterrupted access to satellite navigation capability has become indispensable for the aircraft, warships and ground forces to get a head start in the battlefield. As it is, during India’s 1999 Kargil conflict with Pakistan, Indian patrols operating in the rugged and difficult to negotiate terrain along the line of control initially strayed into enemy held territory with disastrous consequences. However the availability of devices to access navigation services proved to be invaluable for the special forces and crack teams engaged in identifying targets and destroying enemy installations.
Vietnam has also found India to be a reliable trade partner. For instance, despite the Chinese threat, ONGC Videsh Ltd (OVL), the overseas arm of India’s state owned ONGC, has decided not to exit Vietnamese oil block in South China Sea region.
For obvious reasons, Vietnam has strengthened its ties with India with a particular focus on trade and defence. Incidentally, way back in 1979 China and Vietnam had fought a brief but bloody border war. In order to deter China from once again unleashing a blitzkrieg, Vietnam has expressed its keenness to buy BrahMos Supersonic cruise missile, described as the ultimate weapon from the New Delhi based Indo Russian joint venture BrahMos Aerospace. But then the sale of BrahMos to Vietnam would need to be cleared by Russia which, as things stand now, may not like to offend Beijing on account of geopolitical factors.
Vietnam has also found India to be a reliable trade partner. For instance, despite the Chinese threat, ONGC Videsh Ltd (OVL), the overseas arm of India’s state owned Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC), has decided not to exit Vietnamese oil block in South China Sea region. OVL has decided to seek a third extension of the exploration lease for Block 128 to sustain India’s strategic interest in South China Sea. Beijing had not long back warned OVL that its exploration activities off the Vietnamese coast were illegal and constituted a violation of China’s sovereignty over South China sea.
China, which claims exclusive and absolute rights over the South China Sea, is in dispute with its maritime neighbours—Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam, Philippines and Taiwan. Against this backdrop, India has strongly advocated in favour of freedom of maritime traffic and over flights in the South China Sea region. Of course, New Delhi is clear that the escalating dispute in the South China sea region should be settled amicably and peacefully and within the framework of international agreements including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). On his part, US Secretary of State John Kerry during his late January 2016 visit to Beijing had called on China to decrease the tensions over the disputed parts of South China Sea.
In a brazen show of its determination to appropriate the resources in the South China Sea region, China in early 2016 had landed two more civilian aircraft on an artificial island it had not long back carved out in the contested part of the South China region. A few days prior to this, China had accomplished the first successful landing of its first civilian aircraft, attracting worldwide condemnation. In particular Vietnam had accused Beijing of the “serious infringement of its sovereignty.”
The Chinese neighbours are worried a lot over China hiking its military spending by 10% in its defence budget for 2015-16. A large part of this would go towards beefing up its navy with a thrust on anti submarine ships and developing aircraft carriers.
The South China Sea, which is rich in natural resources including oil and gas, also happens to be a strategic shipping lane accounting as it does for well over half of the world’s commercial shipping. Chinese neighbours who are claimants to the South China Sea resources have accused this Communist giant of illegal reclamation of land in the disputed areas to create artificial islands equipped with facilities that could be exploited for boosting Chinese strategic and military objectives.
Significantly, an article featured sometime back in the state run People’s Daily had observed that South China Sea islands had been China’s territory since ancient times and successive Chinese governments had reinforced their jurisdictional authority over the islands in the South China Sea. Against this backdrop during his March 2015 Mauritius visit, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had made a fervent plea for the peaceful resolution of maritime issues and respect for international maritime rules. This statement assumes significance in the light of China trying to monopolize the resources of South China Sea.
To strengthen its power projection in the oceanic stretches in its immediate neighbourhood, China recently joined hands with Russia to carry out joint naval exercises in the Sea of Japan. According to Chinese Defence Ministry, these exercises were meant to “bolster the comprehensive strategic cooperation and partnership between Russia and China and to increase the military capabilities of both the countries to counter maritime threat”. The Chinese neighbours are worried a lot over China hiking its military spending by 10% in its defence budget for 2015-16. A large part of this would go towards beefing up its navy with a thrust on anti submarine ships and developing aircraft carriers.
In the context of the South China Sea dispute assuming a serious dimension, China has projected an assertive military strategy focussed on enhancing its naval reach for the first time to ”open area protection” far beyond its shores. A detailed Chinese White Paper warns about the threat from “belligerent neighbours” keen on “appropriating the resources of South China Sea.”