In an extraordinary feat, India has carved its name into the celestial record books by achieving a remarkable milestone – the successful landing of Chandrayaan-3 on the moon’s south pole. This achievement not only places India among the exclusive club of lunar explorers but also makes it a pioneer nation to conquer the moon’s south pole.
The mission’s success can be attributed to accomplishing its key objectives, including a soft lunar landing, rover deployment, and on-site scientific experiments. This achievement gains added significance when contrasted with the Russian Luna-25 mission’s crash at the moon’s south pole. This stark comparison highlights the remarkable strides of India’s space program, particularly considering Russia’s historical prowess in space exploration.
India has also joined hands with the United States in the pioneering Artemis Accords, an innovative initiative aiming to extend human presence on the Moon. This strategic collaboration is a significant stride towards NASA’s ambitious goal of establishing a human settlement on the lunar surface.
While these accords lay out a non-binding framework for space exploration, India’s participation speaks volumes about the growing partnership between the two nations. It is highlighted by the fact that the Artemis program places particular emphasis on exploring the Moon’s South Pole – a goal that positively resonates with India’s successful Chandrayaan-3 mission.
Extension from civilian to defense capabilities
There has been a historic overlap between Indian civilian space program and reuse of foreign technologies for defense purposes. India and NASA have collaborated on the development of Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) technology for Earth observation satellites. This collaboration has helped India acquire advanced SAR technology, which has both civilian and military applications, including surveillance and reconnaissance. India and NASA have signed agreements for the sharing of Earth observation data.
This collaboration has allowed India to access high-resolution satellite imagery and other data, which can be used for various defense applications, including border surveillance and monitoring of military installations. NASA has also provided training and capacity-building support to Indian scientists and engineers in the past. This collaboration has helped in enhancing India’s technical expertise in space technology, which can be applied to both civilian and defense programs.
In April 2023, the U.S. Department of State’s Export Control and Border Security (EXBS) and the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) hosted a U.S.-India Space Technology Industry Workshop on Export Controls. The objective of this workshop was to build the capacity of Indian firms venturing into space exploration towards the export control and technology transfer processes of the United States to enhance the collaboration between U.S. and Indian entities, both official and private, to expand India’s commercial and defense cooperative engagement in the space sector.
Although all space technologies are inherently dual-use, there is an explicit cooperation between India and the United States on the security dimension of space as well. For instance, in the Space Situational Awareness (SSA) domain, the Network for Space Object Tracking and Analysis (NETRA) set up in Bengaluru in 2020 by ISRO and the United States’ Combined Space Operation Center (CSpOC) aims at protecting the Indian and U.S space assets from all kind of threats.
Implications for South Asian security dynamics
While the Indo-U.S. collaboration is fueled by the collective response to the priority one challenge of the United States to counter China, its implications for South Asian security are far-reaching. This collaboration undoubtedly magnifies India’s technological advancements in the realm of space, which already eclipse those of Pakistan. It has the potential to significantly impact the security imbalance in the region.
Given the protracted animosity between India and Pakistan, the developments arising from the Indo-U.S. partnership could have profound implications. India’s sophisticated space capabilities, including Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) capacities and robust communication systems, could disrupt the delicate balance.
The presence of space-based ISR capabilities, along with a Ballistic Missile Defense system reliant on satellites for early launch detection, might embolden India towards pre-emptive first strike against Pakistan’s nuclear assets. In a scenario where Pakistan’s space endeavors remain limited with no immediate signs of progress, the expanding Indo-U.S. space collaboration would disturb the equilibrium and compromise South Asian security.
As India continues its journey through space, it should be careful about the effects of its actions. In a world that is dominated by offensive and defensive realism, there’s a high chance Pakistan might interpret these advancements as posing a threat to its national security.