India: Militarizing Space with U.S. Help

Source: Foreign Policy in Focus

U.S. President Barack Obama and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh have a meeting scheduled in Delhi on November 8. Certain to be on the agenda is the removal of the last remaining export controls on U.S. dual-use technology and military hardware to India, including technology appropriate for development of space weapons. Since President Obama pledged in 2009 to seek a ban on space weapons, the United States should not be helping other countries develop these weapons, especially in dangerous regions that have nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert. But with the final hurdles of export control removed, Washington could be doing just that for India, with so far little or no objection.

The relationship between the United States and India has been extraordinarily close since 2001. The United States views India as a rising democracy and ally in the fight against radical Islamic fundamentalism. Ten days after 9/11, Washington began to lift sanctions in place against India since its 1998 nuclear tests. Subsequently in 2001 the number of Indian companies on the Commerce Department’s Entity List was reduced to just two from 159.

Additionally, the U.S. licensing policy with India for nuclear- and missile- related technology changed from “policy of denial” to case-by-case review. Since 2006, delegations from the U.S. defense industry, including large numbers of retired high-ranking military officers, have flocked to India to prospect the $32 billion that has been allocated for defense procurement in 2010-11, with $13 billion of that figure set aside for the acquisition of new weapons systems. These defense industry representatives and retired military officials have served as an informal lobbying firm that continues to actively encourage the U.S. government to drop remaining export restrictions on India organizations like the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) and the Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO). In July 2010, the investment firm Deloitte estimated that India will “spend nearly US$80 billion over the next five years on defense related capital expenditure.”

India is using space development as a way to advance a stronger geostrategic position in the region and globally. The U.S. defense industry is facilitating this military expansion with its aggressive move in to South Asian markets to supplement reductions in their Pentagon contracts. The potential long-term ramifications of both moves have been neglected in favor of short-term, understandable, gains. Nevertheless, the U.S. arms control community, by failing to address this dangerous situation, is asleep at the wheel.

India’s “Peaceful” Space Program

India, not surprisingly, says that its space program is for “peaceful” purposes only. The parallels between India’s nuclear program development and its current space program development, however, suggest otherwise. Former Indian President Abdul Kalam was a key developer and explicator of India’s nuclear and missile programs, as well as its current space vision. His definition of “peaceful” provides India considerable latitude. Kalam once stated that, “In the 3,000-year history of India, barring 600 years, the country has been ruled by others. If you need development, the country should witness peace, and peace is ensured by strength. Missiles were developed to strengthen the country.” This philosophy of peace through strength also provides the rationale for developing a wide range of new and emerging space technologies with far-reaching military applications. India considered its nuclear program peaceful right up to and including its 1974 test. Now, India considers its expanding space program peaceful as well. Despite contrary indications, Washington is apparently also willing to do so.

India’s space program dates back to the launching of its first sounding rocket in 1963. Recently, however, the character of the Indian program has changed dramatically from utilitarian to more far-reaching. India is developing capabilities, including human exploration of space and expanded utilization of many dual-use technologies, to enhance its geostrategic position. This dual-use space technology can be used not just for military force enhancement but potentially for space weapons as well. Though most Indian politicians profess that India is not pursuing space weapons, some blur the lines. In February 2007, for example, Indian Defense Minister A.K Antony stated that, “It may be difficult to demarcate distinctly between peaceful and military uses. However, we have always advocated peaceful use of technology. Thus, we are of the view that weaponization of space must be discouraged.”

The Indian military is not so circumspect and in fact at times directly contradicts the politicians. An alarming 2000 report titled “Military Dimensions in the Future of the Indian Presence in Space” caused waves within official circles but drew little international attention, probably due to its lack of availability outside of India. Perhaps most controversial was its suggestion that India could deploy a directed-energy weapon, such as a particle beam weapon, in space by 2010. At the time of publication, the paper’s author, V. Siddhartha, was an officer on special duty in the secretariat of the scientific advisor to the defense minister. The paper is testament to, at the very least, a longstanding interest within the Indian military of deploying not only a space-based laser, but also a kinetic anti-satellite (ASAT) system. Although India clearly has not deployed an ASAT system that utilizes directed energy technology to date, Siddhartha’s forecast of India having the potential to develop an ASAT system still appears officially supported. In January of 2010 Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) Director General V K Saraswat stated at the 97th Indian Science Congress that, "India is putting together building blocks of technology that could be used to neutralize enemy satellites.” All the while Indian officials continue to heavily lobby the United States to remove export restrictions on DRDO and ISRO, with a continuingly favorable reaction from the United States.

Perhaps most clearly and most recently, the Indian ministry of defense published a document that serves as a technological roadmap for the Indian military’s future to the year 2015. This Technology Perspective and Capability Roadmap confirms the pursuit of a formal anti-satellite program, stating “development of ASAT for electronic or physical destruction of satellites in both LEO and GEO-synchronous orbits” as a goal for 2015. Not only is the United States not speaking out against such Indian efforts, it has become more accommodating in providing the technology to accomplish them.

Meanwhile, international attention continues to focus on China’s military space activities and, given China’s overt ASAT test in 2007, rightfully so. But shortly after China’s satellite shoot-down, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and then-Russian President Vladimir Putin convened a joint press conference where Singh declared; “Our position is similar in that we are not in favor of the weaponization of outer space.” This was just one day after then-Indian Air Force (IAF) chief Shashi Tyagi had stated, “As the reach of our air force is expanding, it has become extremely important that we exploit space, and for it you need space assets.” India’s contradictory intentions concerning its space program are hard to miss, yet Washington seems intent on doing so.

U.S. Aerospace Posturing

Much to the U.S. aerospace industry’s dismay, the Obama administration cancelled the rocket and spacecraft construction connected to NASA’s Constellation program and cut back on the perpetually close-to-operationally-functional missile defense program. Aerospace firms stepped up their scouting efforts for new business, with a major focus on India.

In January 2006 the U.S.-India Business Council arranged for the most influential and largest defense-oriented delegation to travel to India to continue brokering the strategic partnership between the two nations. Headed by General (Rtd) Paul H. Kern, who was at the time a senior counselor with former U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen’s Cohen Group, the delegation also included four-star Admiral (Rtd) Walter Doran, the vice president of Navy Accounts for Business Development at Raytheon, and former NASA astronaut Andrew Allen, then vice-president of International Fixed Wing Aircraft at Honeywell Defense and Space. The 31-member delegation represented 22 of the leading defense manufacturers in the United States, including Raytheon, Honeywell, Boeing, Lockheed, General Electric, Northrop Grumman. In 2010 the president and chief executive of Boeing Defense, Space and Security (BDS) Dennis Muilenburg was referring to India as Boeing’s “Jewel in the Crown.”

U.S. manufacturers, worried about their Pentagon contracts, are pushing hard to open the Indian market wider. Boeing is, for instance, offering the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) help with its manned space trip planned for 2016. Export restrictions on ISRO, however, remain in place – though perhaps not so after the November meeting in Delhi. Although ISRO considers itself a NASA counterpart and not part of the military establishment, there too the lines between the two are increasingly blurred. Retired Vice-Admiral Raman Puri, who supervised the Integrated Defense Force and led the coordination of India’s long-range military plans and joint doctrines, has recommended that all “future [space] payloads including civilian space payloads should try to be dual-use” – meaning including military missions. As such, the Indian military could increasingly use ISRO-developed-and-operated satellites. India’s Space Launch Vehicle (SLV) satellite launchers are not drawn from prior missile programs, as were early Russian, U.S., and Chinese launchers. But the Agni missile, first test-fired in 1989, is a two-stage missile with the first stage using the first-stage solid-fuel booster motor of the civilian-developed SLV-3 launch vehicle. The overlap between civilian and military communities is undeniable.

Let’s Make a (Bad) Deal

India’s geostrategic position – as a U.S. ally against Islamic radicalism and a potential market for the U.S. defense industry – has allowed it leeway not afforded to many other countries. Even now, India has enjoyed access to dual-use technology largely denied to countries with similar positions on proliferation, since India has not signed either the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty or the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and has not subscribed to the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR).

Since 2002, India has continued to push the United States for concessions in way few other countries would dare. According to the Times of India,remove top Indian agencies like the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) and the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) from the banned list.” In terms of U.S. foreign policy and exceptionalism, India is to South Asia as Israel is to the Middle East. “India has ‘very firmly’ asked the U.S. to ease export controls and

The United States in the past has wanted India to sign onto the MTCR as quid pro quo for the U.S. dropping restrictions on ISRO. India, however, will likely offer some lesser concession for the removal of the last remaining hurdles to export control. The economic and political forces behind the prospective commerce law changes seem too strong to stop this fast moving train unless attitudes change very quickly.

India and International Law

If the upcoming meetings between Manmohan Singh and President Barak Obama are designed to assist India in its effort to enter into a new era of technological and military prosperity, the United States should require beforehand that India abide by the will of the international community. The international community for the most part has embraced a number of treaties that serve as the backbone of global disarmament and nonproliferation efforts. The United Nations has frequently called on India to embrace the Non-Proliferation Treaty; in fact this has become a perennial practice. India’s status as a non-signatory undermines the treaty as long as New Delhi places itself – on paper - in the company of Tehran and Pyongyang.

That said, India’s reasons for not conforming to the NPT are difficult to discern. While Indian officials say they support full disarmament, they seem unwilling to take even the initially required steps on route to that goal. Calls for India to subscribe to the Missile Technology Control Regime, which has 34 members, have been frequent. Although India claims voluntary “partial adherence” to MTCR guidelines, it is not a member. Even in areas of arms control relating to terrorism – arguably the greatest security threat facing India – India has declined to participate in globally supported initiatives. As of 2010, India even has yet to sign onto the Proliferation Security Initiative to combat the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Given its nuclear history and its exceptional position on arms control – and its desire for dual-use technology usually reserved for countries demonstrating adherence to global arms control norms – India must now accept the responsibilities that come with a more pronounced position in global politics.

The actions of all the players in this drama may well be rational in the short term. But in the long term, the U.S. position of helping India boost its space program is counterproductive. India’s record with dual-use nuclear technology suggests that it is comfortable blurring the line between civilian and military applications. Moreover, U.S. technology given or sold to other countries has sometimes been subsequently used against the United States. Consequently, at least slowing down technology transfer to India would be prudent. Before the November 8 meeting between Obama and Singh, the Obama administration should reevaluate its role of playing matchmaker between U.S. aerospace industries and the Indian military.

Matthew Hoey is the director of the Military Space Transparency Project. Joan Johnson-Freese is a professor at the Naval War College. They are both contributors to Foreign Policy In Focus.