Technology has an ever-changing face and the use of it has always been cautioned. Since 1960’s, the global commons, Space, has seen increased militarization and efforts for its weaponization as the technology progressed and fast changing geopolitical circumstances demanded, thereby effectively clubbing defense and space technologies. Although, the Cold War ended, the importance of the space arena still prevails as the fourth dimension of warfare and militaries across the world evolved doctrines for the effective command and control, dominance and denial (to the adversary) of outer space. The strategic technologies are a by-product of missile and space technologies that have given a nation-state the ability to fight a network-centric warfare with space assets forming crucial link.


i. Kinetic Kill Vehicles (KKV)

China on 11 January 2007 launched a direct ascent DF-21 Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile (IRBM), a solid propellant two stage missile as a kinetic kill vehicle and hit its own Feng Yun 1C meteorological satellite[1]. The US immediately reciprocated by Operation Burnt Frost in 2008, where a Standard Missile 3 (SM-3) was launched from the guided missile cruiser USS Lake Erie that intercepted and destroyed USA-193[2]. These ASAT tests are not new and are well connected to the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) programs of respective countries. In 2002, the US unilaterally withdrew from its ABM treaty with the USSR signed in 1972 that effectively limited the number of anti-ballistic missiles fielded against each other, which also meant a ban on space weapons as the distinction between advanced ASAT and Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) technologies is negligible. Although a group of experts agree that China miscalculated the international reaction to its test, the key message that has to be delivered to the US is about a challenge to its pre-dominance in space and a warning in the event of an intervention over the Taiwan issue[3]. Others argued that China was concerned about the US space-based BMD effectively negating its nuclear deterrence capabilities forcing it to rely on an inexpensive set of asymmetric capabilities[4].


Its neighbor, India, took stock of this development and an immediate reaction is seen as the former Indian Air Chief Marshall Pradeep Naik said “Our satellites are vulnerable to ASAT weapon systems because our neighborhood possesses one”[5], but the assurance of building such a system came from the former Director General of Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) Dr. V.K. Saraswat, who commented during the first test flight of Agni-V in 2012 that “apart from adding a new dimension to our strategic defense, it has ushered in fantastic opportunities in building ASAT weapons and launching mini/micro satellites on demand”[6]. During India’s BMD test in November 2006, the missile intercept is reportedly occurred outside the Earth’s atmosphere terming it as an exoatmospheric kill[7] which can be seen as mimicking an ASAT test. Therefore, it is inevitable that India, like the proven ASAT technology states, shall also borrow elements from its BMD system if it ever decides to prove that capability. It does have the technical background but faring politically in the international arena after such a test would be difficult even after a thaw in the Indo-US relations. Therefore, will India, an advocate of world peace with a strictly civilian-mandated space agency, ever perform such tests which could be seen as legitimizing these weapons and prompting other nations also to pursue them? This dilemma is perhaps best captured in the statement of former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal that “India perceives itself as a victim of geopolitics rather than an actor who provokes negative reaction”[8]


ii. Directed Energy Weapons

The Directed Energy Weapons (DEW) capable of generating and directing high power lasers and radio waves, whose bursts of energy travel at the speed of light, can be used for either jamming purposes or punch a hole through the soft spots of the satellite effectively frying the circuits. While laser systems have to grapple with tracking and illumination issues because of the narrow beam focus, radio waves because of their dispersion pattern finds it hard to focus the energy. More than the technical problems, weather patterns such as changes in temperature, pressure, moisture etc. greatly affects the properties of the beam. China invested in developing Free Electron Laser (FEL) alongside High Powered Microwave (HPM) system in 1985 and it reportedly blinded US reconnaissance satellites on several occasions as they passed over the Chinese airspace in August of 2006[9]. India was able to establish its core competence and basic infrastructure that would be tailored to the needs of India’s strategic community and no procrastination is to be allowed on the path to developing operational systems. One of the critical defense technologies DRDO can acquire through offsets is for generating high power lasers[10] and as observed in the KKV section, India might test these systems as part of its BMD and later extend to space.


iii. Rapid Deployment Technologies

The call to replace conventional launch vehicles with adaptive technologies has gained pitch in the recent decades culminating in the development of small scale shuttle-type launchers which can take-off, orbit and land on any of the airstrips like a commercial airplane. This technology will allow a country either to quickly replace the lost spacecraft and fill in the gap or rapidly deploy adverse components in case of an escalation.


The United States’ X-37 B Orbital Test Vehicle on its third technology demonstration mission for over a year now is testing reliable and reusable unmanned platform to satisfy rapid deployment requirements of the US[11]. The long duration endurance of this vehicle in space environment and classified mission characteristics provided ample evidence to categorize it as a military spaceplane. In line to this, Chinese media claims the testing of such technology named ‘Shenlong’ which was launched from the belly of an H-6 bomber, however, no results or an official confirmation are presented[12]. ISRO’s Reusable Launch Vehicle dubbed ‘Avatar’ using air-breathing ramjet engines with ability to take-off and land like conventional aircraft but capable of reaching a 100 kilometers orbit is speculated to has been under construction[13]. Clearly, this technology is yet in nascent stage but with a promise to become a strong strategic asset.


Possible Scenario

The US publishes its space vision doctrine which calls for control and command over space which China intends to challenge. China is considered to be creating its ‘string of pearls’ in space by supporting India’s neighborhood countries: Pakistan, Maldives, Sri Lanka etc. offering them launch services, satellite technology, telecommunications etc[14]. This adds an advantage to China to use its space services to carve out a geographical sphere of influence and use it as a platform on its path to becoming a regional hegemon. This in turn will challenge US and its allies in the Indo-Pacific region, and India acting in its defense. As India feels threatened by these actions, it is inevitable that it too seeks to demonstrate those technologies and as a consequence might fall under the ambit of an US alliance, if not a partnership. As this negates its principle of strategic autonomy, it pushes for indigenous development which ultimately requires a testing.


Whether this competition leads to the realization of Everett Dolman’s dictum whereby one nation shall assume ultimate control over space arena is to be pondered upon in the purview of the technologies described and in the imagination of their successors. Dolman in his seminal work, Astropolitik: Classical Geopolitics in the Space Age has expanded classical Mackinder’s heartland theory to space, wherein he identified four distinct astropolitical regions in space and evolved his dictum: Who controls low-Earth orbit controls near-Earth space. Who controls near-Earth space dominates Terra. Who dominates Terra determines the destiny of humankind[15].


Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are personal.

[1] Shirley Kan, China’s Anti-Satellite Weapon Test, Congressional Research Service, pg.  2, See,, accessed on 31 October 2013

[2] Laura Grego, The Anti-satellite Capability of the Phased Adaptive Approach Missile Defense System, See,, accessed on 31 October 2013

[3] Phillip Saunders and Charles Lutes, China’s ASAT test: Motivations and Implications, INSS Special Report

[4] Ibid

[5] Victoria Samson, “India’s Missile Defense/Anti-satellite Nexus”, The Space Review, See,, accessed on 31 October 2013

[6] India Developing Anti-satellite Weapons by Space War, see,, accessed on 31 October 2013

[7] Victoria Samson, “India’s Missile Defense/Anti-satellite Nexus”, The Space Review, See,, accessed on 31 October 2013

[8] Victoria Samson, “India and Space Security”, The Space Review, See,, accessed on 31 October 2013

[9] Ian Easton, The Great Game in Space, Project 2049 Institute (USA), See,, accessed on 31 October 2013

[12] Leonard David, “China’s Mystery Space Plane Project Stirs Up Questions”, See,, accessed on 5 November 2013

[13] See,, accessed on 7 November 2013

[14] Ajay Lele, China’s ‘String of Pearls’ in Space, IDSA (New Delhi), See,, accessed on 7 November 2013

[15] Everett C Dolman, “Astropolitik: Classical Geopolitics in the Space Age” (Frank Cass Publishers, 2001), pp. 6-7