IRNSS – India’s Strategic Guardian Of The Sky

On 11 May 1998, India surprised the world with its Operation Shakti (Pokhran-II) nuclear test, which was completely hidden from US spy satellites. This was a feat as the US spy satellites are capable of taking even a snap of wristwatch of Indian soldiers. When India felt the importance of secrecy and to avoid being detected by other countries, it integrated the 58th Engineer Regiment with DRDO (Defence Research and Development Organisation); the objective was to camouflage the nuclear test site.

The extensive and intelligent work of a very small group of Indian scientists helped to prevent the detection of test sites from orbiting satellites of several countries. This was done by calculating their movement, visibility and organising the movements of materials accordingly.  Notably, they remained undetected even in the desert regions of Rajasthan. From the analysis of information about the orbiting satellite movement provided by scientists, the Indian Army moved the objects and prepared the test sites and also made sure that the satellite images do not have any trace of these movements. India successfully conducted the test without being detected in any satellite images displaying India’s capabilities in analysing the moving satellites and the science of intelligence related to camouflage.

When Pakistani troops took positions in Kargil in 1999, one of the first things Indian military sought was GPS data for the region. The space-based navigation system maintained by the US government would have provided vital information, but the US denied it to India. From its Kargil experience India understood the inevitable need of navigation systems. Later in May 2006, the IRNSS’s R&D programme was approved.

Today, the Indian Space Research Organisation took the nation closer to its goal by accomplishing the task of developing the country’s own navigation system with the successful launch of IRNSS-1G, the last in the series of seven navigation satellites.

With the constellation of satellites complete, India has joined the league of countries that has indigenous navigation system. The system will reduce the country’s dependency on US Global Positioning System. Apart from India, only a few other countries, including the US, the European Union, China and Russia have their own navigation systems in place.

There are three ‘Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS)’ in the world. GPS (Global Positioning System) of United States, GLONASS (Global Satellite Navigation System) of Russia, Galileo of European Union and Compass/BeiDou-2 of China. There are two ‘Regional Satellite Navigation Systems’, the QZSS (Quasi-Zenith Satellite System) of Japan and Compass of China.

ISRO Global Positioning System Navigation GPS GreatGameIndia Space Warefare Russia China US Military

Strategic Importance of IRNSS

The indigenous navigation system will aid terrestrial, aerial and marine navigation, vehicle tracking and fleet management, disaster management, mapping and geodetic data capture, visual and voice navigation for drivers. The service can also be integrated with mobile phones and can be navigation tool for hikers and travellers. The restricted service will be used by the military for missile delivery and navigation and tracking of aircraft.

IRNSS will ensure C4ISR (Command, Control, Computers, Communications, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance). Hence it will help in integrating data fusion and integration management system, radar, infrared, space based surveillance ensuring a high level accuracy in modern warfare.

Most importantly IRNSS satellites are placed in High Earth Orbit (HEO) at a height of 35,786 kilometres. It has strategic importance when considering anti-satellite missiles. It makes IRNSS out of range of solid-fuelled intercontinental missiles and makes it a more challenging task for liquid-fuelled launch vehicles to reach this strategic height. At this height it can be easily traced by Indian government in order to take necessary actions as per the situation.

However, India still has a long way to go in this Space Warfare. After the launch of the Russian Kosmos 2490 triplets since 2013 fresh fears over the revival of a defunct Kremlin project to destroy satellites were aroused.

In 2007, China pissed off governments all over the world when it blasted one of its own defunct satellites with a rocket, scattering thousands of shards of metal across low orbit and endangering countless active spacecraft.

In 2012 US shut off it’s GPS satellites causing the BrahMos missile tests to fail. The GPS system couldn’t link onboard computers with hovering satellites eventually crippling its guidance system and keeping it from achieving mission objectives.

At a time when government agencies, armies, scientists, and everyday people, depend on satellites for communications, surveillance, science, and navigation; what would happen if anyone could spy on, hijack, or even destroy those sats? It could certainly upset the orbital balance of power.

As S.Ramakrishnan, Director of Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre said, “Geopolitical needs teach you that some countries can deny you the service in times of conflict. It’s also a way of arm twisting and a country should protect itself against that.”

GGI News Analysis

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