As a premier space faring nation, India has been relatively slow in deploying satellites for exclusive use by the armed forces commonly known as military satellites.
One of the factors was sanctions and restrictions imposed by the major space powers so to say the United States and Russia (Soviet Union) from time to time mainly in terms of providing technology for launch vehicles.
However contributions of these nations particularly Russia (Soviet Union) in developing India’s space capabilities in general in the civil spectrum remains substantial.
The denial of technologies prevented the deployment of heavy satellites which can carry military payload.
These inhibitions are now removed and India’s stated capabilities are to launch up to 2 tonnes by the Geo-Stationery Launch Vehicle (GSLV)
Role of Military Satellites
Military satellites like other platforms are used for a variety of tasks that facilitate operations by providing the following (1) Reconnaissance (2) Navigation (3) Early warning and (4) Communications.
These are dual use functions for civilian as well as military use, however increasingly satellites for exclusive military purposes have been launched by larger space faring nations including India.
Even though India conducted an Anti Satellite Test in March this year, New Delhi has ratified the Outer Space Treaty. Article IV of the Treaty prohibits signatories from installing weapons of mass destruction in Earth orbit.
Indian Military Satellites
As per the Military Balance 2018 (IISS 2018) India has 12 Satellites in orbit for military purposes. The launch of the EMISAT on 01 April just after the Anti Satellite Test (ASAT) has increased the number of R & S assets to 13.
The main categories of these satellites are for Navigation, Communications and Reconnaissance.
For Navigation and positioning which is an essential function for military providing exclusive data for terrain guidance amongst other purposes India has the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System [IRNSS], the space segment of which is known as the NavIC.
NavIC is based on eight satellites. IRNSS-1 A, 1B, 1C, 1D, 1E, 1F, 1G and 1I.
IRNSS 1 A developed a problem of atomic clock and thus had to be replaced by IRNSS 1I
IRNSS: NavIC Now Fully Operational
Applications of IRNSS as per the ISRO are Terrestrial, Aerial and Marine Navigation, Disaster Management, Vehicle tracking and fleet management, Integration with mobile phones, Visual and voice navigation for drivers, Precise Timing, Mapping and Geodetic data capture. All these have important functions for the military domain and will overcome the dependency on the Global Positioning System (GPS) where controls rests with the United States and denial of service remains a concern.
India has two communications satellites GSAT 7 for the Indian Navy and GSAT 7 A for the Indian Air Force with 30% capacity to be shared with the Indian Army.
As per Military Balance 2018 (IISS 2018) India has three reconnaissance satellites. 1 Cartosat 2C and 2 RISAT. In addition the EMISAT has been launched on 01 April that makes it four satellites for Reconnaissance, Surveillance and Intelligence purposes.
To supplement this grid with the RISAT 1 having outlived space life, RISAT 2 B is proposed to be launched on 15 May followed by RISAT-2BR1 in July, RISAT-2BR2 in October and RISAT-1A in November reports First Post.
In addition Cartosat 3 is proposed to be deployed specifically for the armed forces with advanced remotes sensing tools with, “better spatial range and resolution.”
Thus India will have large number of military satellites in the coming years.