Aerospace Debut in South Asia

The development of aerospace military power is a new dimension of competition and conflict in the India-Pakistan war stratagem. It sets the trend for future warfare where an asymmetric military approach may play a proactive role in achieving political objectives. Two components of conflict should be clarified and agreed upon at the outset: Pakistan will not take the initiative of war but retains its right to self-defense. This doctrinal clarity suggests Pakistan has one way forward, which is to be militarily prepared to give a full response to India, adopting a reactive posture.

The corresponding capabilities include dedicated military satellites, integrated Command and Control, Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles (UCAVs), Artificial Intelligence, and Cyberspace. The development of aerospace military power in India is already in the offing with exclusive military satellites and an Anti-Satellite weapon system.

Against these developments, the non-availability of exclusive military satellites in Pakistan increases its vulnerabilities. It is the right time to acknowledge that aerospace is practically a new dimension of the conflict between India and Pakistan.

Space power augments Communication, Navigation, Cyber, Information, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) for a military to effectively control the battlefield. When integrated, these elements provide Precision, Reach, Dominant Battlespace Knowledge, effective Command and Control, and rapid Decision making. The value addition of space components to the combat potential is pushing India and Pakistan to acquire these emerging technologies to retain the competitive edge against each other.

It is the changing character of warfare and advancement in technology that motivates India and obligates Pakistan to adopt modern approaches to warfare. Modern warfare has transformed from platform-centric to network-centric, from attrition warfare to system warfare, from dog-fighting to data-fighting, and from manned systems to unmanned systems.

Today, the enemy is perceived as a system and the system is meant to be paralyzed so as to make it dysfunctional. J.F.C. Fuller, an eminent military strategist, opines that ‘The physical strength of an army lies in its organization, controlled by its brain. Paralyze this brain and the body ceases to operate.’ This degree of control can be achieved by aerospace power against the adversary which makes it a new tool of war, possibly short of all-out war even under the nuclear hangover between India and Pakistan.

Currently, India is using three dedicated military satellites along with a range of commercial satellites, which provides it with a due military advantage over Pakistan. Its partnership with the US through the Space Situational Awareness Agreement and Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement elates Indian aerospace potential to the continental level, if not global. Although India is yet to fill the gaps through several satellites for absolute power disparity but the India-US alliance can enhance Indian ISR and Early Warning capability, complicating the threat matrix for Pakistan. The Indian test of anti-satellite weapons further makes Pakistan’s nascent space satellites defenseless.

Pakistan does not have a developed space program and is lagging miles behind India. It does not have any indigenous satellite despite having Asia’s oldest space agency, the Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (SUPARCO). Pakistan has managed to win cooperation from China to assist Islamabad in its space program. SUPARCO developed and launched three satellites PAKSTAR-IR, PRSS-1, and PAKTES-1 with the help of China during the last decade.

These satellites are insufficient for providing the bandwidth and communication to the military, which limits its aerospace-aided maneuvering such as flying UCAVs, satellite linked navigation of delivery vehicles, early warning, and effective air defense. This partnership is focused on commercial satellites, an absolute mismatch with the Indo-US partnership, but gives Pakistan a handy experience to sustain the indigenous space program for the future.

Another significant development in shaping the aerospace trends in South Asia is the Indian desire of establishing tri-services Aerospace Command spearheaded by the Indian Air Force for trans-oceanic reach. It already established the Directorate of Aerospace in 2006 and the Integrated Space Cell in 2008 to develop military space systems. Pakistan has also established Space Command at Air Headquarters to seek the avenues of aerospace development from scratch in a positive direction.

Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles (UCAVs) are another facet of aerospace military power development. Pakistan is racing ahead of India in employing UCAVs in active combat, becoming the fourth nation to do so after the US, England, and Israel. Pakistan operates the indigenously built Buraq and the Chinese-built CH-4 and Wing Long in active combat duty for surveillance and precision strikes. Pakistan also entered into a joint production of a UCAV ANKA with Turkey. Due to limited space-based navigation and communication, Pakistani UCAVs use GCRs to relay data which limits their range and duration of operations.  

The primary purpose of the aerospace deployment is to control the air space, keep command and control operational, ensure air mobility, ISR, and rapid decision making. Considering these aerospace development trends in the India-Pakistan conflict setting, it is fair to conclude that the recent developments are already pushing India and Pakistan to operationalize aerospace-driven force modernization because it appears to be the reality of mutual conflict.

The significance of aerospace is enduring and endless but it demands novel ways of employment driven by advanced technology, effective organization, and new concepts. Any state that manages to effectively integrate all elements of space power and is efficiently able to employ it on the battlefield will be able to inflict strategic paralysis on the adversary.

Pakistan needs to integrate UCAVs with its manned aircraft in real-time operations such as CAPs because of their lesser cost and long endurance while allocating the funds for the indigenous space program. Pakistan should seek public-private partnerships for the space program and allow partners to enlist the companies at stock exchanges because space commercial activities yield high dividends. Having dual-use potential, the Pakistan military can later use the satellites for military purposes.  Pakistan should not see UCAVs as the ultimate replacement of fighter aircraft but go for adequate development and operational integration, as unmanned systems have forty percent fewer airframe requirements. China has recently developed the Unmanned Early Warning Surveillance System JY-300 which reflects the future and sets the benchmark for aerospace trends. In addition, aerospace is deeply linked with cyberspace which needs due attention because it can disrupt the flow of communication, the transmission of data, and the provision of bandwidth.

Aerospace Debut in South Asia

About Ameer Hamza 2 Articles
Ameer Hamza

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