Essentially a geo-stationary communication satellite to enable real-time networking of all Indian warships, submarines and aircraft with operational centres ashore, the 2,625kg Rukmini will also help the Navy keep a hawk-eye over both Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal. "From Persian Gulf to Malacca Strait, it will help cover almost 70% of the IOR," said a source.
The "over-the-sea use" Rukmini, with UHF, S, Ku and C-band transponders, is to be followed by GSAT-7A with the IAF and Army sharing its "over-the-land use" bandwidth. The Navy has been clamouring for such a satellite for close to a decade now to shorten its "sensor-to-shooter loop" - the ability to swiftly detect and tackle a threat — but the delay in the indigenous GSLV rocket to carry satellites and other factors have been the stumbling blocks.
India, of course, has been a late — and somewhat reluctant — entrant into the military space arena despite having a robust civilian programme for decades. Without dedicated satellites of their own, the armed forces were relegated to using "dual use" Cartosat satellites or the Technology Experimental Satellite launched in 2001, apart from leasing foreign satellite transponders for surveillance, navigation and communication purposes.
China, in sharp contrast, has taken huge strides in the military space arena, testing even ASAT (anti-satellite) weapons against "low-earth orbit" satellites since January 2007. "With counter-space being a top priority, China has been testing its 'direct-ascent kinetic kill' capabilities. It also has active programmes for kinetic and directed-energy laser weapons as well as nano-satellites. By 2020, it hopes to have a space station with military applications," said a source.
Incidentally, around 300 dedicated or dual-use military satellites are orbiting around the earth, with the US owning 50% of them, followed by Russia and China. But India has lagged far behind in utilization of the final frontier of space for military purposes, refusing to even approve the long-standing demand of the armed forces for a full-fledged Aerospace Command, as earlier reported.
Though officially against " any offensive space capabilities or weaponization of space", the defence ministry in 2010 had come out with a 15-year "Technology Perspective and Capability Roadmap" that dwelt on the need to develop ASAT weapons "for electronic or physical destruction of satellites in both LEO (2,000km altitude above earth's surface) and GEO-synchronous orbits". These portions were quietly deleted in the roadmap released earlier this year.
DRDO contends it can develop ASAT weapons if required by marrying the propulsion system of the over 5,000-km Agni-V missile with the "kill vehicle" of its two-tier BMD (ballistic missile system) system.
Apart from working on "directed energy weapons" at its Laser Science &Technology Centre, DRDO also has futuristic programmes for launching "mini-satellites on demand" for use in the battlefield as well as "EMP (electromagnetic pulse) hardening" of satellites and sensors to protect them against ASAT weapons.
But all that is in the future. Dedicated military satellites like Rukmini will help India keep real-time tabs over the rapidly-militarizing IOR, where China is increasingly expanding its strategic footprint, as well as on troop movements, missile silos, military installations and airbases across land borders.