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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Peaceful Rise or, Is It, Quite Rise?

As a technology demonstration goes, it probably wasn't too high tech, once China had ballistic missile technology. They knew the trajectory of the missile, they knew the trajectory of the satellite, and there was no bomb involved - it was a kinetic anti-satellite missile (ASAT). But still technology needed to be tested. The testing probably was equivalent to the first anti-missile technology test that we conducted in December 2006.

But the concerns are many folds. First, globally, it may portent a restart of space arms race. In fact it is very similar to what the Soviets and Americans did during cold war - performing a test of new capability without announcing it to the world so that everyone is kept guessing. The Chinese, 10 days after conducting the test, still don't have an official statement acknowledging the test. Some US diplomats think this may be a sign that Hu Jintao didn't know about the test beforehand. Is the same Hu Jintao who flushed out Jiang Zemin's military men from PLA and party ranks, to consolidate absolute power, within the first year? Is the same Hu Jintao who deftly supports North Korea, Sudan, and Iran while keeping Washington singing China praise for smart diplomacy? Is it the same Hu Jintao who used his recent trip to India to size up what Arunachal Pradesh meant to India (with no word of protest from our PM)? I very much doubt it.

The second concern, for specifically Washington (and Japan), is Chinese army targeting its soft infrastructure during the long process of increasing and consolidating strength for the coming clash over Taiwan. It's a matter of if, not when the clash occurs - people, once free under democracy, would not fold into dictatorship without force.

Concern for India is significant, except perhaps in New Delhi. Air force has been asking for space command for almost a decade - mainly because it has been worried about Chinese focus on space - with no response from MOD babus or various Rakshak Mantris during the period. Some have used the current episode as an opportunity to bash (Didn't C. Raja Mohan just become an associate editor?) India's defence industry - while all the government controlled defence industry shortcomings may be true in general, that's not the point here. MOD is the hurdle to defence industry and armed forces with lackluster attitude towards potential threats and no accountability on how it spends (or doesn’t spend) money year after year, decade after decade.

The key is get the offensive technology right away - again, as a technology demonstrator, the test itself was not a big deal. If China can bring down one satellite of India, India should have the capability to bring down two of Chinese - for that tracking and monitoring of Chinese satellites is needed beyound having ASAT missiles ready.

But beyound offensive, defensive measures will play a significant role. Hardened satellites that can withstand debris of destroyed ones, satellites that can detect and take evasive actions such as deploying decoys or maneuver to a different orbit fast - automatically or, ground-based, manually, and potentially satellites with some sort of laser technology that can detect and destroy the incoming ASAT. Beyound defensive capability redundancy is crucial - having enough excess secure transponders to pick up slack from destroyed satellites for continued operations or having duplicate satellites ready to launch in matter of hours or days.

All these capabilities - offensive, defensive, and redundancy are very expensive. It's better to bring China into an ASAT moratorium. But who would believe the Chinese would not use the technology, once they have acquired it, when the need arises?

Update [Jan 24, 2007]: China, finally, makes a formal announcement of the test, two weeks after the test. Apparently it itself is not sure why it tested ASAT missile. And, ironically, it called for elimination of arms in space. In any case, the Chinese have demonstrated their capabilities. It is time for us to have the capability to respond offensively and defensively.


Apun Ka Desh said...

Good Analysis.

It was only under Nehru's vision, that indian scientific establishments made rapid progress - as they were unhindered by any red tape, and had the blessings from top, and desire to succeed.

This is no longer the case.
Hardly any strategic, short term, long term planning seems to be taking place. Its a cause of worry, when your neighbours blow hole in the sky with their technology, and send a man to space - while you don't have much to show.

LCA- 15 years no show.

Nuclear Submarine - 30 years no show.

Arjun MBT - 20 years no show.

Adv. Light Helicopter - not much of a show.

Rotten progress, and lots of money down the drain - lot of show.

Chandra said...

Some people get really made when pointed out that DRDO is good for nothing. But again I think both would be missing the point of MOD babus.

Hopefully they will allow private industry to compete (which has been just talk until now) and, like mobile telecom industry, they can beat DRDO in taking the defense industry to a new level.

Another avenue of success has been joint partnership with Russia like the Bramhos. Putin signed a new deal for stealth fighter, PAK-FA, to be produced in two years. I think that will be ready before LCA!