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Role of Small Satellites in Indian Military Infrastructure ; By Subhadip Mondal

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Article : 38/2022

On August 9 2022, India launched its first Small Satellite Launch Vehicle (SSLV) with a payload of 135kg. The launch also marked 75 years of India’s Independence. The vehicle was carrying EOS-2 which falls under the category of Small Satellites (SS). The launch of EOS-2 places New Delhi to achieve expertise in SS. This paper seeks to analyze the scope and opportunity that is associated with the SS, especially in terms of national security.

To carry out and forge geopolitically important strategies, satellites are crucial. 1 The satellites form an indispensable part of Electronic Intelligence (ELINT), Command Control Communications & Computers (C4) and Intelligence Surveillance & Reconnaissance (ISR). These activities fall within the domain of military strategy. During Gulf Wars, the US demonstrated effectively the use of Satellite Technologies (ST) to navigate its allied troops, which resulted in saving human lives.

A developing country like India which faces threats from China in the North and its ‘iron brother’ in the west needs to expand its space infrastructure to meet the military requirements, especially for C4ISR and ELINT strategy

A developing country like India which faces threats from China in the North and its ‘iron brother’ in the west needs to expand its space infrastructure to meet the military requirements, especially for C4ISR and ELINT strategy. Prof. S. Chandrashekhar, an eminent space scientist from NIAS estimates the requirement of the number of satellites and launches to meet the benchmark in different spectrums of capabilities, as follows.

C4 capabilities require four Geostationary Orbit (GSO) satellites, forty Lower Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites for internet communications, three constellations with three satellites each for ELINT, twelve Electro-Optical (EO) and Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) satellites in an appropriate Sun Synchronous Orbits (SSO) and along with twenty-four SS as standby to meet the ISR needs at the time of emergency. 2

The report was published in the year 2015, a substantial time has passed since then. This opens up the scope for this article, to look into the present capabilities of India in the Space domain, especially from the National Security perspective. This analysis will help to identify gaps which still exist and thereby, how those can be plugged in using SS.

In 2019, India launched the Electromagnetic Intelligence-gathering Satellite (EMISAT), which is a part of the “Project Kautilya” of Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). 3 EMISAT is India’s first ELINT category satellite, which is placed in the Sun Synchronous Polar Orbit (SSPO). The lift-off weight of the satellite was 436kg and was launched along with 28 international customer satellites using a PSLV. 4 India entered the field of Radar Imaging satellites in 2009 with its RISAT series. 1 The series has so far witnessed four instalments; the last variant was put in space in 2019. Two of these satellites are placed in SSPO and the rest two are in LEO. 5 The SSPO satellites have a time of revisit around 24hrs but, but LEO can bring it down to 5 minutes depending upon the altitude. 6 The small satellites weigh up to 500kg. In this category, since 2010 India successfully launched three satellites. Among those only, the EOS-01 is placed in the LEO. 7 EOS-01 is an earth observatory satellite which was used in agriculture, forestry and disaster management support. 8

Whereas the EOS-02 is a Microsat series satellite with advanced optical remote sensing operating in the infrared band with high spatial resolution. 9

Keeping all this in context, many of the areas still remain elusive. This gap can be plugged by any category of satellites. But, in terms of cost-to-effective ratio, SS stands out from the rest of the satellite categories.

SS has the potential to fulfil all the military communication requirements and these categories of satellites have more redundancy, so it would provide more options for backup. This effectively meets the military standard for C4ISR. In case of a direct threat from Kinetic Energy Weapons (KEWs) and Directed Energy Weapons (DEWs) having redundancy is a lifeline. Chinese Yaogan clusters and its US counterpart National Ocean Surveillance System (NOSS) fall under the ELINT category and, both the clusters have deployed SS. 10

For the launch of SS, SSLVs can be deployed. This would bring down the cost of the mission. For instance, the Government of India (GoI) had sanctioned ₹169 crores for three development flights (SSLV-D1, SSLV-D2 & SSLV-D3), 11 whereas in the 2021 budget GoI allocated 700 crore INR to New Space India Limited (NSIL - a Central Public Sector Enterprise under Department of Space) which executed the launch of PSLV-CS51. 12


SS are an area that both military and commercial players are looking forward to capitalising. Indian companies are also trying to actively engage in the sphere of satellite internet communication. Since ISRO takes care of both military and commercial launches, India needs to have a comprehensive vision which would bring both army and private players into one well-coordinated platform. A similar platform is being provided by Antrix (GoI company which comes under the Department of Space and the commercial arm of ISRO) and NSIL. Between 2016 and 2019 Antrix earned a review of 6289 crore INR, 13 and NSIL between 2019 and 2021 earned foreign exchange revenue of about $35 million and €10 million. 14 To keep this effort perennial, India needs to encourage indigenous players. For this New Delhi shall have a strong policy with the vision of military-private collaboration in space technologies.

Keywords: Small Satellite, SSLV, PSLV, National Security.

(Mr. Subhadip Mondal is a research officer at C3S. The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the views of C3S.)


1 Chandrashekar, S. “Executive Summary.” Essay. In Space, War & Security– a Strategy for India, 1–5. Bengaluru, Karnataka: NIAS, 2015. Accessed on September 12, 2022

22 Ibid

3 “ISRO Successfully Places EMISAT, 28 Other International Satellites in Orbit in Triply-Special PSLV-C45 Mission.” Firstpost. Firstpost, April 1, 2019. . Accessed on September 14, 2022

4 “Launch Kit.” ISRO. Accessed on September 14 2022.

5 Ibid No. iv.

6 Wang, Kan, and Xuhai Yang. “Visibility of LEO Satellites Under Different Ground Network Distribution.” Institute of Navigation.,to%205%20to%2020%20min . Accessed on September 20, 2022.

7 Ibid No iv.

8 “EOS-01.” ISRO. . Accessed September 20, 2022

9 “SSLV-D1/EOS-02 Mission.” ISRO. . Accessed September 20, 2022.

10 Bommakanti, Kartik. “Strengthening the C4ISR Capabilities of India's Armed Forces: The Role of Small Satellites.” ORF, November 10, 2021. . Accessed on September 14, 2022

11 Science, FE. “ISRO to Launch SSLV-D1 on August 7; Here’s How You Can Watch It up-Close.” The Financial Express Stories, August 2, 2022. . Accessed on September 20, 2022

12 PTI. “Department of Space Allocated Rs 13,949 Crore in Budget, Rs 4,449 Crore More than Fiscal 2020-21.” News18, February 1, 2021. . Accessed on September 14, 2022

13 Narasimhan, T E. “ISRO's Commercial Arm Antrix Corp Clocked Rs 6,289 Cr in Last Three Years.” Business Standard News. Business-Standard, November 27, 2019. . Accessed on September 2022

14 Sharma, Neetu Chandra. “NSIL Earned Foreign Exchange of $35 Mn, €10 MN in 3 Yrs from Satellite Launches: Govt.” Business Today, March 30, 2022.

Accessed on September 20, 2022

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