By Maj Gen (Dr.) Ashok Kumar, VSM (Retired)

New Delhi. 30 June 2024. The world space may have multiple connotations but the space in all manifestations is moving more intensely for the military use. In that, it is the ‘outer space’ which is gaining special significance. This is normally the region beyond 100 km from Earth’s surface for understanding the Earth’s outer space where the present era of contest is building up with every passing day. It is also expanding its scope beyond the Earth’s outer space with scientific revolution taking place at a fast space.

While the humans have probably known about these issues close to 1000 BCE, the modern discovery is just about a hundred-year-old when first meaningful observations were made though the presence of such a vacuum between Earth and Moon came to the fore sometime in 17th Century. At this juncture, it is not important to focus on the ancient historical background but the way the outer space -now termed as space is being used by the majority of the nations.

It all started at the closing moments of the Second World War when USA detonated two nuclear bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan. There is a strong theory gaining ground that USA probably did this to establish its supremacy in the post-World War 2 era as the war was coming to an end even without this action. USA was all set for the launch of final ground offensive from the island of Okinawa and backdoor negotiations had started between then USSR and Japan to give Japan an honourable exit. The rush thereafter followed to split Germany into West Germany and East Germany with former adopting democracy while latter adopted Communism. Both USA and USSR then poached German Engineers as they were best in the world at that time especially in the Rocket Technology.   Since Rocket technology is the most crucial for transit or placing of anything and everything in the space, a close space race began between the two super powers.

With the advent of technology, the space started being utilized initially more focused on civil use purposes gravitating towards the dual use profile and now its weight has started shifting towards military use. In real sense, the basic thought of peaceful use of outer space already stands compromised.

The mankind has started exploring the outer space using multiple means like observation though powerful telescope and launch of satellites with Soviets launching Sputnik1 on 04 Oct 1957. These kinds of efforts got repeated heating up space race between the two superpowers.

This was all changed when first human travel was made possible wherein Yuri Gagrin, a Soviet cosmonaut orbited the Earth on 12 Apr 1961. And of course, all the leads of Soviets were negated when USA succeeded in landing Neil Armstrong on moon in 1969.

To ensure some sanity amongst the nations, the Outer Space Treaty came into operation in Oct 1967. Its tenets highlighted that the space belonged to entire mankind, does not recognize the sovereignty of individual nations as prevalent on the Earth and prohibited placing of nuclear weapons/ weapons of mass destruction. Somehow, the provision of using it for the military use got left out which is being exploited even by the signatory countries.  Space is emerging as one of the most contested frontiers wherein close to 100 countries are using the space actively by having satellites, conducting space research and alike. In fact, more than 70 countries have their own space agencies and the Nos will grow only. Not only this, there are more than 6500 operational satellites in addition to 3000 nonfunctional satellites and rocket bodies.

The initial focus of the countries was about knowing the celestial bodies, study Earth and use this for gaining knowledge & exploration but since all resources placed in the outer space needed a rocket to do that and rockets were primarily used for war fighting so slowly and steadily the outer space was readied / used for the military use. Some of the examples include:

  • Mapping of own country, adversaries and other countries of interest. Development of capability to get Geo-data even of the areas not mapped earlier in real time-frame.
  • Satellite imagery to notice the changes related to infrastructure Development and movement of forces and resources.
  • Provide satellite inputs on payment or otherwise to friendly countries. With participation of increasing private sector entities, the national barriers are also diminishing.
  • Movement of Long-Range Missiles, ICBMS and hyper sonic weapons against the adversary.
  • Development of Anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons to disrupt the satellites of the target countries.
  • Increased space habitation and countering those of adversaries.
  • Undermine effectiveness of space-based assets of adversaries.
  • Satellite guidance of out of sight missions be it for the UAVs/ Drones etc.
  • Use debris intentionally or unintentionally for neutralizing the efforts of the resources of the adversaries.

Realistically speaking, the era of space wars has already begun with countries positioning themselves favourably. Its full physical manifestation will unfold in times to come. It is important to look at Indian needs in this segment to look at whether Defence Space Agency is going to meet our requirements or will we need a Space Force on lines of USA. The Space industries will also need to focus on those areas where there is a definite need to look at Niche technologies which can meet our gaps/ concerns related to the Indian Defence Forces whether these be in the underwater domain or elsewhere. A closer partnership and re-energised eco system are the need of the hour.

(Maj Gen Ashok Kumar, VSM (Retd) is a Kargil war veteran and defence analyst. He is a visiting fellow of CLAWS and DG of CENJOWS. He  specialises on neighbouring countries with special focus on China. He is the author of books- China Betrays Again and Indian Churnings on the Global Stage. The views in the article are solely the author’s. He can be contacted at