NEW DELHI: With China having developed deadly weapons for space, cyberspace and electronic warfare, the Army has conducted a major pan-India exercise codenamed `Skylight’ to test the operational readiness and robustness of its hi-tech satellite communication systems in the event of an attack by an adversary.
The Army activated all its satellite communication assets spread from Ladakh to Andaman and Nicobar Islands during the Skylight exercise from July 25 to 29, with various technical and operational scenarios being wargamed, including disruption or destruction of terrestrial connectivity in a conflict, defence establishment sources said on Friday.
“ISRO and various agencies responsible for space and ground segments also participated in the exercise. The northern borders (with China) are our primary area of concern because of the challenges of topography there,” a source said.
The Army is working on several fronts to “leverage space for supporting multi-domain operations”, which includes a number of its satellite communication networks already operational for “beyond line-of-sight tactical communication” with remote areas.
The use of cyber and electromagnetic warfare as well as communications during the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war are also being studied and analysed in detail. Among other things, the studies have established the efficacy of reliable satellite communication like ‘Starlink’ owned by Elon Musk’s SpaceX, the source said.
The 12-lakh strong force currently uses several ISRO satellites, which connect hundreds of static communication terminals, transportable vehicle-mounted terminals, man-portable and small form factor man-pack terminals of the force.
This will get a much-needed boost when the Army’s first dedicated satellite GSAT-7B, which was approved at a cost of Rs 4,635 crore by the defence ministry in March, is launched towards end-2025. The IAF and Navy already have their own GSAT-7 series satellites.
“While the naval satellite (GSAT-7 or Rukmini) primarily covers the Indian Ocean Region, our focus is the northern borders. GSAT-7B has been designed as the first of its kind indigenous multiband satellite with advanced security features. It will support tactical communication requirements not only for the troops deployed on ground, but also for remotely-piloted aircraft, air defence weapons and other mission critical and fire-support platforms,” the source said.
Apart from conventional military capabilities, China of course is leagues ahead in space, cyberspace, robotics, lethal autonomous weapon systems, artificial intelligence and the like, with the People’s Liberation Army’s long-standing thrust on “informatized” and “intelligentized” warfare.
The Army is seeking the help of academia, private industry and others to narrow the gap in several “niche and disruptive technologies” to ensure it is not left far behind in the race.
“Future requirements for fighting troops will be for small form factor hand-held secure satellite phones, satellite `Internet of Things’ and satellite high-speed data backbone, some of which will call for utilisation of low earth orbit (LEO) satellite constellations,” he said.
“As complex aerospace technology has begun impacting military operations and communications in particular, it is imperative that technical competence in such fields is built and refined within our armed forces,” he added.
Towards this end, the Army is also pursuing `Quantum Computing and Communications’ for much better and secure C4I2SR (command, control, communication, computers, intelligence, information, surveillance and reconnaissance) systems for wars of the future.
“This will ensure comprehensive data fusion and decision support capability are securely delivered to field commanders at various levels, with minimum latency and maximum effect,” he said.