The Indian Land Forces’ pursuit for a dedicated orbital communications platform is finally seeing fructification. In order to equip the Indian Army (IA) with a dedicated advanced communications satellite, the Ministry of Defence has just last month inked a Rs. 2963 Crores contract with New Space India Limited (NSIL), the commercial arm of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), for development of the Geostationary Satellite (GSAT)-7B. The GSAT-7B is envisaged to provide high throughput* communication services, and in doing so, manage intra and inter Service communications for the IA in a Network Centric Warfare (NCW) environment.
* Bandwidth and throughput are two terms related to network performance. Network bandwidth defines how much data can possibly travel through a network in a period of time. Network throughput refers to how much data actually transfers during a period of time. These terms would therefore define the efficiency of a communications network /node/communications platform.
The signing of this red-letter contract comes exactly a year after India’s Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) granted Acceptance of Necessity (AoN) for the GSAT-7B under the Buy Indian (Indigenously Designed, Developed and Manufactured-IDDM) category of the Defence Acquisition Procedure (DAP)- 2020, another concrete step in India’s march towards self-reliance in Defence. This is reportedly the result of a proposal mooted by the IA post a study of network-centric as well as standalone cyber, communications and electronic warfare systems deployed in the Russia-Ukraine war, which established the imperativeness of robust and secure satellite communications to link forces deployed in the tactical battle area with their headquarters stationed in the hinterland. Undoubtedly, the IA’s stand-offs with the Dragon in the recent past have catalysed this requirement.
The GSAT-7B, likely to be deployed by 2026, will be the first-ever indigenously designed, developed and manufactured satellite in the five-ton category and will bolster beyond-visible-horizon communication for the IA. The GSAT-7B will boast strong electronic and communications security features, in order to provide a backbone for a plethora of IA’s communication needs- from tactical communication support to deployed troops and surveillance/ targeting control of remotely piloted aircraft, to Air Defence platforms, as well as operational communications between Formation Headquarters and strategic inter-Service communications for the IA. The dedicated communication links provided by the satellite will also serve to reduce the input to decision time in respect of the IA’s surveillance network, thus enabling responsive surveillance along India’s borders as well as in the hinterland. The GSAT-7B will provide the IA with the following advantages:-
The above does not however imply that the IA and its sister Services have been bereft of such communications support presently or in the past.
The GSAT-7 (INSAT [Indian National Satellite System]-4F) Series of military communication satellites was kickstarted with the launch of ISRO’s first dedicated, multi-band military communications satellite (Rukmini) in August 2013, for use by the Indian Navy (IN), to monitor the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). The 2650 Kg satellite, with a project cost of Rs. 950 Crores, was put in orbit by the European Space Agency’s Ariane Heavy Lift Space Launch Vehicle, launched from the Guiana Space Centre in French Guiana. The satellite was tailor-made for its communications (and surveillance) role due to its large swathe exceeding 3000 Km and its ability to provide real-time inputs to the IN’s surface/subsurface fleets and shore-based communications setups. The satellite thus extended the IN’s blue water capability into the IOR and ended the IN’s continued reliance on foreign satellites, like UK’s INMARSAT. GSAT-7 was reportedly able to seamlessly network close to about 150 ships and aircraft during the Theater-level Readiness and Operational Exercise (Tropex), held in 2014 in the Bay of Bengal (Source-Wikipedia), thus vindicating its capabilities. The envisaged life of the satellite was seven years, which it has successfully exceeded by remaining operational for more than nine years. As a replacement for the GSAT-7, the IN has requisitioned an upgraded military communications satellite, GSAT-7R, in June 2019, at a projected cost of approximately Rs. 1600 Crores. The satellite is projected to be launched this year.
In further demonstration of India’s ever-strengthening self-reliance resolve, the GSAT-7A (Angry Bird), an advanced military communications satellite for use by the Indian Air Force (IAF), was launched on 19 December 2018 aboard an indigenous Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) Mark II F-11 Rocket from the Satish Dhawan Space Center (SDSC) at Sriharikota. The 2250 Kg satellite has a mission life of 8 years and is equipped with multiple Ku band transponders, thus offering several advantages like more powerful satellite uplink/ downlink signals and non-interference with terrestrial microwave systems. Apropos, the satellite has since boosted the NCW capabilities of the IAF by providing seamless real-time communications support to the IAF’s fighter fleet, ground radar stations, operational bases and own Airborne Early Warning and Control System platforms. 30% of the satellite’s transponder bandwidth is also being used by the IA, which includes Army Aviation helicopters and UAVs. The DAC had also accorded AoN in November 2021 for the development of GSAT-7C along with ground hubs at a cost of Rs. 2236 Crores to facilitate beyond line-of-sight connectivity of the IAF’s software-defined radios (SDRs- radios that rely on digital algorithms instead of analogous circuits for functioning, thus enjoying higher imperviousness to jamming).
In addition to the above dedicated military satellites, the Indian Armed Forces have been subscribing to inputs from a plethora of satellites intended primarily for civilian use. Some of these which are presently active/ were launched with a unique mission profile are enumerated below:-
Screengrab of Video Showing Deployment of Radial Rib Antenna of RISAT-2BR1 In Space (Inset- RISAT-2BR1): Source-isro.gov.in
Schematic Representation of EMISAT in Deployed Configuration: Source-Wikipedia
The provisioning of dedicated military satellites for all three Services of the Indian Defence forces, with planned future redundancies, indicates the focus for, and priority accorded to, enhanced operational efficiency well into the 21st century. In an epitome of holistic development, the GSAT-7B and future projects will also aim towards generating substantial employment for personnel within the Defence PSUs, Micro Small and Medium Industries as well as for associated startups- a true saga in self-dependence in cutting-edge Defence technology!
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